Big Bridge #10

An Open Letter to America


Charles Shaw


Throughout the last forty years a legitimate Revolution was taking place in this country. It was quieter and more clandestine than the Socialist revolutions of the 60's, growing from within, from the grassroots upward. It was by the Right, and they now have control of the nation. Orwell may be spinning in his grave, but Barry Goldwater is cackling like a madman in his.

In 1969 the Students for a Democratic Society, one of the largest student groups in the nation and a major player in the Anti-War and Civil Rights movements, met at their annual convention in Chicago to discuss the state of the nation and their future response to the war in Vietnam. The war had just been escalated by then President Richard Nixon, who had been elected the year before on his promises to restore "law & order" to a riot-torn nation, and end the war in Vietnam. Because Nixon reneged and then turned the FBI on the anti-war movement, because the three greatest peace leaders of that generation, Kennedy and Kennedy and King, had been assassinated, and because the whole nation was seemingly coming unglued, SDS was taken over by a militant faction called the Weathermen, who claimed the time had come for Revolution, by any means necessary. That Revolution never came. The Weathermen and the violent wing of the anti-war movement, almost universally denounced for their tactics, never grew beyond fringe, and would very soon be forced underground. The leaders of the Black Panthers were either assassinated or discredited and imprisoned, and the Black community would soon be almost irrevocably divided by the horrors of the drug war, which would consume the lives of whole generations of Black youth.

After Nixon resigned and the Vietnam War finally came to a close, the rest of the New Left succumbed to decades of internecine warfare, paranoia, and a hundred-thousand splinter movements of every cause imaginable. Most just checked out and embraced the mantra of the late 20th Century, "If it feels good, do it." Many even went over to the dark side, riding the Teflon coattails of two successive Reagan Administrations into the Suburban-Pop Culture-Free Market wilderness. 12 more years of these policies under Bush 41 and Clinton only reinforced the divide, pushing the Vietnam era into nostalgia and the endless Hollywood reiterations that have canonized it as American archetype.

The Revolution never came because it was co-opted and turned into entertainment. Each time its specter would be raised, such as with the 1980 election of Ronald Reagan and with the covert wars in Central America, it would soon fade back into the woodwork, that much less resonant than the time before.

But throughout, a legitimate Revolution was taking place. It was quieter and more clandestine than the Socialist revolutions of the 60's, growing from within, from the grassroots upward, taking place while the Left was out feeling good. It was by the Right, and now it's clear they have control of the nation. Orwell may be spinning in his grave, but Barry Goldwater is cackling like a madman in his.

Whether by mandate or malfeasance, George W. Bush is in for another four years, and it's time we admit to ourselves that we have in fact Crossed the Rubicon into completely uncharted waters. The Republic is lost, and the Empire is here, and it didn't take anything nearly as histrionic as a military coup or a declaration of Emperorship. All it took was time, money, ideology, ignorance, and greed, and the ability to effectively use fear as an instrument of policy

The Revolution by the Right has more in common with the rise of the Nazi's in 1930's Germany than it does with the Bolshevik Revolution of the decades before it, or any people's revolution of the post-World War II era. It certainly bears little resemblance to the American and French revolutions, even though both are invoked frequently as inspirations.

This Revolution by the Right involved the promotion of a form of hyper-Nationalism and paired it with a recurring threat to said Nationalism, whether from within or without. The threat may have come from Communists, "Liberals", various Supreme Court justices, abortion doctors, the FBI, Iraq, or Al Qaeda, but each were considered antithetical to "American values" and "the American way of life". These threats were so successful that they mobilized an entire nation of Conservatives and Neoconservatives, and the results were apparent in the most recent general election. Say what you will about systemic voter fraud, for there is certainly plenty of credible evidence that supports those claims, the simple underlying fact in it all is that a full half of this nation is on board, in some form or another, with the Bush agenda and all that it represents.

In that vein, because our vigilance cannot wane, let's examine some of the critical issues facing the American people in the next four years under Bush. It is in these areas where we will see the most activity, and where there exists the most potential for catastrophic change. Under the Second Bush Administration, the following policies are certain to escalate.

9/11 & the "War on Terror"
Something terrible happened to this country, and subsequently to the entire world, on September 11th, 2001, and we are no closer to knowing what happened today than we were on the day it all took place. The "official" Kean Commission story was published amidst the shameless flourishes of a multi-million dollar marketing blitz, a National Book Award, and a spot on the New York Times bestseller list, even though it has more holes in it than our corporate tax code and fails to ask any of the most important questions asked by 9/11 families, elected officials, activists and researchers. One thing we do know for certain: 9/11 is being used as the pretext and rationalization for our current foreign and military policy, for unspeakable acts of aggression by governments around the world, which are all funneled under the rubric of the "War on Terror". Many of these interventions have nothing to do with terrorism, and everything to do with controlling resources and quashing political or popular opposition. Look at Russia in Chechnya and the Georgian caucuses, Indonesia in the Spratyls, the Philippines in Mindanao, Israel and Palestine, Columbia, Nigeria, Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, and on and on. Given all that, it would appear that 9/11 has become the preeminent peace and justice issue of our lifetime. We must learn to separate the wheat from the chaff, the credible investigations from the disinformation and lunatic-fringe. The truth must come out, and we must keep pressing the wheels of justice until they turn.

