Friday, March 31, 2006

Liberal Modernity Exasperates Traditional Religion

Damon Linker: The Christianizing of America

Liberal modernity exasperates traditional religion. It fosters a pluralism that denies any one faith the power to organize the whole of social life. It teaches that public authorities must submit to the consent of those over whom they aspire to rule, thereby undermining the legitimacy of all forms of absolutism. It employs the systematic skepticism of the scientific method to settle important questions of public policy. It encourages the growth of the capitalist marketplace, which unleashes human appetites and gives individuals the freedom to choose among an ever-expanding range of ways to satisfy them.

None of this means that modernity necessarily produces "secularization": the persistence of piety in America is a massive stumbling block to anyone wishing to maintain that the modern age is just a long march toward atheism. But if modernity does not lead inexorably to godlessness, the social, political, scientific, and economic dynamism of modern life nonetheless requires that traditionalist believers make a choice. They can adapt to modernity by embracing at least some degree of liberalization--or they can set out to combat the modern dispensation in the name of theological purity. A tension between these alternatives--between liberal religion and anti-liberal religion--runs through the history of nearly every modern nation, including the United States.

A majority of the American founders were deistic Episcopalians, and since the late eighteenth century the country's political culture has been dominated by liberal Protestantism. But that is far from the whole story. From the "Great Awakenings" of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries through the rancorous battle between "modernist" and "fundamentalist" Protestants in the 1920s to today's conflicts over teaching "intelligent design" in the nation's classrooms, the country has repeatedly experienced outbursts of populist religious fervor by those who passionately reject central features of liberal modernity, including the authority of science and the legitimacy of a secular and pluralist political order.

Whether or not the recent prominence of religiosity in the nation's public life signals that America is undergoing a new Great Awakening, it is undeniable that the rise of the Republican Party to electoral dominance in the past generation has been greatly aided by the politicization of culturally alienated traditionalist Christians. Countless press reports in recent years have noted that much of the religious right's political strength derives from the exertions of millions of anti-liberal evangelical Protestants. Much less widely understood is the more fundamental role of a small group of staunchly conservative Catholic intellectuals in providing traditionalist Christians of any and every denomination with a comprehensive ideology to justify their political ambitions. In the political economy of the religious right, Protestants supply the bulk of the bodies, but it is Catholics who supply the ideas. ...

Source: New Republic (3-24-06)
Review of: Richard John Neuhaus's Catholic Matters: Confusion, Controversy, and the Splendor of Truth (Basic Books).

Posted on Tuesday, March 28, 2006 at 7:37 PM

Why We are Fighting Bushco

"Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet deprecate agitation, are people who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning; they want the ocean without the awful roar of its waters.

"This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand; it never did and it never will.

"Find out what people will submit to, and you have found out the exact amount of injustice which will be imposed upon them. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress."

--Frederick Douglass, "The Significance of Emancipation in the West Indies." Speech, Canandaigua, New York, August 3, 1857

Letter 3 to Leahy after the Hearing

I just wanted to congratulate Senator Leahy on the bright light he and Senator Feingold showed today at the Motion to Censure hearing. You were wonderful (I watched). I would love to have a senator that represents me as well as you did today. Sadly, mine is Diane Feinstein, and she was nowhere in sight today. Ah, well. Let's keep the pressure on.

Again, thanks for carrying the ball for all these Americans out here who want this stopped.


PS I wrote to Feingold too, but lost the copy. It said in essense that I'd support him for president. He's got guts and I so admire that in a senator right now. There are very few of them.

My Absentee Senator

Senator Feinstein,

Where were you this morning during the Motion to Censure hearing? Could Anything Have Been More Important??? An answer to this question would be prudent to me and to the other Californians you respresent. If we don't receive one, and one that shows clearly that your presence was more important elsewhere, I certainly will not support you or any other undertaking you may choose politically. Is there no opposition in the 'loyal opposition' anymore?

Unrepresented Voter in a Snit

What would the Founders say?

