Archive for September, 2007

Bed-wetter Nation

September 30, 2007

http://commonsense.ourfuture.org/bet_wetter_nation

Here’s a big question that I want to start addressing in upcoming posts: what is conservative rule doing to our nation’s soul? How is it rewiring our hearts and minds? What kind of damage are they doing to the American character? And can we ever recover?

So: what is the American character? Hard to say, of course. But I daresay we know it when we see it. Let me put before you an illustrative example: one week in September of 1959, when, much like one week in September of 2007, American soil supported a visit by what many, if not most Americans agreed was the most evil and dangerous man on the planet.

Nikita Khrushchev disembarked from his plane at Andrews Air Force Base to a 21-gun salute and a receiving line of 63 officials and bureaucrats, ending with President Eisenhower. He rode 13 miles with Ike in an open limousine to his guest quarters across from the White House. Then he met for two hours with Ike and his foreign policy team. Then came a white-tie state dinner. (The Soviets then put one on at the embassy for Ike.) He joshed with the CIA chief about pooling their intelligence data, since it probably all came from the same people—then was ushered upstairs to the East Wing for a leisurely gander at the Eisenhowers’ family quarters. Visited the Agriculture Department’s 12,000 acre research station (“If you didn’t give a turkey a passport you couldn’t tell the difference between a Communist and capitalist turkey”), spoke to the National Press Club, toured Manhattan, San Francisco (where he debated Walter Reuther on Stalin’s crimes before a retinue of AFL-CIO leaders, or in K’s words, “capitalist lackeys”), and Los Angeles (there he supped at the 20th Century Fox commissary, visited the set of the Frank Sinatra picture Can Can but to his great disappointment did not get to visit Disneyland), and sat down one more with the president, at Camp David. Mrs. K did the ladies-who-lunch circuit, with Pat Nixon as guide. Eleanor Roosevelt toured them through Hyde Park. It’s not like it was all hearts and flowers. He bellowed that America, as Time magazine reported, “must close down its worldwide deterrent bases and disarm.” Reporters asked him what he’d been doing during Stalin’s blood purges, and the 1956 invasion of Hungary. A banquet of 27 industrialists tried to impress upon him the merits of capitalism. Nelson Rockefeller rapped with him about the Bible.

Had America suddenly succumbed to a fever of weak-kneed appeasement? Had the general running the country—the man who had faced down Hitler!—proven himself what the John Birch Society claimed he was: a conscious agent of the Communist conspiracy?

No. Nikita Khrushchev simply visited a nation that had character. That was mature, well-adjusted. A nation confident we were great. We had our neuroses, to be sure—plenty of them.

But look now what we have lost. Now when a bad guy crosses our threshhold, America becomes a pants-piddling mess.

Iran’s president speaks at a great American university. That university’s president, in the act of introducing his lecture, whines like a baby bereft of his pacifier that his guest is a big meany poopy-head. City Council members, too, and a rabbi, make like ten-year-olds, giving their press conference in front of a sign with his face struck through and the legend “Go To Hell.” Up in Albany, Democratic leader Sheldon Silver treat the students of this great university like ten years olds, threatening to defund Columbia University lest censors like himself prove unable to shut the poor children’s ears to difficult speech. (What, was he worried they’d be convinced, join the jihad?) Then a Republican presidential candidate chimes in—bye, bye, federalism!—saying Washington should starve the school of funds, too. American diplomats used to have the gumption to spar face to face with dreaded foreign leaders. Now they go on cable TV and whine about what a “travesty” it would have been to visit a site which properly should belong to the world. Hundreds of foreign nationals died in the World Trade Center on 9/11 (maybe even some of the Iranian!). Yet we have to systematically repress that—as if our national ego would crack like fine crystal if we were forced to acknowledge the mingling of American blood with that of mere foreigners.

But—they sputter—Ahmadinejad has has promised to wipe Israel off the map!

Well, Khrushchev had promised to wipe the U.S. off the map. (“We will bury you.”) And, unlike Mr. A, who has but some possible stores of fissile material, Mr. K very much had the means, motive, and opportunity to do it—thousands of nuclear-tipped rockets aimed at every city in the land.

How cowardly our conservative Republic of Fear has made us. How we tremble at the mere touch of a challenge. It’s conservatives who started it, of course. Here’s what they’re reading in their own media: a letter from Human Events editor Tom Winter headlined “Are You Ready for a New Dark Ages?”:

Dear Fellow Conservative:

Someday soon, you might wake up to the call to prayer from a Muslim muezzin. Millions of Europeans already do.

And liberals will still tell you that “diversity is our strength” — while Talibanic enforcers cruise our cities burning books and barber shops… the Supreme Court decides sharia law doesn’t violate the “separation of church and state” … and the Hollywood Left gives up gay rights in favor of the much safer charms of polygamy.

If you think this can’t happen, you haven’t been paying attention, as the hilarious and brilliant Mark Steyn — the most popular conservative columnist in the English-speaking world — shows to devastating effect in his New York Times bestseller, America Alone: The End of the World As We Know It….

This stuff is mind-numbingly hysterical—literally. Such rhetoric is literally calculated to numb the mind, to render any rational calculus impossible, to reduce democratic deliberation on the most subtle and difficult issues of our time to mere grunts and snorts, turning readers’ minds to mush. That’s what the conservative media is all about.

The worst thing about, however, is how many people who should know better have surrendered it. They’ve lowered us all to their own pants-piddling level. And somewhere, Nikita Khrushchev is smiling. For well and truly, he is right. We have been buried—by our own demobilizing.

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Oil wars

September 30, 2007

The following videos by John Perkins, author of Confessions of an Economic Hit Man ” exposes US imperialism, the reasons the US is at war stealing oil in the Middle East
http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=3968544393356669182&hl=en

Part II:The second of a three part speech given to the Veterans For
Peace National Convention, Seattle, WA in August 2006.

http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=3848716298990404813

Part III: John takes Q & A and discusses actions which can be taken to counter the globalization efforts of the multi-national corporations.

 

http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=7969424888680179897

The Empire Is Over

September 30, 2007

bushbust.jpg

The American government has come to resemble the characters in The Wizard of Oz. We have the Cowardly Congress, a president without a brain, and a foreign-policy establishment without a heart.

Our politicians are still trying to play the empire game long after the age of empires has ended. Blinded by arrogance, they cannot see that with every passing day, the world needs us less and less and hates us more and more. We are passing through that phase when the grandeur of the empire exists only in the minds of politicians who have insulated themselves from reality.

A friend of mine, a classical scholar, sometimes tells his students, “No one woke up one morning in 476 A.D. and said, ‘Gee, I’m in the Dark Ages.'” The transition from the heyday of Roman power to a stage of barbarism was a gradual process. We are in a process of change. No one is going to announce on TV that the U.S. is no longer a superpower.

Nevertheless, the signs are there if you look for them. A nation that was able to help crush the Axis powers in three and a half years hasn’t won a war since then. We have had four years of struggling with an insurgency in a small, poor and broken country. Our economy is shaky under mountains of debt. Half of our people make less than 42,000 inflated dollars a year.

Where we were once the arsenal of democracy, today there is hardly a major weapons system that doesn’t rely on imports of one kind or another. Much of the industry that is left is foreign-owned. Japan, which once lay prostrate, dominates the American car market. It is extremely difficult to find anything today that is not made in China or some other cheap-labor country.

In the meantime, the cowardly Congress doesn’t have the guts to tackle any of the major problems confronting the American people. Our president continues to embarrass us practically every time he opens his mouth in public. The foreign-policy establishment is riddled with aging draft dodgers agitating for more wars – against small countries, of course.

