Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Musings of an Intellectually Shell-Shocked Kansan

By Jason Miller

Catalyst for my Contemplation

Life in Kansas can be as surreal as the landscape of a Salvador Dali painting. Critical thinking is a scarce commodity. "Scopes II" provided me with ample evidence that Kansans are proudly waving the banner of anti-intellectualism. Last week, the 6-4 conservative Christian majority on the Kansas State School Board contrived a 21st Century reenactment of the Monkey Trial of 1925 to "prove" that Evolution is a flawed theory. How did my home state time warp past the Age of Reason?

Farcical would be a generous description "Scopes II". Three moderate school board members and the entire mainstream scientific community boycotted the charade. John Calvert, a conservative Christian who leads the Intelligent Design Network of Kansas, stood in for William Jennings Bryan. Calvert questioned "expert witnesses" in a quest to disprove Evolution. Many of the witnesses, whose purpose was to validate the board's desire to introduce Intelligent Design into the school curriculum, were from the Discovery Institute (http://www.discovery.org/). Founded and funded by Christian fundamentalists, the Discovery Institute is a think-tank created to advance the concept of Intelligent Design. Intelligent Design essentially says that in merely observing the complexity of the world, one cannot help but conclude that there was an intelligent designer. Evidence, research, and peer review are irrelevant to the purveyors of the ID "theory", a thinly veiled form of Creationism. For more on the hypocrisy of Discovery and their ID "theory", see (http://www.geocities.com/CapeCanaveral/Hangar/2437/wedge.html).

Pedro Irigonegaray, Clarence Darrow's counterpart in "Scopes II", is a Topeka defense attorney who generously donated his time to the support of the Theory of Evolution. He questioned the "experts" with a tenacity that revealed their true agenda. He also exposed the fact that most of them had not even read the science standards proposed to the board. He so effectively embarrassed the opposition that his antagonist, John Calvert, refused to shake hands at the end of the proceedings.

Later this summer, the board will vote on potential changes to the science standards in Kansas Public Schools. Holding the majority, it is a foregone conclusion that the conservative Christians will decide to accept the recommendations of John Calvert and his group. Employing their infinite Biblical wisdom, the board will introduce Intelligent Design into the classroom, de-emphasize Evolution (which has withstood rigorous scientific scrutiny since 1859), and introduce its own definition of science. As a parent with a child in a Kansas public school, I simultaneously experienced perplexity, bewilderment, and frustration as this insane scenario came to a close.

Only a Symptom

As I pondered, it dawned on me that "Scopes II" is merely a symptom of a much deeper disease gripping our nation. As Thomas Frank concluded in What's the Matter with Kansas?, American voters have been brain-washed into voting against their own economic interests in an obsessive drive to legislate "Christian values" into our nation. "Scopes II" validates his point. Contemplating the conclusions of Mr. Frank, integrating the observations of others, and infusing my own analysis, I surmised that the root of America's decay is the insatiable lust for power and money by the ruling class. Our republic is crumbling while our standing in the world community has disintegrated to the point that America is the object of global fear and hatred. During the Gilded Age, America experienced a similar period of laissez-faire capitalism, inequitable distribution of wealth, and imperialistic endeavors. However, the government of that era lacked the propaganda machine to sustain the over-indulgence of the elite. Today's government media empire has the capacity to lull our citizenry into surrendering their individual freedoms in exchange for the comfort of the protective bosom of Big Brother.

Will the real George Bush please stand up?

Who is George Bush? Does the "aw shucks, just listen to how I say the word nucular", folksy persona he projects square with the real man? Is our beloved "W" truly a man of the people, as he would like Americans to believe? Old Hickory is probably turning in his grave. Strolling through life with at least $9 million in inherited wealth, our president could not begin to fathom the plight of the working or middle class, let alone the poor. He has failed or underperformed at virtually every endeavor of his life, but that is not a problem. Wealthy friends and family have been there to bail him out nearly every step of the way. His alleged empathy for the plight of the common man is a fraud. With his MBA from Harvard, I am betting that "W" is not nearly as ignorant as he portrays himself to be. He is strong and resolute in his beliefs, but given his power, money, and support network, how difficult is it to be "strong and resolute”? While it was his strength and resolution that captured the hearts and minds of many American voters after 9/11 rattled their psyches, what they failed to realize was that Bush would use those very qualities to advance a cause that under-mined many aspects of their well-being. Middle and working class Americans who support George Bush need to awaken from their intellectual slumber. Jozef Hand-Boniakowski has much more to say about this at (http://www.metaphoria.org/ac4t0505.html).