John Adams in "A Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law" (1765):

[L]iberty cannot be preserved without a general knowledge among the people, who have a right ... to knowledge ... and a desire to know; but besides this, they have a right, an indisputable, unalienable, indefeasible, divine right to that most dreaded and envied kind of knowledge, I mean, of the characters and conduct of their rulers. Rulers are no more than attorneys, agents, and trustees for the people; and if the cause, the interest and trust, is insidiously betrayed, or wantonly trifled away, the people have a right to revoke the authority that they themselves have deputed, and to constitute abler and better agents, attorneys, and trustees...The stale, impudent insinuations of slander and sedition, with which the gormandizers of power have endeavored to discredit your paper, are so much the more to your honor; for the jaws of power are always opened to devour, and her arm is always stretched out, if possible, to destroy the freedom of thinking, speaking, and writing…

James Madison in
Federalist #47:

The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny.

George Washington in his
Farewell Address (1796):

It is important, likewise, that the habits of thinking in a free country should inspire caution in those entrusted with its administration, to confine themselves within their respective constitutional spheres, avoiding in the exercise of the powers of one department to encroach upon another.The spirit of encroachment tends to consolidate the powers of all the departments in one, and thus to create, whatever the form of government, a real despotism. A just estimate of that love of power, and proneness to abuse it, which predominates in the human heart, is sufficient to satisfy us of the truth of this position.The necessity of reciprocal checks in the exercise of political power, by dividing and distributing it into different depositaries, and constituting each the guardian of the public weal against invasions by the others, has been evinced by experiments ancient and modern; some of them in our country and under our own eyes. To preserve them must be as necessary as to institute them.

Excerpts from an excellent article by
Hume's Ghost on Unclaimed Territory

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Supremes Consider Limits of Presidential Power

By Marjorie Cohn,
Wed Mar 29th, 2006 at 09:48:38 PM EDT ::

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court heard arguments in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, the most significant case to date that tests the limits of Bush's power. Scalia, who has already pre-judged this case, should have recused himself. In a March 8 talk at the University of Freiberg in Switzerland, Scalia denied that the detainees have legal rights."War is war," he declared, "and it has never been the case that when you captured a combatant you have to give them a jury trial in your civil courts." Scalia, who flipped off reporters in Boston two days before the oral argument in this case, will invariably give the finger to Salim Ahmed Hamdan and the rule of law. Evidently, so will Samuel Alito. He suggested during argument that Hamdan should wait until after he's convicted in the military commission to question whether conspiracy is a war crime. Clarence Thomas, who characteristically remained mute, will vote with Scalia and Alito, judging from his decisions in Rasul and Hamdi. Fortunately, Breyer, Ginsburg, Kennedy, Souter and Stevens showed little appetite for Bush's argument that Congress suspended habeas corpus in the Detainee Treatment Act. "The historic [writ] of habeas is to test whether or not you are being tried by a lawful tribunal," Kennedy noted. Souter took the issue of Bush's unbridled arrogation of power head-on. He asked what would stop the President from setting up military commissions in Toledo, Ohio as well as Guantánamo Bay. The answer is clear: the Supreme Court.

The Dems (except Feingold) are AWOL

By Don,
Thu Mar 30th, 2006 at 08:11:56 AM EDT
from The Nation blog

Russ Feingold's Legal Firepower

Congressional Democrats have pretty much abandoned their Constitutionally-mandated responsibility to check and balance the excesses to the executive branch -- so much so that the one Democrat who seeks to hold President Bush to account for ordering the warrantless wiretapping of American's telephone conversations accuses for party's leaders of "cowering."

So where is Wisconsin Democrat Russ Feingold finding support? Among Republicans. Or, more precisely, among prominent alumni of past Republican administrations.

When the Senate Judiciary Committee convenes as extraordinary session on Friday (tomorrow) to consider the Feingold's motion to censure the president for ordering federal agencies to engage in eavesdropping in violation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act's requirement that judicial approval be obtained for wiretaps of Americans in the United States, the dissenting senator will call two witnesses.

Making arguments about the extreme seriousness of the warrantless wiretapping issue -- and the need for a Congressional response -- will be noted constitutional lawyer Bruce Fein, who served in President Ronald Reagan's Department of Justice as Deputy Attorney General, and author and legal commentator John Dean, who served at Richard Nixon's White House counsel before breaking with the president to reveal the high crimes and misdemeanors of the Watergate era.