True, we still have lots of nuclear weapons, but do you think any American president would want to get into a nuclear shooting match with China or Russia? Look at how we reacted to two airplanes crashing into two office buildings. What do you think we would do if San Diego, Los Angeles and San Francisco became radioactive ruins with millions of casualties? We are not prepared mentally, spiritually or materially to deal with a nuclear war.

We are like all empires in their final stages. We have grown soft. We like our comforts. We don’t wish to be inconvenienced. We like poor Mexicans to do our stoop work and poor Americans to do our fighting, provided they do it far away so we won’t be disturbed by explosions and screams. We enjoy our decadence, and there are always people in the media who can rationalize anything, no matter how sick and revolting it is.

As for trying to understand the world, we are just too busy being amused and following the adventures of Britney Spears and other celebrities. We like to let the TV and the politicians do our thinking for us. It saves energy. They tell us whom to hate.

The only way to avoid a bad end is to find some realists and put them in public office. We need a brave Congress, not a pack of cowards. We desperately need a president with a brain. We need to retire the warmongers in the foreign-policy establishment. Otherwise, we will join the other third-rate countries, once empires, on history’s discard pile.

Charley Reese [send him mail] has been a journalist for 49 years.

Can you say recession?

September 29, 2007

acoffee.jpg

Good news: the loonie is soaring higher. Bad news: it’s because the U.S. is in crisis

COLIN CAMPBELL AND JASON KIRBY

From the moment the United States government came into being in 1789, it was in the red. Saddled with a US$78-million debt from the revolutionary war, a fledgling Congress made it a priority to get out of hock, eventually setting limits on how much money the country could borrow. So much for that. Last week, U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson sent a stark message to modern-day legislators: on Oct. 1, America’s IOUs will surpass the current debt cap of US$8.9 trillion. Unless Congress jacks up the limit yet again and piles on even more debt, the government of the world’s largest economy will cease to function.

It’s the kind of dire situation you would think might grab headlines, but it has raised barely a ripple. In spendthrift America, this is just par for the course. Since the Bush administration took office in 2000, America’s national debt has ballooned by more than 50 per cent. Congress has already hiked its limit on how much the U.S. can borrow four times in the last five years. Meanwhile, American consumers, spurred on by low interest rates after 2001, racked up huge debt loads of their own. America’s appetite for borrowed money seemed limitless.

Not anymore. As global financial markets seize up, and lenders come calling, alarm bells have begun to ring. Observers are talking seriously about the threat of a punishing recession. America’s addiction to cheap and easy money has put the country’s economy, not to mention the world’s, on shaky ground. “What we’ve done as a society is borrowed a tremendous amount of money,” says Peter Schiff, president of Euro Pacific Capital in Darien, Conn., nicknamed “Dr. Doom” for his dour outlook. “Now the bills are coming due and we don’t have any money to pay it back.” Surveying the threat of a crumbling housing market and rising unemployment, Schiff is brutally blunt. “We’re screwed,” he says. “It’s not just going to be a mild recession. It’ll be the worst one we’ve ever had.”

The sinking reality of America’s dire financial state has sparked a simmering panic in financial markets over the past several weeks, and that has been reflected in the plunging value of the U.S. dollar against virtually all world currencies, including Canada’s.

 

As the Canadian dollar crested above the value of the greenback for the first time in three decades last week, shoppers celebrated by beating a path to cross-border outlet malls. But for a country whose economy is inextricably linked to the financial health of U.S. consumers, the rise above parity is anything but good news. The loonie’s rise is not so much a resounding statement of confidence in the Canadian economy, but a reflection of absolute panic over the financial mess south of the border. Yes, Canada’s abundance of minerals, oil and gas provides some protection against economic turmoil. But any claim that Canada can glide easily through a major U.S. recession, especially if it spreads to other parts of the globe, is seriously off base. Analysts are just beginning to come to grips with what the U.S. reckoning means for us.


Christopher Howard doesn’t exactly look like a working-class hero, but for a few days earlier this month the former British businessman played the part when fears began to sweep through the U.K. that Northern Rock, Britain’s fifth-largest mortgage bank, might fail. Bank failures aren’t supposed to happen in this day and age, yet Northen Rock, caught off guard by the recent global credit crunch, had to be bailed out by an emergency handout from the Bank of England. Upon hearing that news, Howard joined thousands of other customers, desperate to withdraw their savings. When the manager of Howard’s local branch refused to hand over his money, he and his wife staged a sit-in and barricaded the woman in her office. Never mind the one-time hotel owner was pulling out nearly $2 million to put a down payment on a home in Cyprus, he instantly became an icon for folks who feel helplessly caught up in the economic upheaval spreading around the globe.Signs of anxiety are everywhere. American housing starts have fallen to their lowest levels in 12 years, while the number of mortgage foreclosures doubled last month. Economists predict the British economy is at the beginning of a serious downturn thanks to a dismal housing market that will lead to a recession there. Big merger and acquisition deals around the world are either stalled or falling to pieces, as deep mistrust sets in among major financial institutions. No one knows exactly where the bad debt bombs are buried. All around, investor and consumer confidence is in free fall.

Experts admit they are astonished just how fast things turned sour, even with all the warning signs. After the tech bubble burst in 2000, followed by the terrorist attacks in 2001, economists predicted a long and painful recession. The U.S. Federal Reserve, under then-chairman Alan Greenspan, slashed interest rates to one per cent. A deep recession was averted and low rates touched off a sustained housing boom. As quickly as tech investing fell out of style, real estate speculation came back in — anybody could buy a house, with no money down and no credit record to speak of. Shares in Cisco gave way to condos in San Francisco. And as house prices soared, owners tapped their equity to go on a lavish spending spree. Few seemed genuinely concerned that once interest rates started to rise, millions of homeowners would be stretched to the limit. In fact, analysts widely and blithely predicted that inflation was a thing of the past, and interest rates might just stay low forever.

This summer, mortgage defaults began to soar as more and more Americans found themselves suddenly unable to keep up with rising interest payments. Investment funds heavily invested in sketchy mortgages buckled, touching off credit fears in other sectors. One estimate pegs potential losses in the mortgage market at US$200 billion — a sum roughly equivalent to the GDP of Greece. Meanwhile, Standard & Poor’s, the debt rating agency, believes U.S. corporations could default on loans worth US$35 billion by next year. As consumers tighten their belts, it will only exacerbate matters.

Even Uncle Sam is in a pinch. Demand for the dollar is sinking fast. Foreign investors and central banks in Japan and China own a huge chunk of America’s public debt, and the fear is those investors will lose confidence in the U.S. dollar. As the dollar falls, Americans will have to pay more for the imported goods they rely on. Inflation follows.

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What’s the standard dosage for pot?

September 24, 2007

Hydroponics in action

 

Anne Cusack

HYDROPONICS IN ACTION: Andrea Nagy tends the marijuana plants she grows at her medicinal dispensary in Thousand Oaks.

Washington state allows a 60-day supply of medical marijuana. Now the Legislature wants to know how much that is. Any ideas?

By Lynn Marshall, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
September 23, 2007

SEATTLE — Patients using marijuana for ailments ranging from chronic back pain to cancer are allowed by Washington state law to possess a two-month supply of the drug. But medical marijuana doesn’t come with a standard dose or even a standard method of taking the drug.

 

The 1998 law has never spelled out how much usable pot nor how many plants make up a 60-day supply.
uNow the Legislature has demanded an answer to the question by July, and the state is holding hearings to ask experts and citizens for their opinions on how to determine a two-month supply.

“There is so much you will have to take into account,” says Joanna McKee, founder of Seattle’s Green Cross Patient Co-op. “What about people who eat it? How different is the amount they need from people who smoke it?”