US Military Policy
How much more evidence can be presented to prove that the Bush Administration's current agenda of military hegemony was a long standing plan of those currently in power? You can chart it's genesis back to the National Security Strategy submitted by then Defense Secretary Dick Cheney to Bush 41 after the fall of the Soviet Union, which was almost immediately discredited and ended up in the trash, and the subsequent document it spawned, "Rebuilding America's Defenses", by the Neoconservative think tank Project for a New American Century. Both of these plans call for unchallenged American military supremacy. Some of the bastard stepchildren of this military policy are the Bush Doctrine of pre-emptive warfare, and the complete dismissal of international law in favor of a policy of unilateralism, like the legal framework used to justify the treatment and torture of the imprisoned Muslims in Iraq, Guantanamo, and here in the United States.

As first with Vietnam, and now with Iraq, we see that "projecting American power across the globe" is a costly business. Devastatingly costly. Aggregate American "defense" spending is in excess of $700 Billion a year (this accounts for the billions also spent in the "War on Drugs" for military intervention in Columbia, and foreign military aid given to scores of nations by our government), yet there are not $700 Billion worth of enemies in the world. Americans need to begin to understand that what they are paying for is a global garrison, some 140+ overseas military bases, which exert control over the world's trade routes and enforce American policy wherever applicable. More importantly, our military is also used as an instrument of Neo-Liberal Globalization to serve the interests of multi-national corporations. To maintain this level of geostrategic control, defense spending can only increase. Eventually, it will bankrupt us, but not before every shred of social service and beneficent government is dismantled. It happened to the Romans, it happened to the British, it happened to the Soviets, it will happen to us.

They won't need a draft to achieve this either. In another lesson learned from Vietnam, the US Military is almost universally opposed to reinstituting the draft. They want willing mercenaries, and with economic conditions worsening year by year, they won't have any trouble finding recruits. It's called the "poverty draft", but it still requires a significantly greater level of commitment and complicity than being conscripted out rightly. As Noam Chomsky said in an address last week, sustained Imperial control requires a form of warfare that citizen armies don't have the stomach for. In addition, effective colonial control by past Empires was achieved by using one segment of the population to put down the others, so the money will be spent, as in Iraq, with building and maintaining an indigenous mercenary army to enforce our will.

Do not expect to see any effective opposition to our military policies from any elected officials. Criticism of defense spending has become a fatal political liability, tantamount to anti-Patriotism. We saw this clearly demonstrated in the Kerry campaign as the man who once led the Establishment charge to end the Vietnam War and the Senate investigations into Reagan's Central American death squads was reduced to pledging to "hunt and kill every terrorist".

Lastly, we must come to understand the power and control openly wielded by the corporate defense industry, the proverbial "Military-Industrial Complex". We must understand the vast conflict of interest presented by our President and his family being involved in one of the world's largest Defense contractors, The Carlyle Group, with the family of Osama Bin Laden. This is without even mentioning Dick Cheney and Halliburton, George Shultz and Bechtel, Condi Rice, Hamid Karzi, and Unocal, or the ongoing Enron investigation. You get the picture.

Downsizing of Government
To maintain escalating annual defense budgets and the growing costs of domestic surveillance, our government will have to make a decision between raising taxes substantially, or continuing to dismantle government social programs which eventually lead to the end of Social Security and Medicare. Higher Federal taxes (or should I say, proportionally higher taxes, since the Middle Class is always gouged while the rich and the corporations dance nimbly through loopholes in the tax code) aren't likely. What's so mind-boggling about this is that the United States has enough money to take care of its entire citizenry-that's healthcare and education and pension-with plenty left over defend the "Homeland", which is to say the continental borders of the country, but it chooses instead to give all that money to the Pentagon so it can build things to kill or subjugate people by the millions. The irony in the whole thing is that one of the Right's mantras has been "smaller government with less interference", and they point to Waco and taxation and welfare as "Big Government", but see no hypocrisy in a bloated military or in a security state in which people are constantly monitored or put in prison for doing something so benign as possessing marijuana. It appears the only government interference to which they are opposed are regulations on the way they can make money, which is to say they are opposed to having any rules at all.