Fein has argued, with regard to this president's penchant for illegal spying schemes, that: "On its face, if President Bush is totally unapologetic and says I continue to maintain that as a war-time President I can do anything I want -- I don't need to consult any other branches' -- that is an impeachable offense. It's more dangerous than Clinton's lying under oath because it jeopardizes our democratic dispensation and civil liberties for the ages. It would set a precedent that ... would lie around like a loaded gun, able to be used indefinitely for any future occupant."

Dean has echoed those concerns, explaining that: "There can be no serious question that warrantless wiretapping, in violation of the law, is impeachable. After all, Nixon was charged in Article II of his bill of impeachment with illegal wiretapping for what he, too, claimed were national security reasons."

Dean does make a distinction between the misdeeds of the Nixon and Bush administration, however. He has argued for some time that the current administration's reckless disregard for the Constitution and the rule of law is "worse than Watergate."

Go here to urge your senators and representatives to support censure

Sunday, March 26, 2006

How to Find Contact Info for your Senators & Representative

All you need is your zip+4 (and they have a link to figure it out if you don't know).

Please write, call or show up in person.

Letter 2

Dear senators Feinstein and Boxer and Representative Watson,

Everything else pales to insignificance compared to this single issue:

Question 1) Did the President break the law when he ordered warrantless eavesdropping on Americans?

Answer: …we don't know the scope and extent of the President's illegal eavesdropping, but we do know that the eavesdropping he ordered was illegal…

…Under FISA, it is a criminal offense to eavesdrop on Americans without the oversight and approval of the FISA court.
Section 1809 of FISA expressly provides that "[a] person is guilty of an offense if he intentionally - (1) engages in electronic surveillance under color of law except as authorized by statute. . . ." And Section 2511(2)(f) provides that FISA "shall be the exclusive means by which electronic surveillance . . . may be conducted." Thus, a person has broken the law if -- as the President admits he did -- he orders eavesdropping on Americans without complying with the warrant requirements of the statute. Period.

…Here is Alberto Gonzales making this precise admission at his December 19, 2005
press briefing with Gen. Hayden:

"Now, in terms of legal authorities, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act provides -- requires a court order before engaging in this kind of surveillance that I've just discussed and the President announced on Saturday, unless there is somehow -- there is -- unless otherwise authorized by statute or by Congress. That's what the law requires. "

…By definition, there is no investigation needed to determine whether the Administration engaged in warrantless eavesdropping prohibited by FISA because that fact is not in dispute.

Question 2) What was the scope and extent of the President's secret eavesdropping? Did the warrantless eavesdropping include only international calls, as he claims, or purely domestic calls as well? Were only suspected Al Qaeda members eavesdropped, on as he claims, or did the eavesdropping extend beyond that? How was it determined who would be eavesdropped on? And what was done with the information?

Answer: It is unquestionably true that an investigation is needed - urgently needed - in order to learn the answers …We do not know the scope and extent of the President's warrantless eavesdropping precisely because he eavesdropped in secret in violation of the law, rather than with judicial oversight. That is why it is so inexcusable that all of the Republicans on the Senate Intelligence Committee voted against Sen. Rockefeller's motion to conduct an investigation to find out the answers to these questions.

From Unclaimed Territory – Glenn Greenwald

I light of the above, I am compelled to ask you three questions:

1) Are you really backing the Republicans?
2) Are you really backing yourself?
3) Are you hopefully backing America?

Before this country has mutated into something we do not recognize, speak the hell up!

Thank you,

My Goal is to Write a Letter a Day: Letter 1

Dear senators Feinstein and Boxer, and Representative Watson,

Please act. As someone I voted for, I ask that you represent my interests here and--at the very least--support Feingold's censure motion. At the most, impeach the scoundrel.

From Glenn Greenwald at Unclaimed Territory:
Administration tells Congress (again) - We won't abide by your "laws"

The Republicans and Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee submitted detailed questions to the Bush Administration regarding the NSA program, and the Department of Justice's responses to both the Democrats' questions and its responses to the Republicans' are now available.