McKee was one of many who spoke at a state health department public meeting this month in Seattle. More than 100 people attended, and about 45 people spoke. Another meeting in Spokane drew similar numbers.

Most people at the meetings were clearly medical marijuana advocates. So are most who have posted comments on a Washington Department of Health website, but a few have written to express dismay at any use of marijuana. “It is a waste of our time and resources to address this non-issue,” reads one such comment.

But the issue is crucial for patients who use medical marijuana.

“What has ended up happening is that in each county, law enforcement effectively decides what constitutes a 60-day supply,” says attorney Alison Holcomb, Marijuana Education Project director for the state ACLU. “And in some counties, that amount has been set at zero.”

Of the 12 states that protect medical marijuana patients from state prosecution, Washington is the only one without clear guidelines on the amount a patient or designated caregiver is allowed to possess.

Those amounts are different in almost every other state. Oregon allows the largest supply — 24 ounces or six mature plants — and several states only allow patients to have one ounce of usable marijuana on hand. In California, state law sets a limit of 8 ounces or six mature plants, but cities and counties are free to establish higher guidelines.

Dr. Gregory T. Carter, a professor of rehabilitative medicine at the University of Washington School of Medicine who studies the effects of marijuana in treating patients with ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, says that all of these codified limits may be too low.

“There are so many variables here. Even if you just look at smokers, you have to look not only at the quality of the pot, but also at the efficiency of the smoker,” he says. “Some people are better smokers than others.”

Carter and several colleagues studied the dose amounts used on a federal study of medical marijuana, which has been in progress for more than 30 years. Based on this, he says that a 60-day supply works out to nearly 4 1/2 pounds per patient — far more than the amount allowed by any state.

And, he says, “that’s probably a pretty conservative estimate.”

Tom McBride, executive secretary of the Washington Assn. of Prosecuting Attorneys, welcomes the change in the law. “It doesn’t make sense for a judge or prosecutor to have to determine how much a sick person needs — that’s a medical decision, and I’ve always felt it should be made by a doctor.”

McBride says he isn’t worried about a high limit shielding recreational pot dealers.

“Under Washington law,” he says, “group growing and distribution isn’t legal, and codifying a 60-day supply won’t change that.”

Many advocates hope the state will ultimately allow patient co-ops to grow and distribute medical pot, as is the case in some parts of California. But no one expects that to happen here any time soon.

Bruce Mirken is director of communications at the Marijuana Policy Project, a national nonprofit group that works for both medical and recreational marijuana policy reform. He worries that Washington’s new definition will be set too low, but at the same time emphasizes that safe access remains the larger issue for all medical marijuana patients.

“It’s going to remain a problem, as long as the federal government remains hostile to medical marijuana,” he says.

That worry was reflected in many of the comments offered at the Seattle meeting.

Caroline Welch, 47, was one of the first to tell her story. Diagnosed with stage-three ovarian cancer earlier this summer, Welch attributes much of her ability to withstand her treatment to medical marijuana.

“There were people producing it for me before I knew I’d even need it,” she says. “It would have taken me till next summer to cultivate the plants, get the knowledge base. There is no way that I could have done it.”

McKee, of the Seattle patient co-op, said she had worked with thousands of medical marijuana patients over the years. “I have never seen anyone with a 60-day supply. I have seen people with a few ounces, a few plants,” she said.

Public comments on the issue will be accepted until the end of the year, and in early 2008, the department of health will publish a proposed rule. The final rule must be in place by July, which is also the deadline for the health department to report back to the Legislature on the issue of safe access to medical marijuana.

lynn.marshall@latimes.com

US exceptionalism meets Team Jesus

September 24, 2007


Interview by Tom Engelhardt

He’s a man who knows something about the dangers of mixing religious fervor, war, and the crusading spirit, a subject he dealt with eloquently in his book Constantine’s Sword: The Church and the Jews. A former Catholic priest turned anti-war activist in the Vietnam era, Carroll also wrote a moving memoir about his relationship to his father, the founding director of the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency.

Carroll in essence grew up in that five-sided monument to US imperial power. For him, as a boy, the Pentagon was “the largest

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playhouse in the world”, and he can still remember sliding down its ramps in his socks, as he has written in the introduction to his recent magisterial history of that building and the institution it holds, House of War.

As a weekly columnist for the Boston Globe, he was perhaps the first media figure to notice – and warn against – a presidential “slip of the tongue” just after the assaults of September 11, 2001, when US President George W Bush referred briefly to his new “global war on terror” as a “crusade”. Carroll was possibly the first mainstream columnist in the United States to warn against the consequences of launching a war against Afghanistan in response to those attacks – now just another of Bush’s missions unaccomplished; and, in September 2003, he was possibly the first to pronounce the Iraq war “lost” in print. (“The war in Iraq is lost. What will it take to face that truth this time?”)

His stirring columns on the early years of Bush’s attempt to bring “freedom” to the world at the point of a cruise missile were collected in Crusade: Chronicles of an Unjust War. In those years, Carroll was a powerful moral voice from – to use a very American phrase – the (media) wilderness until much of the American world finally caught up with him.

He has most recently completed, with director Oren Jacoby, a stirring documentary film, also titled Constantine’s Sword, in which he explores the roots of religiously inspired violence in our present world. He submitted to a Tomdispatch interview in August 2005 and when, this summer, I suggested that we meet again, he agreed to discuss “American fundamentalisms”, a subject that receives remarkably less coverage and consideration than other fundamentalisms of the world.

We met on a warm day, just after a rare downpour in a dry summer, in the study of his house in the state of Massachusetts. His many books dot the bookshelves. Out the window is a piney landscape, not quite the one the Puritans first saw when they arrived from England early in the 17th century, but beautiful nonetheless. Carroll, his hair graying, has not so much a worn as a well-inhabited face. You can see him thinking as he speaks – not so common a trait as you might imagine. As he warms up to the subject of American fundamentalisms, his voice gains the quiet yet powerful passion that any reader of his weekly columns has come to expect, a passion that nonetheless leaves room for reason and criticism, for further thought.

I put my two small tape recorders on a modest coffee table, turned them on, asked my first question, and discovered that this was an interview in name only. It was more like being back in the most riveting classroom of my life. A single lecture, an hour’s genuine education, stretching from America’s first Puritan moments to Bush’s Iraq, with hardly an interpolation needed on my part.

Tom Engelhardt: I recently heard this joke: How many neo-cons does it take to screw in a light bulb? The answer: Neo-cons don’t believe in light bulbs, they declare war on evil and set the house on fire.

[Carroll chuckles.]

TE: That’s my introduction to a discussion of American fundamentalism. Any comments?

James Carroll: Well, embedded in that joke is a central idea: that what matters is not outcome, but purity of intent. A mark of a fundamentalist mindset is that one’s own personal virtue is the ultimate value. The American fundamentalist ethos of the Cold War prepared us to destroy the world. In other words, a world absolutely devastated through nuclear war was acceptable as an outcome because it reflected the virtue of our opposition to the evil of communism. Better dead than red.

TE: A phrase I hadn’t thought about in a long time …

JC: Better the world destroyed than taken over by communism. It’s profoundly nihilistic, which is also one of the marks of the fundamentalist mindset. An irony, of course, is that so much, then and now, is done in the name of realism, but this is such a profoundly unrealistic way of thinking.

TE: It’s in this sense, I suppose, that our president has been unable to learn. So give me the basics on American fundamentalisms, as you see them.