George Bush exists to advance the interests of the rich and the elite. Early in his reign, the events of 9/11 shattered the security of many Americans. Seizing upon this opportunity, which they may have actually master-minded and perpetrated (http://www.newtopiamagazine.net/articles/47), Bush and his henchmen employed this powerful tool to manipulate many Americans. Preying upon America's deep sense of fear, Karl Rove, the Minister of Truth and a man who could take Joseph Goebbels to school, forged the image of George Bush as God's chosen savior to America and to the "free world". He nurtured the notion that America was under constant threat of attack by a murky enemy called Terrorism. Such an abstract enemy enabled Bush and Rove to keep the American people in a perpetual state of war and insecurity. The new paradigm of the "good" US against the "evil" Terrorists, laid the foundation for Bush's long coveted invasion of Iraq. As the administration rushed the Patriot Act through Congress, few Congressmen had time to even read the legislation before rubber-stamping it for fear of being branded "unpatriotic" by John Ashcroft, America's newly anointed Minister of Love.

Bush’s reign

Over three years have passed since 9/11, yet many Americans still dangle from the marionette strings of The Ministry of Truth. Rove's propagandists and the mainstream media have enabled "W" to propel the United States into an illegal, imperialistic invasion of Iraq to perpetuate corporate and big oil interests. Tax cuts for the wealthy have shifted the tax burden to the middle and working class, whose numbers are dwindling thanks to corporate overseas job outsourcing. Under a crushing national debt of $7.5 trillion, America is now the reigning king of Debtor Nations, a title once arrogantly bestowed upon developing nations. How can we saddle our children and grandchildren with that burden? At the rate America is going, future generations will become the indentured servants of China and Japan. Social welfare benefits for the poor are substantially diminishing. Government-endorsed discrimination against gays is increasing. The line between church and state delineated by our Constitution is disappearing. Chasm is the new word to describe the gap between the rich and the poor. Inconceivably, many Americans still adore "W", somehow managing to disregard a mountain of evidence of his incompetence, disregard for the working class, and deceit. If one whispers a sweet little lie to oneself long enough, one starts to believe it.

Repeat after me: George Bush is a good president and represents my best interests ....George Bush is a good president and represents my best interest....George Bush is a good president and represents my best interest....

Is it working? Have you slapped a “W” sticker on the back of your forty foot SUV yet? You are in BUSH country now, partner. Tell the terrorists to “bring it on”!

Social Security, the Judicial Branch of the government, and the filibuster in the Senate are now targets of the Bush machine. America is on the precipice of unbridled tyranny. As many Americans passively watch, while others actively participate, what is left of our republic is completing its ugly metamorphosis into oligarchy, possibly under the guise of a theocracy since Bush has leveraged so much support from the Religious Right.

Rich Man, Poor Man

While the poor, middle and working class, continue swallowing the fiction of the "American Dream", the rich and elite, whom I will call the Oligarchs, own and manipulate the media machine, which continues to propagate the Horatio Alger myth. What the Ministry of Truth does not tell us is that for every Bill Gates "rags to riches" story, there are millions of Americans who put their hearts and souls into success and stay mired in the quicksand of perpetual poverty. True social mobility is rare in America, and the Oligarchs under Bush aim to make it rarer still. They understand the truth of the maxim that "he who has the gold makes the rules". Oligarchs have most of the gold, and they are strengthening their capacities to make the rules. Media perpetuation of hubris, xenophobia, and homophobia enable the Oligarchs to convince Americans that despite genocidal acts against Native Americans, enslavement of the black race, the internment of American citizens of Japanese descent during World War II, imperialistic policies in the Middle East since the end of World War II, and ongoing discrimination against women and minorities, that we are morally superior to the rest of the world. Despite creating 25% of the carbon dioxide responsible for the Greenhouse Effect, denying its existence, and withdrawing from the Kyoto Treaty; defying the UN and preparing to send an antagonistic war-monger as our new ambassador; and hoarding 35% of the world's wealth when we represent 4% of the world's population, the Oligarchs somehow convince Americans that we were innocent victims in 9/11. America has infuriated much of the world population for years, and someone finally struck back. Rather than taking the rational steps of changing our narcissistic and imperialistic behavior, and taking reasonable steps to defend ourselves, the Oligarchs continue with imperialistic actions that fan the flames of hostility. Perpetuating this cycle of violence creates America's dependence on the Oligarchs’ cash cows: the military industrial complex and big oil.