There are numerous noteworthy items, but the most significant, by far, is that the Department of Justice made clear to Congress that the President is bestowed by the Constitution with the unlimited and un-limitable power to do anything that he believes is necessary to "protect the nation." Thus, even if Congress passes laws which seek to limit that power in any way, and even if the President agrees to those restrictions and signs that bill into law, he still retains the power to violate it whenever he wants.

Thus, Sen. DeWine can pass his cute little bill purporting to require oversight, or Sen. Specter can pass his, or they can do nothing and leave FISA in place. None of that matters, because no matter what Congress or even the President does with regard to the law, the law does not restrict what the President can do in any way. They are telling the Congress to its face that all of the grand debates it is having and the negotiations it is conducting are all irrelevant farces, because no matter what happens, the President retains unlimited power and nothing that Congress does can affect that power in any way.

The reality is that the Administration has been making clear for quite some time that they have unlimited power and that nothing -- not even the law -- can restrict it. But here, they are specifically telling Congress that even if Congress amends FISA and the President agrees to abide by those amendments, they still have the power to break the law whenever they want. As I have documented more times than I can count, we have a President who has seized unlimited power, including the power to break the law, and the Administration -- somewhat commendably -- is quite candid and straightforward about that fact.

I believe that even people who are aware of these facts have not really ingested or accepted the reality that we have an Administration that has embraced this ideology of lawlessness. This is not theory. The Administration is not saying these things as a joke. We really do live in a country where we have a President who has seized the unlimited power to break the law. That's not hyperbole in any way. It is reality. And the Patriot Act signing statement only re-iterates that fact.

Put another way, the Administration has seized the power of Congress to make the laws, they have seized the power of the judiciary to interpret the laws, and they execute them as well. They have consolidated within themselves all of the powers of the government, particularly with regard to national security. This situation is, of course, exactly what Madison warned about in Federalist 47; it really is the very opposite of everything our Government is intended to be.

"There can be no liberty where the legislative and executive powers are united in the same person, or body of magistrates," or, "if the power of judging be not separated from the legislative and executive powers. [W]here the whole power of one department is exercised by the same hands which possess the whole power of another department, the fundamental principles of a free constitution are subverted.”

As usual, the most amazing aspect of all of this is not that the Administration is claiming these powers. It is that even as it claims them as expressly and clearly as can be, the Congress continues to ignore it and pretend that it still retains power to restrict the Administration by the laws it passes. And the media continues to fail in its duty to inform the country about the powers the Administration has seized, likely because they are so extreme that people still do not really believe that the Administration means what they are saying. What else do they need to do in order to demonstrate their sincerity?

Read the rest at:

My 10 Days that Changed America

My 10 Days that Changed America

April 19, 1775 Battles of Lexington and Concord – opening shots of the War for Independence

May 25, 1787 Constitutional convention convened in Philadelphia

January 24, 1848 James Marshall discovers a �bright speck’ that starts the California Gold Rush – begins the US perception of �Divine Right’ and beginning of the move West

April 12, 1861 Confederate soldiers fired upon the Federal troops stationed at Fort Sumter – opening shots of the Civil War began the fight to determine power of federal vs. state / slavery abolished

April 14, 1865 Lincoln’s assassination – weathered the test of orderly succession and loyal opposition

December 7, 1941 Bombing of Pearl Harbor begins US involvement in WWII – world power reorganization and the industrialization of the US

September 9, 1971: Watergate break in – began orderly (almost) impeachment of a sitting president / the �rule of law’ applies to all

October 17, 1973 OPEC oil embargo begins – turning point in US perception of oil as a vital interest

November 9, 1989 Fall of the Berlin Wall – world power reorganization / US dominance

September 11, 2001 World Trade Center destroyed – begins the �war on terror’ and the erosion (demise?) of �government by law’

10 Days That Changed America

Do you agree with their 10?
My thoughts in my next post...