JC: First of all, what is fundamentalism? The word itself was coined in the early 20th century and applied to a particular brand of Protestantism. It comes from a determination to protect what were called, in foundational manifestos, the five fundamentals of Christian belief, particularly the inerrancy of scripture. Scripture can’t make a mistake, right? It has to be read literally.

This was a counterattack against so-called liberal religion’s embrace of the insights of the Enlightenment and the scientific age. Can you apply normal standards of historical criticism to religious belief? The fundamentalists said no, because normal standards might lead you to understand texts as having been composed in normal human circumstances, instead of inspired by God. So when you read the Gospel accounts of the birth of Jesus through the lens of historical critical method, you may conclude that the three kings never actually traveled to Bethlehem, that it’s a mythical story created to make a point – a genre that the people who wrote it were comfortable with.

Fundamentalists reacted against any mitigating of the literal fact of the three kings. To read texts for their theological meaning rather than for their historical literalness would undercut the whole affirmation of the religion. The next thing, you’d be saying that Jesus didn’t rise from the dead on the third day. And if that didn’t happen, where are you?

That was then. Today, fundamentalism remains a useful point of reference in understanding the human panic that can be engendered by the uncertainties attached to Enlightenment thinking – when the world view of science tells you that nothing is dependable, that everything has to be submitted to the test of experimentation, verification.

My argument is that religious belief can mature, can be moved to a new level of sophistication by historical, critical, enlightened thinking, but a lot of people are completely threatened by it. Not to denigrate them. Human beings all over the world are dislocated – all of us are – by so many things we don’t control, the various revolutions sweeping the globe, the degradation of the environment, the challenge to the very integrity of communities.

The ‘city on a hill’
For our conversation, fundamentalist Christianity is a perfect paradigm within which to understand what has been happening in America, a profoundly Christian super-culture. America is also a secular nation, of course. The separation of church and state was a critical innovation, giving us this special standing as a people. The separation’s purpose was to protect the conscientious freedom of every individual by making the state neutral on questions of religious conscience. An absolutely ingenious insight.

It’s important, however, to understand the profoundly American origins of this insight. The argument began in the first generation. John Cotton, a Puritan preacher, embodied the first idea America had of itself, captured in the image his colleague John Winthrop used in defining the new settlement as “the city on a hill”, a phrase that’s fodder for political speeches every four years.

Americans don’t generally like to think this way, but the United States of America is more descended from Massachusetts than Virginia – an important distinction, because the people who settled Virginia were adventurers and entrepreneurs. The people who settled Massachusetts were religious zealots who had left England as an act of dissent against the Church of England, which they considered too popish. Their dissent was against a certain kind of religion, but not in favor of religious freedom. They came to America assuming the power of the state over the religious convictions of the civic body.

TE: : They just wanted a different religion to do the coercing?

JC: Exactly. Of course, these folks thought of themselves as re-enacting the journey of Exodus. What was the city on a hill? Jerusalem, of course – a biblical reference. They had been brought out of the slave condition of a popish church. They were now across the water – think of “the Jordan River” as the Atlantic Ocean – in the promised land, the land flowing with milk and honey. Hello, there are Canaanites here.

Finally, after 1,600 years, the true vision of Jesus Christ was going to be realized – and there was no room for another way of looking at it, no room for what we would call dissent, and certainly no room for any tolerance of the “paganism” of the native Americans. One of the first manifestations of the settlers’ zealotry was the religious coercion that began to mark their relationships with the native Americans they met right here in this very place where we’re now talking. They felt empowered to offer the ancient choice of conversion or death to the people they called the Indians.

One of the members of this early party objected. His name was Roger Williams, and he rejected the coercive violence he saw wielded against native peoples. He rejected the whole idea that the magistrate should be in charge of the religious impulse of the citizen. As a result, he was banished from Boston, exiled to Salem, then banished from Salem. Finally, he started his own foundation in what we call Rhode Island and organized a new kind of state in which the magistrate would have no power over the religious practice of the citizens. This is all within the first generation.

Roger Williams lost the argument in his own day, but he planted the seed of something. He was the first person to use the phrase “wall of separation” between the magistrate and the religion. One hundred eighty years later, Thomas Jefferson picks up that phrase to describe the distinction between the church and the state.

The point here is that the initial city-on-a-hill impulse has never stopped being part of our self-understanding – the idea of America as having a mission to the world or, in biblical terms, a mission to the gentiles. “Go forth and teach all nations,” Jesus commands. This commission is implicit in George Bush’s war to establish democracy – or “freedom” – everywhere. When Americans talk about freedom, it’s our secular code word for salvation. There’s no salvation outside the church; there’s no freedom outside the American way of life. Notice how, after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the disappearance of the Soviet system, there is still something called the “Free World”. As opposed to what?

A special mission to Iraq – and the world
This missionizing in the name of freedom is a basic American impulse. [President Abraham] Lincoln was the high priest of this rhetoric, “the last best hope of mankind”. The United States of America is justified by the virtue of its mission. The entire movement of American power across the continent of North America was a movement to fulfill the “manifest destiny” of a free people extending freedom. Because this is understood as a profoundly virtuous impulse, we’ve seldom criticized it. As a nation, we have begun to reckon with the crime of slavery, but we haven’t begun to reckon with the crime of genocide against the native American peoples. That’s because we haven’t really acknowledged what was wrong with it.

Think of that phrase – “manifest destiny”. A key doctrine in what I am calling American fundamentalism. It remains an inch below the surface of the American belief system. What’s interesting is that this sense of special mission cuts across the spectrum – right wing/left wing, liberals/conservatives – because generally the liberal argument against government policies since World War II is that our wars – Vietnam then, Iraq now – represent an egregious failure to live up to America’s true calling. We’re better than this. Even anti-war critics, who begin to bang the drum, do it by appealing to an exceptional American missionizing impulse. You don’t get the sense, even from most liberals, that – no, America is a nation like other nations and we’re going to screw things up the way other nations do.

TE: That kind of realism is in short supply here.

JC: It hardly exists even now.

Let me make one final point about that missionizing impulse, and the way it transcends right and left. One reason we’re in Iraq today is because, in the 1990s, the left was split on the question of American violence, the proper use of American power. It was split over the issue of what was called “humanitarian intervention”. There are times, it was argued, when the forceful exercise of American power is necessary for the sake of humanitarian causes. Human rights, beginning in [president] Jimmy Carter’s day, became a new form of American religion. If conservatives go abroad speaking the language of freedom, liberals go abroad speaking the language of human rights. And if we have to destroy a nation so that it can exercise human rights, so be it. That’s why, in the early days of the Iraq war, so many surprising people supported it.

The liberal embrace of humanitarian intervention is part of what set loose this new phenomenon of the Bush moment – an explicit appeal to religious motivation in the exercise of American power. Since George W Bush came to power, the religious right has been set free to use overt religious language, missionizing language that actually moves from “freedom” to “salvation”, as a justification for American power. We cast ourselves against Saddam Hussein entirely in terms of a binary evil-versus-good contest. Bush’s appeals to evil were a staple of his speechmaking from the earliest days of this war. The purpose of his war was, he told us, not just to spread democracy, but to end evil. You see what’s happening. We’ve moved into specifically religious categories, and that was all right in America.

Tom, here’s the thing that’s important to acknowledge: if Americans are upset with the war in Iraq today, it’s mainly because it failed. If we could have “ended evil” with this war, it would have been a good thing. It goes back to the joke you began with: if we have to destroy the world in order to purify it of evil, that’s all right. It’s the key to the apocalyptic mindset that Robert J Lifton has written about so eloquently, in which the destruction of the Earth can be an act of purification. The destruction of Iraq was an act of purification. Even today, look at the rhetoric that’s unfolding as we begin to talk about ending the war in Iraq. It’s the Iraqis who have failed. They wouldn’t yield on their “sectarian” agendas. These people won’t get together and form a cohesive government. Now, we’re going to let them stew in their own mess. We’re going to withdraw from this war because they’re not worthy of us.