They want the whole world in their hands.....

Bush and the Oligarchs will not be satisfied with absolute power in America. Their ambitions extend far beyond our borders. One need look no further than the Project for the New American Century (http://www.newamericancentury.org/), and its statement of principles (http://www.newamericancentury.org/statementofprinciples.htm) to see that world domination by the American military industrial complex is their ultimate goal. Several of the signers of the statement of principles are now serving in high level positions in the Bush administration, including Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, and Paul Wolfowitz.

Americans who support Bush have passively handed the keys of the kingdom to a pack of ravenous Oligarchs bent on world domination. Much to the delight of Bush and company, fear and the media/propaganda machine are not the only factors keeping the working classes from breaking free of their economic and psychological shackles. Ongoing "cultural wars" over issues like abortion distract ordinary Americans from important economic and foreign policy decisions, leaving the Oligarchs to their own devices. Convinced that their choices lie within dichotomous, false constructs, many Americans choose one of the false dichotomies and expend their energy fighting one another rather than aspiring to individual freedom, working to develop their potential as human beings, and allowing others to do the same.

Trap of the false dichotomy

In Bush's America, if you are not for the "war on terrorism", you are not a patriot. In this 1984-like atmosphere, it is no coincidence that a law that gives the federal government unchecked power to violate our civil liberties is called the Patriot Act. In Bush's vision of the "New American Century", whether you are American or not, you are either for or against the United States. There is no room for constructive dissent or challenge to the almighty "W". Bush’s loyal subjects see the world in black and white, and support the illegal war in Iraq because they are terrified of being unpatriotic. Unwittingly, they pledge their allegiance to an ideology that enables the rich to maintain dominion over the poor and middle classes. Perverse use of the concept of "patriotism" ensures a steady supply of tax dollars and warm bodies to feed the war machine.

With numerous states having passed constitutional amendments banning gay marriage, and Bush pushing for an amendment to the US Constitution, gay rights in America are under siege. Under the Oligarchs, you are either "straight" or "gay", and if you are "gay" you are not entitled to Constitutionally-guaranteed civil liberties. Hitler had the Jewish people and Pol Pot had intellectuals. In homosexuals, the Oligarchs have found the scapegoat on which a successful tyranny depends. Offering their minions a group to blame for the moral decay of society provides a powerful cause around which the Oligarchs can mobilize their faithful to rally.

For a serious laugh, consider the notion that Americans have a real choice when they go to the polls to elect a president. Dominated by two monolithic parties, both of which are beholden to corporations and wealthy campaign contributors, the political arena allows scant room for meaningful participation by the poor or working class. Despite the superficial differences between the Republican and Democratic parties on some issues, the two parties share the common goal of perpetuating the Oligarchy. While the poor and working class have historically fared better under Democratic rule, there is little evidence that there is an appreciable difference between the two parties. In the end, the Oligarchy still rules, whether they don the guise of an elephant or of a jackass.

Are you a liberal or a conservative? Political pundits, pollsters, and the Oligarchs thrive on people defining themselves as one or the other. Their objective is to pigeonhole people into narrowly defined groups. Having accomplished this, their powerful media machine sows seeds of discord that draw that people into a perpetual ideological battle between fictitious groups. The reality is that no human being fits neatly into either category. People fall on a spectrum somewhere between liberal and conservative. Their views on some issues may tend toward liberal, and move towards conservative on others. Yet the Oligarchs successfully manipulate many Americans to a choose side, and battle it out with the other side, regardless of what their individual views might be if they stepped out of their liberal or conservative “box.” Perpetual bickering amongst the working class gives the Oligarch plenty of cover for their malfeasance..