History Channel series to feature 10 Days That Changed America
Source: Press Release --
History Channel (3-17-06)

Each of the 10 films has been created by a different award-winning documentary filmmaker or filmmaking team and spotlights an event that triggered a seismic shift in America's political, cultural or social landscape. Using a range of storytelling techniques including recreations and even animation as well as interviews, archival footage and historical artifacts, the series offers viewers a fresh perspective on well-known historical incidents while also shining a light on the tremendous impact of less frequently cited events.

Massacre at Mystic - The first time the English settlers engaged in the slaughter of Native Americans after years of relative peaceful coexistence. Known as the Pequot War, this massacre in Mystic, Connecticut set the pattern of the taking of Indian land throughout the country.

Shays' Rebellion: America's First Civil War - A violent protest against debt collection and taxation practices motivated George Washington to come out of retirement to help strengthen the fragile new nation. This was the spark that led to the writing of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

Gold Rush - The explosive effects of gold being discovered spurred tremendous financial and physical growth throughout the West. For the first time in history, individuals - not kings or sultans - could have gold for the taking, spurring tens of thousands of immigrants to make the arduous journey West.

Antietam - The bloodiest day in American history, both sides paid a terrible price during this Civil War battle that resulted in 23,000 casualties. President Abraham Lincoln needed this victory to insure that no foreign country would support the Confederates, and issue the Emancipation Proclamation.

The Homestead Strike - Harsh working conditions and long hours In Carnegie's Homestead steel mill led to a union strike. The battle fought between management and labor signaled an end to workers believing they had an ownership stake in their jobs, and widen the divide between management and labor.

Murder at the Fair: The Assassination of William McKinley -- Set against the backdrop of the 1901 World's Fair and the dawning of the new century, the assassination of President William McKinley ushered in a new Progressive Era under the presidency of Teddy Roosevelt.

Scopes: The Battle Over America's Soul -- The sensational courtroom battle between two giants - three-time presidential candidate and populist William Jennings Bryan and big city criminal defense lawyer Clarence Darrow - over the teaching of evolution in a small Tennessee town. The trial underscored a deep schism within the American psyche -- religion versus science, church and state, elitism versus populism.

Einstein's Letter - Albert Einstein's letter to FDR that launched the development of the atomic bomb. The result, known as the Manhattan Project, brought government and science together in a project to build the bomb and change the world forever.

When America Was Rocked -- Elvis Presley's appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show on September 9, 1956, signified a whole new culture that involved teenage independence, sexuality, race relations and a new form of music.

Freedom Summer -- There was a time when trying to register to vote in Mississippi could get one killed. When two white and one black Civil Rights workers went missing, national attention turned to the violence in Mississippi, which eventually led to the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Quote of the Day

Democracy is a device that insures we shall be governed no better than we deserve. Bernard Shaw (1856-1950)

from Word of the Day

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Schlepping Toward Dictatorship...

Republican Congressman Predicts Bush Impeachment
Says US close to dictatorship

Republican Congressman Ron Paul has gone on record with his prediction that the impeachment of George W. Bush is right around the corner but warned that in the meantime the US was slipping perilously close to a dictatorship.

Appearing on the Alex Jones Show and addressing the port sell-out, Paul stated that, "it probably will contribute to the Republican's failure in the next election."

Asked if the Democrats would use gains in the mid-term elections to set in motion impeachment proceedings against George W. Bush, Paul responded,

"I predict that would happen."

"I think he (Bush) has numerous things that the Democrats if they get a chance, not only will they be after him for that but it will be payback for the Clinton impeachment."

Paul was inclined to believe that the port sales would go ahead anyway but took a positive perspective in pointing out that it again highlighted George W. Bush's complete abandonment of conservative principles.

"At least this has awakened a lot of people and I think this is going to serve as a benefit," said Paul. "They're likely to pull this deal off but the American people are awakening now and I think there's going to be a payback period in the election."

The Congressman expressed his resignation at the passage of the Patriot Act and how it again underscores Bush's unchecked powers.

"They had a few token changes which mean nothing and under the present system he (President Bush) just ignores what he doesn't like anyway."

Asked if the US was heading into a dictatorship, Paul responded, "It's getting close to it, it's called usurpation of power and it's done in many ways with Congress just going along because they're sound asleep and this certainly is an attack on our Constitution and on our freedoms."