That’s the mainstream Democratic anti-war position! America is a city on a hill, exceptional; so, if we do it, by definition it must be virtuous. If we’ve gone to Iraq and all hell’s broken loose, it may be a fiasco, but in origin it can’t be our fault because we were motivated by good intentions.

Now, put all of that in the context of this astounding religious resurgence …

TE: It’s the surge …

JC [laughs]: Yes, the surge of overt religious claims within the United States government, people who understand themselves as fulfilling their sworn oaths to uphold the United States constitution in the name of religion. I interviewed the chief chaplain of the US Air Force, who said to me: “I have two commissions. One commission is to uphold the US constitution and the other is to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and they go hand in hand with each other.”

I grew up in the air force. I gotta tell ya, there was no chaplain in the air force in my day who would have said that. In fact, the chaplains I knew didn’t see themselves as having a commission to preach the Gospel at all. You bent over backward not to do that when you were dealing with soldiers outside of the chapel.

A Christian defense of the nation
TE:
You have a new film, based on your book Constantine’s Sword, in which you explore this change at, among other places, the Air Force Academy, right?

JC: Yes, what happened there was striking. Take just this example: a couple of years ago, Mel Gibson’s film The Passion of the Christ rendered in profoundly fundamentalist ways, most terribly, the death of Jesus as caused by “the Jews”, not the Romans. In that movie, [Pontius] Pilate is a good guy, the Jewish high priest the villain. Gibson justified this by saying it was how the Gospels tell the story, which is literally true. A fundamentalist reading of the Gospel story ignores what we know from history and from scientific inquiry and analysis of the Gospels. It wasn’t “the Jews” who murdered Jesus, it was the Romans, pure and simple. There were complicated reasons why the Gospels were

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written that way, but a fundamentalist reading of those texts is dangerous. Gibson demonized the Jews, while celebrating grotesque violence as a mode of salvation, as willed by God.

And then that film was featured at the United States Air Force Academy. Its commanders made it clear that every one of the cadets, over 4,000 of them, was supposed to see that movie. Repeatedly over a week, every time cadets went into H H Arnold Mess Hall, they found fliers on their dinner plates announcing that this movie was being shown. I saw posters that said: “See The Passion of the Christ” and “This is an official Air Force Academy event, do not remove this poster.”

As a result of that film, there was an outbreak of pressure, practically coercion, by born-again evangelical Christians aimed at non-Christian cadets and, in a special way, at Jews. This went on for months, and when the whistle was blown by a Jewish cadet and his father, the air force denied it, tried to cover it up. Yale University sent a team from the Yale Divinity School to investigate. They issued a devastating report. The commander at the academy was finally removed; the air force was forced to acknowledge that there was a problem.

In fact, the academy had allowed itself to become a proselytizing outpost for evangelical Christian mega-churches in the Colorado Springs area. Chief among them were Ted Haggard’s and James Dobson’s, both men then in the inner circle of the Bush White House, involved in the sort of faith-based initiatives that marked the Bush administration.

In the Pentagon today, there is active proselytizing by Christian groups that is allowed by the chain of command. When your superior expects you to show up at his prayer breakfast, you may not feel free to say no. It’s not at all clear what will happen to your career. He writes your efficiency report. And the next thing you know, you have, in the culture of the Pentagon, more and more active religious outreach.

Imagine, then, a military motivated by an explicit Christian, missionizing impulse at the worst possible moment in our history, because we’re confronting an enemy – and yes, we do have an enemy: fringe, fascist, nihilist extremists coming out of the Islamic world – who define the conflict entirely in religious terms. They too want to see this as a new “crusade”. That’s the language that Osama bin Laden uses. For the United States of America at this moment to allow its military to begin to wear the badges of a religious movement is a disaster!

TE: What does this point to, when it comes to the future?

JC: Well, the best thing that’s happened, when it comes to all of this, has been the near-complete political and moral collapse of the Bush administration, but that doesn’t mean this movement is going away. Bush was a sponsor of it. But look how it took off! Bush sponsored it, to take another example, in the Justice Department under attorney general [Alberto] Gonzales – all those born-again Christian lawyers coming from fundamentalist Christian law schools that have no history of excellence.

We must be aware that there’s something much deeper than the Bush administration and a particular wing of the Republican Party at work here, however. This isn’t just Karl Rove, though he was ingenious at exploiting it.

Let’s go back to what kind of a nation the United States is. Here is something I read recently: though we are officially a secular people, there are more self-identified Christians in this country than self-identified Jews in Israel in percentage terms. We commonly think of Israel as a Jewish state. Something like 75% of Israelis would identify themselves as Jewish. Eighty percent of Americans identify themselves as Christian! And we’re not a Christian nation? We have to be wary of our Christian roots and of the city-on-a-hill impulse that still lives just an inch below the surface.

Our war against the Soviet Union was a religious war. [Secretary of state] John Foster Dulles [under president Dwight Eisenhower] was practically explicit about this in his speeches, which were like sermons. Not just “communism”, but “atheistic communism”. Dwight D Eisenhower was baptized while he was president – part of a Cold War feeling that we were involved in a Christian defense of the nation against an atheistic enemy.

Huddling up for Team Jesus
TE:
And, of course, he titled his memoir Crusade in Europe.

JC: Christian points of reference came very easily in those years, but what has made the Bush era especially dangerous is that a political party has explicitly, overtly embraced a religious movement for the political power it generates. Fundamentalists have their rights, their place, in America, but there’s no place for a political movement that aims to take control of the levers of state power in the name of religion. That’s a violation of the “wall of separation”. You can’t have military commanders giving orders down the chain of command that have religious content to them. You can’t, on the eve of battle, require your soldiers to gather in a huddle the way a coach might, and say the Lord’s Prayer.

TE: And yet it’s happening …

JC: It’s happening all the time! At the Air Force Academy, “Team Jesus” was one of the nicknames for the football team and one of the most vociferous evangelical Christian proselytizers was the football coach. Look at it from his point of view. What happens when he can get his huddle together and they’re all saying the Lord’s Prayer? A chief military virtue is “unit cohesion”. It can be created in any number of ways, but one shortcut is if you can get everybody into a kind of Pentecostal religious fervor. If you can get your young men and women feeling the presence of the Lord, they’re going to fight better, possibly more selflessly. That’s what’s in it for the military. Let’s think cynically. There may be some military commanders who don’t give much of a damn about God, but who see what God can do for fighting spirit. It works.

Let’s all gather around the Humvee before we head into this village. Let us pray. You can bet that’s going on in Iraq right now. Here’s the question: What happens to the kid who doesn’t want to get around that Humvee or, more to the point, to the Muslim bystanders who see American soldiers invoking God on their way into battle?

TE: Or when you loose well-armed, even nuclear-armed people eager to purify the world …

JC: If I have a point to make, it’s this: the religious tradition of Christian fundamentalism is one thing; the tradition of American exceptionalism another. They both have their roots in the same experience. They were separated. Under George Bush they’ve been brought together.

TE: When it comes to the Bush administration, complete collapse or not, we know that this man, without the possibility of changing his mind, and his vice president, without the possibility of changing his mind, with whomever they can still control in their own government and military, are there until January 2009. What does it mean to have people in a fundamentalist mindset, but thoroughly embattled and on the downward slide? I wouldn’t like to write off the next year and a half. It’s a potential nightmare.