Secularism versus the Religious Right is King George's favorite aspect of the cultural war. Representing "W" as an Evangelical Christian, the Oligarchs mobilized a coalition of conservative Christians known as the Religious Right, whose leaders are as power hungry as the Oligarchs, and whose followers, fueled by feelings of victimization for their beliefs, vindictively pursue their agenda. Riding the Right to re-election, in spite of the obvious incompetence and criminal nature of his first term, Bush was rewarded with another four years to commit crimes against humanity, and to boost the fortunes of the Oligarchs still further. Employing a classic "divide and conquer" strategy, the Oligarchs promote ideological clashes like “Scopes II”. While their subjects squabble over the validity of Evolution and argue about the phrase "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance, the Oligarchy counts the stacks of cash in its counting room.

Freedom and a modicum of justice are within our grasp

I am not despairing. In fact, I am very hopeful for the future. History reveals that the working class is not helpless before the might of the elite. We are not destined to victimization at the hands of the Oligarchy. Mother Jones, Eugene Debs, Martin Luther King, Jr., and the millions who rallied behind them forced the Oligarchy of their time to give the people a degree of human rights, freedoms, and economic justice. Awareness is the first step in the journey toward reform. The human spirit is not easily crushed or caged for prolonged periods, and we have the means at our disposal to challenge those in power.

To begin this renaissance of humanity and reverse the ugly dehumanization of the ruling elite, more Americans need to abandon the Oligarchy-controlled mainstream media and fortify their minds with information from Internet sources, many of which remain uncorrupted by the money of the elite. Activist writing, letters to the editor, and correspondence to elected officials are powerful means to inform and persuade others, and to hold public officials accountable.

To counter their “divide and conquer” strategy, we need to join groups and organizations like the ACLU, the People for the American Way, the Human Rights Campaign, and the NAACP. These groups champion human rights and challenge the tyranny perpetrated by the Oligarchy. The working class needs to wage a powerful campaign to re-unionize America, where union membership has dwindled to a pitiful 9% of the workforce. Impossible as it may sound, groups as deeply divided as secularists and members of the Religious Right need to find enough common ground to unite in opposition to the Oligarchs.

Protests, boycotts, marches, and civil disobedience have been effective means of diminishing the power of the Oligarchy in the past, and can be again. Corruption, greed, and malfeasance are rampant in the American government, and we need to use virtually all peaceable means at our disposal to curtail the power of the Oligarchy.

Richard Nixon, one of the most corrupt Oligarchs in the history of the United States, lost his tenacious grip on power through impeachment. American citizens deserve better than they are getting, and the members of Congress who have not sold out to the Oligarchy need to seriously consider impeachment proceedings against George Bush. How long do we abide an incompetent, avaricious war criminal? The buck stopped on Harry Truman’s desk, but not on Bush’s. The money spigot for his military industrial complex is wide open as the flow of tax dollars to the poor is reduced to a trickle. It is unconscionable that a man with his arrogance, disregard for human rights, inability to tell the truth, and lack of capacity to negotiate or tolerate dissent remains in office. How long will it be before enough Americans wake up and we impeach George W. Bush?

Just for the record: According to Finley Peter Dunne, the purpose of journalism is “to comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable.” As usual, I hope this piece leaves the afflicted comforted and the comfortable afflicted.


By William Fisher

I long ago stopped believing anything our government told us about Iraq. Now, like millions of other Americans, I have stopped believing what our mainstream media tells us about Iraq. What has become a substitute for a credible and holistic picture of what is really happening in this tortured country is a pair of bookends: at one end, endless images of car bombs exploding, with commentary from journalists who are mostly unable to leave their Baghdad hotels; at the other end, the feelgood press releases from the White House and the Pentagon.

So now I get my news from a few knowledgeable Iraqi and other bloggers and from the emails I receive from trusted friends who work there.

Below is the email I received this week (names and locations have been deleted to protect their safety):

This new government has proven nothing thus far except its own incompetence. From my exile in (Iraqi city deleted), a distant but well-connected vantage point, two things about this government are noteworthy.