Paul Joseph Watson/Prison March 3 2006

Here's my husband's take on these comments: "There is no doubt in my mind that, unless something unexpected happens, like impeachment and/or democrats retaking congress in November, we will be effectively a one-party system, like Mexico was for 60 years, or like the Philippines under Marcos, or like post-war Japan. And it may be less benign than those examples because of the militaristic component.

Unfortunate in the extreme."

And, ya know, I think he's right.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Black Death caused �Ice Age’ in centuries that followed

Researchers from Utrecht University believe the medieval great plague caused Europe’s temperatures to fall, making humanity’s impact on climate change earlier than previously thought. The team from the Netherlands estimated land use changed around 1347, when the Black Death arrived, which would have caused an agricultural crisis; trees then flourished on land no longer being cultivated. Tests on pollen and leaves in the southeast Netherlands suggest these millions of trees would have absorbed carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, producing a cooling effect in the next few centuries. This minor �Ice Age’ in European history lasted for around 300 years from 1500. The scientists included Dr Thomas van Hoof, who stated: �Between AD 1200 to 1300, we see a decrease in stomata and a sharp rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide, due to deforestation we think.’ The research is published in the journal Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology; other scientists suggest oceanic, solar, or volcanic reasons for the lower average temperatures. (February 28th)

See the History Today articles The Black Death: The Greatest Catastrophe Ever (March 2005).

Bush admin uses war on terror to justify war on journalists

That's what former presidential adviser David Gergen (adviser to four Presidents: Nixon, Ford, Reagan, and Clinton) says. "This administration has engaged in secrecy at a level we have not seen in over 30 years," he tells Howard Kurtz. "Unfortunately, I have to bring up the name of Richard Nixon, because we haven't seen it since the days of Nixon. And now what they're doing -- and they're using the war on terror to justify -- is they're starting to target journalists who try to pierce the veil of secrecy and find things and put them in the newspapers. ... This is the first administration that I can remember, including Nixon's, that said ... that we need to think about a law that would put journalists who print national security things to bring them up in front of grand juries and put them in jail if they don't -- in effect, if they don't reveal their sources."

Source: Romanesko (3-6-06)
Posted on Monday, March 6, 2006 at 9:46 PM

Monday, March 06, 2006

Pulling no punches...

Sleepwalking to Fallujah
by Joseph Bageant
April 29, 2004

Each workday I commute toward Washington, D.C. along Route 7, where patriotic war slogans are spray painted on the overpasses, and homemade signs jut from the median in support of our "boys in Iraq." Mud-splattered construction trucks rip by with frayed flags popping in the wind, loaded with burly bearded men and looking very much like the footage of Afghanistan or Angola, minus the 50 caliber gun mounts. Yesterday I saw my first stretch Hummer, painted in desert tan and carrying half a dozen soccer mom types, which rather sums up the point I am trying to make here. There is a distinct martial ethos, the tang of steel and the smell of gun oil in the air around Washington these days, I swear it.

Only a blind microcephalic could fail to notice this systemic militarization of the American culture, and the media's hyper-escalation of warrior worship. Reputedly, our national character is supposed to be improved by all this. But I was in the military for a time -- a "young warrior" in Fox Network parlance -- and I can confidently say I was not improved one bit by the experience. (Although I did learn to cuss properly, if a bit too much.) That was 35 years ago, back when there was little, if any, mythologizing of Vietnam's warriors, much less patriotic news spasms ejaculated by embedded reporters between the commercials. News was duller then. Certainly not as entertaining as the Jessica Lynch story of a fetching, innocent young blonde wounded while supposedly blazing away at the face of evil itself, only to suffer multiple wounds, then be rescued from some fly-ridden Iraqi hospital (more radio crackling and gunfire please) by her comrades in arms. After this stirring rescue we were served the titillating dessert of the subsequent doctor's report: She was sodomized by the sweaty stinking bastards! In the television news business it just does not get any better than that. Pass the corn chips, please.