JC: It could indeed be. But this issue involves more than the temperament of George Bush. It involves the structure of the fundamentalist mind. One pillar is bipolarity – the understanding of reality as divided between good and evil; you’re on the side of good and they’re on the side of evil. However, they can begin by being Osama bin Laden’s band, which then becomes the Taliban, which becomes Afghanistan, which becomes all the Muslims who ever talked about the Great Satan, which becomes Iraq, and now maybe Iran, and even critics in the US. “They”, “they”, “they”. We see that progression in Bush.

A second pillar is an absolute allergy to doubt. The fundamentalist mindset doesn’t survive once you admit doubt or self-criticism. When asked for an example of a mistake he had made, Bush surprised people two years ago by claiming he couldn’t think of one. The tragedy of Bush is, if you ask that question of him today, I’m sure he would answer the same way.

A world religiously aflame
Let’s just step back a minute, though. How different are the Democratic presidential candidates really? What I hear from them, too, is a world divided between the good and the bad. I also hear – this is the meaning of the new rhetoric about the failure of Iraq being the failure of Iraqis – that we Americans are not to criticize what we’ve done in any basic way. “I wouldn’t renounce my vote.” “The president lied to me, that’s why I voted the way I did.” No capacity for self-criticism, for doubt.

You know, the genius of the American system – why the constitution is worth defending – is that our constitution comes from Roger Williams, not John Winthrop and John Cotton. It assumes a world not divided between good and evil, but one where everybody participates in the whole mess.

What are checks and balances? The constitution’s authors understood that even people motivated by good intentions are going to screw up. So everybody, every institution, needs to be checked. This system assumes not bipolarity but unipolarity, in the sense that we’re all capable of mistakes, that we all have to be constantly criticized. The constitution is an ingenious structure for living in the real world.

TE: And yet, in recent years, the presidency and the Pentagon, in particular, as you’ve written in your history of the Pentagon, House of War, have seemingly grown beyond institutional checks and balances.

JC: The question today is whether the constitution continues to exist as anything beyond a kind of totem, a vestige. Recent history certainly suggests that the Pentagon is now “unchecked”. And if we can end our present war by blaming the Iraqis, then the Pentagon will be immune from criticism and prepared for the next foray of American power. That’s why we must challenge this laying the blame on the Iraqi people, as if their “sectarianism” weighs more than our hubris. As of now, I fear, we’ll be getting out of this war with what brought us into it intact.

TE: People sometimes ask me about Iraq: “Well, what would you do?” It’s a question that drives me crazy. I always think: Well, why didn’t you ask me back when it mattered? Why didn’t you ask me when I could have said, “Don’t go in”? So I’m hesitant to ask you, but if you had the power to begin to organize people in some fashion, what first steps would you take to mend this world?

JC: Let me just say that we’ve been talking only America here, in part because I think people are attuned to the threat from what’s called “Islamic fundamentalism”. My own conviction is that a crucial 21st-century problem is going to be Christian fundamentalism. Its global growth is an unnoticed story in the United States. Africa, Latin America, and parts of Asia are now absolutely on fire with zealous belief in the saving power of Jesus, in the most intolerant of ways. A religious ideology that affirms the salvific power of violence is taking hold. It denigrates people who are not part of the saved community, permitting discrimination, and ultimately violence. Hundreds of millions of people are embracing this kind of Christianity.

So what am I doing? I’m a Christian. I’m raising this alarm from within the community. That’s why I believe, as a Roman Catholic, that my own tradition must be rescued from its current temptation to fundamentalism. There are a billion Catholics in the world. For all its problems, Roman Catholicism has reckoned with the Enlightenment, has accepted the scientific world view, has no argument with evolution, has learned to read the Bible in metaphoric ways, as opposed to literal ones. Today we have a fundamentalist pope, but he rules from the margin. It’s hugely important that the Catholic tradition not go fundamentalist.

You ask me what I would do. I think, for one thing, that believing people, whether Jews, Muslims or Christians, need to affirm the importance of pluralism, respect for the other, and modesty about religious claims. I could be a Jew sitting in Jerusalem and offer exactly the same argument about the Jewish zealots making claims on land in the name of God. So Jewish zealotry, Muslim zealotry, Christian zealotry, all three empowered lately, all three armed to the teeth. That’s what’s really terrifying – and, in the world of weapons of mass destruction, it’s not that hard to get armed to the teeth.

So here’s a message addressed to the participants in the Tomdispatch community who may have a religious interest: embrace it. Fight for it. Fight for a post-Enlightenment, post-modern, intelligent approach to religion. Don’t surrender religion to the wackos.

If the wackos take over religion, they’re going to take over state power, and the world won’t survive the 21st century. And the United States of America has been at the center of this. When George W Bush launched his war in the name of God … even more, when this nation took the September 11 assaults as a religious war, Muslims attacking us good, virtuous – we didn’t call ourselves Christians, but we were an inch away from it – that’s when we began to make our part of this mistake.

TE: And we should have taken it as …?

JC: A savage crime. Think of al-Qaeda as the Mafia. When the Mafia blows up a distillery and kills 18 people in the neighborhood as part of a turf war, or goes after a hardware dealer who doesn’t pay protection money and paralyzes the neighborhood with fear, or when the Mafia takes over a whole region of a nation, as it did in Italy for most of the 20th century, fight back; but fight back against the criminal network with a massive act of law enforcement the way the Italian government did.

It took the Italian government 50 years to break the Mafia’s hold over Sicily, and they still have to keep fighting. But they never declared war on Sicily. They never went in and bombed Sicily. They gave their judges and police inspectors and detectives body armor and they went after the Mafia hitmen with highly armed SWAT [special weapons and tactics] teams. I’m not talking about pacifism here. But keep religious ideology out of this. And keep the language of war out, too.

You know, only in going to war do humans feel the need to appeal to God. There’s no “God with us” on the belt buckles of cops. God gets invoked in war, because it’s a much more extreme state of the human condition. War always brings you very quickly to the point of “us or them”.

When somebody comes at you with a savage act of violence, go back at them with your best, most heavily armed cops. Don’t go to war against them. It’s a very basic idea. It can’t be emphasized enough. We’re going to have another terrorist attack in this country. It’s crucially important that, however horrendous, it be treated as a crime – not an act of war.

Unbuilding the Pentagon
TE:
You’ve written a whole book recently about the Pentagon. In this period, it has grown fantastically. We’ve even ended up with two Pentagons, the second being the Department of Homeland Security. Now, we have a North American Command, Northcom, for the first time …

JC: … And there’s another deeply troubling phenomenon, these so-called “contractors” outside the purview of the Pentagon, of the US government, people paid to serve, who are not sworn officers of the government …

TE: And isn’t the all-volunteer army itself becoming a part-mercenary army, because they’re having to pay and pay and pay to lure in reluctant recruits? My question is: Do you see a way to begin to unbuild the Pentagon? Are we stuck with the Department of Homeland Security forever?

JC: If any nation was ever stuck with an all-powerful, untouchable military establishment, it was the Soviet Union. By 1987, 1988, the only institution in Soviet society that was working, the only one that was funded, was the military; and it was the most reactionary wing of society.

If the Russians could get out from under that, there’s no reason in the world why we can’t get out from under our version of the same. But it takes a Gorbachev. Who knows when such a figure will come here?

Two things happened that enabled [general secretary of the Communist Party Mikhail] Gorbachev to defeat his own military and dismantle the Soviet system. One was the accident at the Chernobyl nuclear plant, a massive, horrendous public mistake – and the mistake wasn’t just the nuclear meltdown, but the way in which the militarized establishment dealt with it. They sent hundreds of people in to shut down a poisoned reactor, saying there was no threat to their health. They were mostly poisoned. Dead very quickly. And then the militarized establishment told the people of Ukraine and the eastern Soviet territories that there was no radioactive threat to them, and hundreds of people later came down with serious illnesses and cancers. That happened in 1986, within months of Gorbachev’s coming to power. It prepared the people for a different kind of power.