Global Trade
The present plan of Neoliberalization advanced by the World Trade Organization, World Bank, and International Monetary Fund, is simply not sustainable. It is, in its present form, little more than Neocolonialism advanced through the mechanism of corporate expansionism. Unfortunately, just saying that is enough to make most people's eyes glaze over. Global trade and the WTO is one of the most complex issues of our time. It requires a great deal of study to have any effective grasp on the issue. To that end, there is no better source on the WTO than Lori Wallach's Whose Trade Organization? by Public Citizen Press. It is must-reading for any activist or journalist. There needs to be many more people who understand these issues and can boil them down to a few readily-grasped talking points. However, you don't have to be a Neoliberal scholar to understand the impact globalization has had on poorer nations. All you need do is listen to the people's movements in the nations hardest hit by the dark side of Globalization. All you need do is look at Argentina, once the 5th largest economy in the world with a vast, prosperous Middle Class, now mired in chaos, the Middle Class in ruins, the poorest reduced by the millions to campanero, to foraging in the trash for recyclables. But look on any block of any big city in America and you see the same thing, we're halfway to that economic collapse. It's only a matter of time before our debt, pressure on our dollar, and blowback from our foreign policy causes our economy to go south like Argentina's. Can you picture people banging on the doors of Citibank and Wells Fargo and Bank of America demanding their lost savings? They couldn't in Argentina, but it happened.

These things aren't speculative; they're just a matter of time, like the completion of a long equation that eventually must balance itself. One can't continue to consume at one level without replenishing an equal measure. So the alternative chosen by the Plutocracy is continued consolidation of wealth and control. Under the Second Bush Administration, it is very likely that the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) will be passed, which will only compound the problems of Globalization in the Western Hemisphere ten fold. BushCo has shown clearly that they will not be daunted by the failure of the WTO to continue expanding, and have been engaged in a flurry of bilateral trade agreements since the breakdown of the Cancun Ministerial in September of 2003. Also created and passed under the radar was the Central American Free Trade Area (CAFTA), a kind of mini-FTAA or extension of NAFTA that is serving as a stop-gap measure until the full FTAA agreement can be passed.

US Debt
US National Debt is another very complex issue that needs to be grasped and talked about much more than it is, particularly by the dormant media. Our national debt is more than seven and a half trillion dollars. It's an absolutely insane amount of money that, as is, our great-grandchildren will be paying off. People wonder how the richest nation in the world could be so far in debt, but really, isn't that the American way? Our government, like most of its' citizens, lives hopelessly beyond its' means. We consume more goods than we produce, and instead of paying the bill, we offer pieces of the country in the form of "dollar denominated assets", Treasury Bills & Bonds and property deeds and the like. We also borrow money outright from foreign banks, and use the same pieces of the country as collateral. It works for us now because it's a lot like lending money to the mob; how the hell are you going to collect? It's really quite shrewd and dastardly when you look at it: like the Mob, we borrow money we have no intention of paying back, in our case from China and Japan-one of whose economy depends on us, the other is not only dependent on our economy, they have no military-and then break the legs of destitute Third World nations to which we lent money at exorbitant usury rates. The problem is that China is growing and diversifying so fast that it won't be dependent on us for long, and eventually those two nations are going to call in their debts. When we don't pay, there will be a war. Bear in mind there are many forms of warfare, and a Trade War could be just as devastating to the United States. Think about where all those cheap goods that Wal-Mart Americans just love are manufactured? Think about what will happen when there is no more money to borrow to keep our government in operation.

Domestic Civil Liberties & Constitutional Protections
In the last four years we have seen the largest attack on our Constitutional freedoms in American history. The Patriot Act is the single most devastating piece of legislation to the Bill of Rights ever written. It undermines each Constitutional Right in a dozen different ways, and shifts incredible powers to the Executive Branch. It permits the near-total surveillance or imprisonment of any American citizen and lays the groundwork for the complete removal of any sense of privacy in our culture. It removes legal redress to these policies, and codifies a systematic policy of secrecy and non-transparency. And they're not through yet. Patriot II, a draconian enhancement of the present legislation, is sitting in the Legislative Branch waiting to be passed.

And with the passing of anti-gay marriage amendments in 13 states, and a proposed amendment to the Constitution, the US has taken a huge step backwards in the Human Rights arena, and is sending a clear message that it views its' gay population as second-class citizens. It is despicable and flies in the face of everyone who fought for suffrage and civil rights, and it opens the door for outright persecution and the return of even more severe "sodomy" laws, which lay the legal framework to essentially re-criminalize homosexuality on a Federal level.

Perhaps the most frightening shift in our culture is the fact that there are now more than 3 million Americans currently behind bars, more than any other society. The Prison complex has become a multi-Billion dollar industry, and whole sections of the American economy have become dependent upon free prison labor. But when you dig into the numbers you see that the majority are imprisoned on non-violent drug charges, victimless crimes of a so-called "moral" nature.

But that's not more frightening than three vacancies on the Supreme Court in the next four years.