With television news like that, who needs a rational explanation as to why we are at war? The entertainment value alone is worth it. And therein lies the problem for those of us in that last generation of people who gained most of what they know from reading: We need a tangible explanation why we are spilling so much blood and bullion in that god forsaken desert pisshole. Still no answer. Or no new one at least. Oh, there is the standard line that goes, "We are defending democracy and liberating a people from oppression." That old saw was getting mighty dull even back in my day, when it was used to explain Vietnam.

I cannot remember a time when the American public ever asked any important questions of its national leadership. In the American scheme of things, that is the media's job, media frames the question and the public asks it, after having been appropriately bludgeoned over the head with it. That's our system by damned, we love it, and it has even been known to work on occasion. Which would be fine, except that Edward R. Murrow has been dead a long time. Since then, the American psyche has been hardwired into a new world communications order, one in which global corporations now pay the freight for national television. Halliburton, Boeing and Sprint ain't Geritol and this ain't Ted Mack's Original Amateur Hour. Content with selling us chewing gum or Chesterfields, early television sponsors were not players in the Pentagon defense contract game and never slept with the government to obtain more bandwidth.

It is tragic that such a promising instrument as television had to grow up at the end of the Age of Enlightenment -- just in time to ignite an unholy fission/fusion, a synthesis of mammon and politics amid a culture out of philosophical and spiritual gas. Just when America needed to explain itself to itself, if it were ever to redefine its higher goals and ideas. But television is about emotion, not explanation. It has no patience for ideas (not that we've seen a real idea in 30 years). Ideas? Who gives a fuck? Let's go shopping. The result has been a nation of sleepwalkers, an all-but-expired republic reduced to pure consumption and little else (a fact not unnoticed by the Muslim world.) Hell, even flatworms consume, and sheer quantity is no substitute for a national soul. It took a couple of generations, but here we are now plugged in at the brainstem, just as McLuhan predicted, to television's virtual cathedral of commerce where the devoted receive the sacrament in a straight shot to the cortex. Too tired from overwork, or poor, or old, or young, or just plain lazy to feel anything else, the tribal war drumbeat called news and the reality shows that pass for experiencing the world beyond work and consumption, as McCluhan's electronic hearth casts shadows on the walls of a withdrawn and slowly rotting republic.

We had warning from poets, writers and grim futurists, but who would have guessed it would come to this so soon? That we would become so perfectly attuned to capitalist state television, ever trolling for more business, dragging its nets baited with new cars, Disney character imprinted cell phones, and buckets of fried chicken through a sea of somnambulates. Yet, the sleepwalkers all share but one eye, that of the camera, which, as Lewis Lapham put it, " . . . doesn't make distinctions between treason and fellatio . . . between an important senator and an important ape." So images of the grisly specter in Fallujah and Janet Jackson's boob draw the same numb respect. Stop and consider that most Americans get their "knowledge" of the outside world from this medium, then consider that most of the Muslim world gets its notion of America from Baywatch. If that does not throw any thinking person into the grip of a Prozac-proof depression, nothing will. And what about these so-called thinking persons? Where is the voice of their dissent? Well, they are naturally unhappy and making the best noise they can -- all two dozen of them.

Despite that brief and fabled moment during the 1960s, the U.S. is not a nation comfortable with dissent. We have never spawned a nationally integrated left-wing opposition in the European sense. A well-behaved people when it comes to public debate, when told by the president on TV that we are at war with terrorism, the overwhelming majority of us line up and salute the flag. More importantly, we do not ask questions. So the question of why a hundred million dollar agency dedicates its resources to swabbing the anuses of farting toy dogs never gets asked, just smiled at. And whether we are willing to sustain, say, 25,000 dead American kids in Iraq never comes up, much less debated. It is equally unlikely the public will inquire specifically who is best served by the caskets being unloaded daily at Dover, Delaware. By state decree, we are not even allowed to see them. And let us not even begin to ask that greatest of all American spiritual questions: "Who is getting rich from it?" In a society whose business is business, where whoever raises the most money to buy TV time elects the next president, that question is not likely to get answered either. Not by the Bush administration, nor by the media it sponsors through government license handouts, tax breaks and regulation-or the lack of it.