And then there was that second, wonderful incident, forgotten today. An absolute fluke, pure serendipity. These things happen in life. A young German kid named Mathias Rust flew a Piper Cub plane from Germany to Moscow and landed in Red Square, untouched. He had demonstrated in the most graphic way possible that the best-funded, most vaunted system in the Soviet Empire, the anti-aircraft defense system, a supposedly unbreachable set of defenses, could be totally fooled by a prankster. It was madness.

Anybody else would have executed that kid! But Gorbachev had him sent right home to Germany. Then he fired his entire military establishment – army and air ministers, a hundred generals – his reactionary nemesis. Rust’s flight was such an embarrassment that he could do it.

I’m saying: don’t ever claim the system is unreformable. [US president Bill] Clinton had a golden opportunity after the Soviet Union disappeared in 1991-92. Les Aspin, a dove, an expert at arms reduction and arms control, was put in as secretary of defense. And you remember who Clinton’s national security adviser was? Anthony Lake, who had resigned in an act of conscience against the invasion of Cambodia. Clinton’s motive upon coming to office was to disempower the Pentagon. I’m certain of it. He failed. Aspin was destroyed by the president’s failure to support him. The gays-in-the-military episode was part of the story. The real “don’t ask/don’t tell” story of that moment, though, was the Pentagon’s: don’t ask us about our nuclear weapons and we won’t tell you what we’re doing to maintain them.

Could we get out of this trap? Yes, but Democrats would have to be far more direct in challenging the assumptions and structures of the American military ethos.

TE: Last words?

JC [pauses]: Well, the last word in this conversation is: religion and politics, religion and military power, are a deadly mix in an age of weapons of mass destruction; and, if the United States of America gets this wrong, there’s no reason to think anybody else is going to get it right. Casting an eye across the century to come, this is the issue.

(Used by permission Tomdispatch)

(Copyright 2007 Tomdispatch.)

http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Front_Page/FI08Aa02.html

If those abroad who resent the United States really did so for our freedoms, we’d be pretty safe now.

September 23, 2007

A Roseland, Indiana, city council member orders police to remove a fellow city council member. The police escort him out, shove him down on his face and pound his head. Onlookers either cheer, do nothing, joke, behave as if all were normal, or yell at others to let the police do their jobs. Not a single person protests. Only the one victim is hauled off in the police car. No one jumps in and shouts “Before this becomes Nazi Germany, arrest me too!”

A University of Florida student asks inconvenient questions of a U.S. senator. Police tackle him and shoot him with a taser. Onlookers, including the senator, either cheer, do nothing, joke, behave as if all were normal, or yell at others to let the police do their jobs. Not a single person seriously protests. Only the one victim is hauled off to jail. Fascist-friendly media outlets love the story because the senator is a Democrat, but they don’t tell the story right. Progressive media outlets don’t tell the story, even though they would tell it right, because the senator is a Democrat.

A television newscaster announces that planes were delayed in Boston’s airport and tells us the name of a college student, shows us her picture, and tells us that we should blame her. He tells us to give the airport security guards credit for doing their jobs. They mistook her school project for a bomb. Again, we must let the “authorities” handle things.

We must pretend toothpaste and deodorant are weapons. We must pass through metal detectors. We must shout through bullet proof glass. We must refrain from hysterically laughing at police officers who solemnly believe every backpack or stroller is a threat to national security. We must speak freely in “free speech zones,” except when we speak the wrong things freely and go to jail for it. We must be treated as criminals any time we attempt to get near members of our government.

We must accept genocide to support “our troops” doing their job. With very few exceptions, when those troops witness torture, rape, and murder, they either cheer, do nothing, joke, behave as if all were normal, or yell at others to let the mercenaries and the troops do their jobs. They’re brave enough to fight and kill, but just as scared to challenge abuses of power as everyone back home.

Back home in the land of the free, the wrong sign or t-shirt can now land you in jail. The wrong bumper sticker at a peace rally can get you a ticket. The wrong words out of your mouth can now constitute any number of serious crimes. Police brutality is now considered part of keeping us safe. And everyone is too scared to notice that anything is changing. Those who notice, obviously believe nothing can be done or believe someone else will do it. If those abroad who resent the United States really did so for our freedoms, we’d be pretty safe now.

“If You See Something, Say Something.”

Everyone needs to quit all the idiotic spying on neighbors and snooping around their bags to check for bombs. When you see someone assaulted by police, SAY SOMETHING. Do not let that moment pass.

One young woman approached the University of Florida police and screamed “Why are you doing that?” That’s a start.

Sam Provance exposed some of the torture at Abu Ghraib. That’s a start.

But most Americans appear paralyzed by fear. And that includes many Americans with the power to put a halt to our slide into martial law. We have an opposition political party afraid to oppose anything. We have grassroots groups that swear obedience to the opposition party, even as the useless unopposing party condemns the activists. Those with the power to end national crimes are afraid to do so. They fund the occupation of Iraq and promise never to impeach anyone, all as part of letting the “authorities” handle things. And citizens play along, pretending the Democrats have no power and, in addition, shouldn’t use it. They base this on the theory that by not using any power you are most likely to acquire more power. This is thinking driven by fear. We have almost nothing but fear now driving our national decisions, and it is beginning to scare me.

But there are signs of courage. There is a growing and successful counter-recruitment movement. Expensive corporate movies are beginning to challenge the occupation of Iraq. And peace and impeachment activists are engaging in more and more civil disobedience. People are speaking and protesting and sitting-in in the face of nascent fascism. Even sometimes those in power are speaking truth to those with more power.

Congressman Dennis Kucinich alone in Congress is repeatedly articulating the indisputable but taboo fact that the Democratic leadership in Congress can end the occupation by announcing that it will not fund it anymore. Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey has suggested that pseudo peace activists targeting Republicans may not be enough, that it might be a good idea to challenge pro-war Democrats as well. The Congressional Black Caucus Monitor is holding “Lawn Jockey Awards” for the “four worst black members of Congress.” And many progressives around the country are energetically opposing the presidential candidacy of Hillary Clinton. There are signs of life still in our body politic, but they are struggling against an incoming tide of fear and self-inflicted terrorism.
_______
http://www.davidswanson.org

About author David Swanson is a co-founder of After Downing Street, a writer and activist, and the Washington Director of Democrats.com.

http://www.davidswanson.org

How George Bush became the new Saddam

September 22, 2007


COVER STORY: Its strategies shattered, a desperate Washington is reaching out to the late dictator’s henchmen.
by Patrick Graham

It was embarrassing putting my flak jacket on backwards and sideways, but in the darkness of the Baghdad airport car park I couldn’t see anything. “Peterik, put the flak jacket on,” the South African security contractor was saying politely, impatiently. “You know the procedure if we are attacked.”

I didn’t. He explained. One of the chase vehicles would pull up beside us and someone would drag me out of the armoured car, away from the firing. If both drivers were unconscious—nice euphemism—he said I should try to run to the nearest army checkpoint. If the checkpoint was American, things might work out if they didn’t shoot first. If it was Iraqi . . . he didn’t elaborate.