The Environment
There has never been a Presidential Administration that so unabashedly dismisses credible science, or that has posed a greater threat to the Environment than BushCo. They are literally raping the land for profit and enforcing the trade policies that permit corporations to do the same in foreign countries. Their push to "downsize" government and end regulation, mostly by filling top governmental agency positions with corporate lobbyists, has taken a serious toll on the EPA's ability to enforce hard-fought environmental protections, because they interfere with profit. They are not at all concerned with weaning us off fossil fuels and onto sustainable energy technology, and they laugh off the mountains of evidence supporting catastrophic climate shift, even as four successive hurricanes in a period of three months decimate brother Jeb's fiefdom and most of the Inuit Eskimo habitat has melted away into the Arctic Ocean. More unguarded nuclear waste is traversing this nation than ever before, and obsolete, moribund, and woefully unguarded nuclear plants still provide a disturbing amount of our power needs, and all the fixings for a disaster on the scale of Chernobyl for any enterprising terrorist or over-worked, careless technician. Moreover, we invaded Iraq in part to permit Petrochemical corporations to co-opt an oil supply to sell to China and India as their energy demands skyrocket. The Environmental impact of nations the size of China and India burning fossil fuels at a proportional rate to that of the US is absolutely horrifying. The only "bright" side might be the emergence of a global ecological catastrophe which will perhaps shake them out of their bubble, because they will be forced to save their own behinds.

In a recent interview on C-Span's "Booknotes" Amy Goodman, Host of Democracy NOW! said of the American media:

"I think the media has reached an all-time low in this country. And that is a terrible violation of what our profession is supposed to do. We are supposed to hold those in power accountable. We're not supposed to cozy up to those in power, not supposed get the perks of the powerful. We are supposed to be there to, if not keep the politicians honest, show what's going on. And it is very serious now because we're talking about wartime. We're talking about, for example now, the invasion of Iraq and the occupation. And when the media acts as a conveyer belt for the lies of the administration, we not only are violating our responsibility, but those lies take lives."

What more can be said about the Corporate Media than at best they have become an arm of the government and it's de facto propaganda machine, and at worst, they have become so craven in their greed that they mercilessly push for war so that they may draw that huge spike in viewership that always accompanies such events, and reap the windfall profits of gouging advertisers, who succumb to the same greed. In order to keep an audience, the news has dumbed down alongside our culture and become entertainment, a never-ending series of slow-motion train wrecks, the bread and circuses of the reality TV generation. Politics and mainstream journalism have become so enmeshed, and media control has become so consolidated that we'd be better served giving up on the Corporate media and turning our efforts towards building a powerful network of Independent media outlets. We need more Democracy NOW!, more Air America, more Free Speech TV, more Indymedia, more Common Dreams and Alternet, more Clamor and In these Times, and yes, more Newtopia. We need voices of dissent and challenge in our culture if we are to remain healthy as a culture. We need news and information driven by need, not greed.

The Seven Stages of Grief
At a dinner in San Francisco the weekend after the election I joined Greg Palast, Jello Biafra, Medea Benjamin, Pratap Chatterjee of CorpWatch, and Andrea Buffa and Ted Lewis from Global Exchange to discuss the wide reaching ramifications of the election and what it meant to the state of our so-called democracy. Most people at the table were wondering where the outrage was, how could Americans not be incensed by what was happening around us? I postulated that in the wake of the Bush re-election, half of America and most of the world (but really most acutely here in the States) was mired in various stages of the Seven Stages of Grief and Bereavement. For the uninitiated, the seven stages are: Shock (Bush won?), Denial (no, Kerry won, they stole it!), Bargaining (David Cobb and Michael Badnarik are getting a recount in Ohio, did you hear Kerry might unconcede, we're saved!), Fear (Oh my god, have we been taken over by the Right?), Anger (God dammit, we've been taken over by the Right!), Despair (oh my god we've been taken over by the Right...there's no hope) and finally Acceptance (well, what're ya gonna do? They were just better organized than us. We have to respect the will of the people. I guess people really like what Bush stands for. I guess Canada doesn't look so bad after all).

We must acknowledge that we on the Left can never allow ourselves to reach Stage Seven. We may, we must, allow ourselves to accept that BushCo isn't going anywhere for four years, but we do not have to accept either their legitimacy or their policies. Acceptance of the Bush Administration means that we hold out no hope for the "counterrevolution" movement, the most appropriate characterization of the present position of the Left. Acceptance would mean we hold out no hope for the nation and the victimized world as a whole. This is of course not the case. Shocked and stunned as we may be, we are still the counterweight to the Rightward leap America has taken, and we have quite a bit of work to do. Our potential is too great to ever concede the struggle, and the best news is that our wisdom far outweighs their ideology. They can only win by deceit, and deceit cannot be maintained forever.

It's time for some escalation of our own.