Hard to believe that not long ago we were asking how we were going to spend the projected $400 billion "peace dividend" that came with the end of the Cold War. That question has now been answered. Thank you and sit down. So who does get rich? As if we didn't know. Of course there is the Pentagon's coalition of vested interests, which is just about every material and service provider imaginable from Sprint to SpaghettiOs. But in the end it winds up in vastly disproportionate amounts in the hands of the already-rich. Those uneasy oligarchs who, since the first Neolithic thug stole all the grain in the village, have lived in fear of losing their advantage.

In this country the rich have been uneasy from the beginning, and have long thought that perhaps the democratic experiment has gone just about far enough. Their grumbling, political scheming and sometimes-outright assaults on the common decency of the republic date back to the American Revolution. But now is their hour, thanks to George Bush. George Bush did not invent their fear. He merely rode it into the White House. And as their chosen commander-in-chief, he has certainly handed them, with some preliminary help from his predecessor Bill Clinton, the promise of ultimate victory in the real war taking place, the ongoing war of which America has ever been in denial-the class war. This time the already-rich are girded for victory, prepared like never before.

As an outer defensive perimeter they have deployed a far-flung and invincible army. Within the nation has been established a pervasive and relentless Homeland Security Department. All accomplished adroitly at public expense. And with Bush's gift of escape from equitable taxation, they have set about intensifying their real work at hand, protecting themselves with such steep income differences that they will be forever safe-safety to an oligarch being ever rowing the societal boat backward into the past. Thus, if there is any way to return to the uncomplicated world of 1952 Middleburg or Grosse Pointe with enough money to keep their descendants farting through silk for the next 20 generations, these people are going to do it, with the thuggish help of a leering dry drunk and a secretive gang operating from an undisclosed location.

Nobody in their right mind would take them on because American history has taught us one thing, if nothing else: Rich white people with guns will kill everybody in sight if they get spooked. One need only look back at the Ludlow mining massacre, or ask any urban African-American. Better for us to accept the scraps of the roast goat flung to the populi by the government of the feasting rich, and enjoy the meaningless spectacle of the Martha Stewart show trial. Watch the poised and telegenic Condoleezza Rice testify before a stacked 9/11 commission not even allowed to quote the key suspects in its final report; or jeer at the arrogant and thoroughly unlikable Andrew Fastow running laps around Houston before those appointed to administer his very public tar and feathering. Then catch Jay Leno's monologue for deep analysis of both.

So here we are, sleepwalkers in the intellectual and spiritual desert of America, 2004 at the end of the Enlightenment. We are literally dying for the lack of a new idea to animate our culture, government and the national mind. If the American mind is an ecosystem, we have fed it toxic waste.

Instead of news we clamor for bread and circuses, gladiators in the Coliseum of the Middle East. Instead of ideas we get data-the jargon of weapons specialists, political power pundits and stock brokers who know the cost of everything and the value of nothing. Every night I listen to numbly to the litany of numbers recited by this priest craft of pundits, all sorts of numbers-jobless numbers, economic indexes, and balance of trade figures . . . And I try to pinpoint the time when the corporate economy, the well-being of faceless monoliths, became our national religion, remembering back to the days when one had to go to the financial pages to find these things out. Now they are inescapable, these somber minute-by-minute reports on the condition and mood of Moloch, whose heart we are told by poets is a cannibal dynamo and whose breath reeks of the stench of war. How many of our jobs did Moloch eat today? How many did Moloch puke back up in Asia? These job numbers, and the number of Americans killed in Iraq, slosh against the beaches of awareness alongside the basketball scores and the number of cockroaches swallowed by a busty blonde on Fear Factor. The American dream of wealth and invincibility has taken on a life of its own, and now dreams us into being. And off on the horizon to the east, the sirens and the wailing never cease, for we have bestowed shock and awe upon Babylon.

Joe Bageant is a senior editor with the Primedia History Magazine Group. Copyright © 2004 Joe Bageant.

Great poster...that shouldn't be necessary...

Friday, March 03, 2006

Timely quote of the day...

I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations.
James Madison (1751-1809)