First it is unable to control security. The bickering and backstabbing that went
into cabinet selection gave new life to the insurgency, demoralizing the
population at large and the security forces in particular. Al-Jaafari, the Prime Minister and the head of the more moderate portion of the Sistani group, promoted for Defense Minister Sunni politicians and former military people who had legitimacy amongst large sections of the Sunni Arab population.

All his nominations were vetoed by the more hard-line Shiites of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq. The real power in Iraq right now lies with Abdel Aziz Al-Hakim, the turbaned head of SCIRI and Sistani.

Some Iraqis disagree with me. They would say that SCIRI's power derives from Iran, and it is that country that is really controlling (or not controlling) the country.

But the important final question is, if the security forces fight, who are they fighting for? A united Iraq, or a derivative of Iran? This is an important point, and it could be one reason that Iraqi forces' performance has deteriorated in recent weeks.

Second, if you cannot keep the country safe, you may as well have a witch-hunt. With Ahmed Chalabi in the lead, that oh so honest and pure politician from Nasariya, the new government has decided to prevent all former ministers from traveling pending investigations into corruption.

All of us know who was corrupt in Allawi's government -Transport, Defense, Electricity, Interior and others.

But this new government is determined to intimidate and harass all who were associated with Allawi. For example, on Wednesday, eight armored vehicles filled with armed police officers drove up to the home of a former minister (name withheld), with the intent of making an arrest.

The former minister told them emphatically, "get out, you will have to kill me to take me from my home". They backed down, the former minister made some phone calls and the episode ended.

The allegation was that the former minister did not properly nominate ministry staff for international delegations. The allegation could very well be true, but what is all the fuss? I have met the former minister several times and doubt that this person would be capable of deliberate malicious intent, but as a bureaucrat with little experience, I do not doubt that things could have gone awry.

The Baathist purge office has been reactivated, again under the guidance of
Chalabi, and this cannot accomplish anything except make the insurgency worse. The average Iraqi does not care about mid-level Baathists, they care about peace, and if peace is contingent upon keeping or hiring a few Baathists with ties to Saddam, that is an acceptable contingency.

The two elements to the witch-hunt, the first against Allawi and the second against Baathists, make for palatable unease on the street (we have to remember that in general people liked Allawi, but they could not vote for him over
Sistani). Combine the witch-hunt with suicide bombers and the optimism of
the last months is gone.

I am now at my most pessimistic. Never did I think it would get this bad.

Below is yet another desperate email message (in broken English) from one of the NGOs we work with. (Name withheld) was suppose to meet with us yesterday, but there was a bomb in his neighborhood, yet again at a recruitment center, the day before.

hi (recipient withheld).

I want to inform you that an distortion and pumb explosion happent in Hawija today cause to kill many young men from my region and my village and some of them were from my cosion that was made by terrors and I was closer from the event. I want to say you that I am so sad for 100 young men from hawija city whom came to produce themself to thier country by our device. Finally, all (Arabain, Kurdish, Turkmen amd other) cry for this work and declare our sadness in this dark day. our greeting for (name withheld) and other staff in your org.

accept my regards
(name withheld)
Boss of (organization deleted)

I receive these types of messages every two or three days. By now one would think that I could read them with dispassion, that I would not react with tears in my eyes. I cannot. You can read about this bomb in Hawija on CNN, but read these few humble sentences, understand it, and weep.

And yet, we keep going. This week I had my teams from (locations deleted) come for a work planning session. Their commitment to improving the lives of Iraqis is beyond my expectations. We will involve 500 farmers in maize wok this summer and several hundred in Najaf and Diwaniyah in rice. And that is just the start. We have plans for livestock, tomato, cucumber, apples, dates, extension, integrated pest management, and tractor repair (I hope to sign a $9 million contract with the local distributor of (manufacturer’s name deleted) this week). My guys are thrilled that we have plenty of resources for them to use to do just about anything that helps agriculture. Their smiles and optimism in the face of undeniable risks is almost incomprehensible to me, and it helps to restore somewhat my faith in the future of Iraq.

If we could get the politicians to be as committed to development and progress as my guys the country would be in much better shape. But alas, we have Chalabi, the crook, and Al-Jaafari, the weak, a recipe for nothing good.

It would be a good idea to remember this message next time Mssrs. Bush and Rumsfeld tell us how we’re winning this war.