Arriving in Baghdad has always been a little weird. Under Saddam Hussein it was like going into an orderly morgue; when he ran off after the U.S.-led invasion of March 2003 put an end to his Baathist party regime, the city became a chaotic mess. I lived in Iraq for almost two years, but after three years away I wasn’t quite ready for just how deserted and worn down the place seemed in the early evening. It was as if some kind of mildew was slowly rotting away at the edges of things, breaking down the city into urban compost.
Since 2003, more than 3,775 U.S. troops have been killed in Iraq, while nearly 7,500 Iraqi policemen and soldiers have died. For Iraq’s civilian population, the carnage has been almost incalculable. Last year alone, the UN estimated that 34,500 civilians were killed and more than 36,000 wounded; other estimates are much higher. As the country’s ethnic divisions widen, especially between Iraq’s Arab Shia and Arab Sunni Muslims (the Kurds are the third major group), some two million people have been internally displaced, with another two million fleeing their homeland altogether. Entering Baghdad I could tell the Sunni neighbourhoods, ghettos really, by the blasts in the walls and the emptiness, courtesy of sectarian cleansing by the majority Shias. The side streets of the Shia districts seemed to have a little more life to them.

Continue

Anthrax Coverup: A Government Insider Speaks Out – lets not forget

September 21, 2007

By Steve Watson

Is it possible that the anthrax attacks were launched from within our own government? A former Bush 1 advisor thinks it is.

Francis A. Boyle, an international law expert who worked under the first Bush Administration as a bioweapons advisor in the 1980s, has said that he is convinced the October 2001 anthrax attacks that killed five people were perpetrated and covered up by criminal elements of the U.S. government. The motive: to foment a police state by killing off and intimidating opposition to post-9/11 legislation such as the USA PATRIOT Act and the later Military Commissions Act.

“After the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the Bush Administration tried to ram the USA PATRIOT Act through Congress,” Boyle said in a radio interview with Austin-based talk-show host Alex Jones. “That would have set up a police state.

“Senators Tom Daschle (D-South Dakota) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont)
were holding it up because they realized what this would lead to. The
first draft of the PATRIOT Act would have suspended the writ of habeas
corpus [which protects citizens from unlawful imprisonment and
guarantees due process of law]. Then all of a sudden, out of nowhere,
come these anthrax attacks.”

“At the time I myself did not know precisely what was going on, either
with respect to September 11 or the anthrax attacks, but then the New
York Times revealed the technology behind the letter to Senator
Daschle. [The anthrax used was] a trillion spores per gram, [refined
with] special electro-static treatment. This is superweapons-grade
anthrax that even the United States government, in its openly
proclaimed programs, had never developed before. So it was obvious to
me that this was from a U.S. government lab. There is nowhere else you
could have gotten that.”

Boyle’s assessment was based on his years of expertise regarding
America’s bioweapons programs. He was responsible for drafting the
Biological Weapons Anti-Terrorism Act of 1989 that was passed
unanimously by both houses of Congress and signed into law by President
George H.W. Bush.

After realizing that the anthrax attacks looked like a domestic job,
Boyle called a high-level official in the FBI who deals with terrorism
and counterterrorism, Marion “Spike” Bowman. Boyle and Bowman had met
at a terrorism conference at the University of Michigan Law School.
Boyle told Bowman that the only people who would have the capability to
carry out the attacks were individuals working on U.S. government
anthrax programs with access to a high-level biosafety lab. Boyle gave
Bowman a full list of names of scientists, contractors and labs
conducting anthrax work for the U.S. government and military.

Bowman then informed Boyle that the FBI was working with Fort Detrick
on the matter. Boyle expressed his view that Fort Detrick could be the
main problem. As widely reported in 2002 publications, notably the New
Scientist, the anthrax strain used in the attacks was officially
assessed as “military grade.”

“Soon after I informed Bowman of this information, the FBI authorized
the destruction of the Ames cultural anthrax database,” the professor
said. The Ames strain turned out to be the same strain as the spores
used in the attacks.

The alleged destruction of the anthrax culture collection at Ames,
Iowa, from which the Fort Detrick lab got its pathogens, was blatant
destruction of evidence. It meant that there was no way of finding out
which strain was sent to whom to develop the larger breed of anthrax
used in the attacks. The trail of genetic evidence would have led
directly back to a secret government biowarfare program.

“Clearly, for the FBI to have authorized this was obstruction of
justice, a federal crime,” said Boyle. “That collection should have
been preserved and protected as evidence. That’s the DNA, the
fingerprints right there. It later came out, of course, that this was
Ames strain anthrax that was behind the Daschle and Leahy letters.”

At that point, recounted Boyle, it became very clear to him that there
was a coverup underway. He later discovered, while reading David Ray
Griffin’s book on the 9/11 attacks, The New Pearl Harbor, that Bowman
was the same FBI agent who allegedly sabotaged the FISA warrant for
access to [convicted co-conspirator] Zacharias Moussaoui’s computer
prior to 9/11. Moussaoui’s computer contained information that could
have helped prevent the attacks on the World Trade Center and the
Pentagon.

In 2003, Bowman was promoted and given the Presidential Rank Award by
FBI Director Robert S. Mueller. Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) wrote a
letter to Mueller, chastising the organization for granting such an
honor to an agent who had so obviously compromised America’s security.

During the anthrax scare, the House of Representatives was officially
shut down for the first time in the history of the republic. Once
opposition from Leahy and Daschle evaporated in the wake of the
attempts on their lives, the USA PATRIOT Act was rammed through.
Testimony by Representative Ron Paul (R-Texas) revealed that most
members of Congress were compelled to vote for the bill without even
reading it.

“They were going to move to suspend the writ of habeas corpus, which is
all that really separates us from a police state,” Boyle said. “And
that is what they have done now with respect to enemy combatants [in
the Military Commissions Act of 2006].” Boyle added that lawmakers are
now arguing that Amendment XIV, which guarantees due process of law to
all Americans, does not mean what it has been taken to mean and that,
under the Military Commissions Act, any U.S. citizen can be stripped of
citizenship and be labeled an enemy combatant.

Continued Boyle: “In other words, they have taken the position that at
some point in time, if they want to, they can unilaterally round up
United States native-born citizens, as they did for Japanese-Americans
in World War II, and stick us into concentration camps.” Boyle asserted
that top officials, such as White House legal advisor John Yoo and
former Assistant Attorney General Jack Goldsmith (now a professor at
Harvard Law School), are pushing for the legalization of torture as
well.

“The Nazis did the exact same thing,” said Boyle. “They had their
lawyers infiltrating law schools. Carl Schmidt was the worst, and he
was the mentor to Leo Strauss, the [ideological] founder of the
neoconservatives. So the same phenomenon that started in Nazi Germany
is happening here, and I exaggerate not. We could all be tortured; we
could all be treated this way.”

Boyle stressed that it is vital to keep up the pressure on Senator
Leahy, who now chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, giving him
subpoena power. Since Leahy was himself a target, he may have
sufficient motivation to get to the bottom of the attacks. The FBI and
the Justice Department have so far refused full disclosure to Congress.

In addition to his credentials as a government advisor, Boyle also
holds a doctorate of law magna cum laude and a Ph.D. in political
science, both from Harvard University. He teaches international law at
the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. Boyle also served on
the Board of Directors of Amnesty International (1988-92) and
represented Bosnia-Herzegovina at the World Court.

Boyle alleged that due to his activities as a lawyer, he was
interrogated by an agent from the CIA/FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force in
the summer of 2004. The agent tried to recruit him as an informant to
provide the FBI with information on his Arab and Muslim clients. When
he refused, according to Boyle, the FBI placed him on the government’s
terrorism watch lists.

September 21, 2007

Quotes

“The US sent election monitors to protect the balloting process in Mexico.
  But where they might have been more useful that year was in Florida.”
     –Former Mexican president Vicente Fox, in a dig at Der Fuhrer,   Link