Friday, January 21, 2005


It was billed as a giant party. It was presented as a celebration. But in reality it was an act of war. And its centerpiece was a cold-blooded declaration.

George Bush's declaration of war wasn't phrased in conventional terms. But nobody in his administration has ever done anything in conventional terms. They have never said what they meant. We have always been required to read between the lines.

But the meaning of Bush's second inaugural address was crystal-clear, for those who can interpret the code-words. This speech featured two code-words in particular: Freedom and Democracy.

As schoolchildren we learned to revere the word Freedom. We were taught that the Pilgrims came to North America in search of Freedom, especially Freedom of Religion. We were taught that people who lived in a Free country could live their lives the way they wanted to; that they could say and write whatever they thought; that they could gather together peacefully, wherever and whenever they wished; that they could believe whatever they found most credible; that they could worship whenever, wherever and however they pleased, if they pleased. If we were lucky, we were also taught that along with Freedom came Responsibility, and that our Freedoms did not permit us to do things that were harmful to others. It all sounded so good that we found it very easy to believe the stories of those heroes who had fought and died to protect our Freedom, in one war after another after another, all of which we won, of course, because there is no force in the world that can conquer Man's innate desire for Freedom.

But they didn't bother to tell us that Freedom really has two very different definitions. There's the definition they teach children in school, and then there's the other one, the one that really matters in the world. Freedom really means this: If you have enough money you can buy anything you want, and do anything you like with it, with no concern for the effects of your actions. You can stay out of jail forever, no matter what crimes you have committed. You can avoid paying any taxes, or doing anything at all for your community or the society around you. Your industrial assets can produce no end of pollution, your products can cause any kind of harm, and in no way will you be held accountable. If you can afford enough lawyers, you can even enjoy a version of Freedom that is entirely devoid of Responsibility. You can do whatever you like, no matter what. Nobody and nothing can stop you. Now that's a whole different kind of Freedom! That's a kind of Freedom they never did teach us in school.

But just exactly what kind of Freedom is this? It's the Freedom of big dogs to eat little dogs. It's the Freedom of sharks. It is the kind of Freedom the USA is trying to bring to Iraq. I urge you to read all about it in Naomi Klein's brilliant essay, Baghdad Year Zero.

Beware the hidden meaning of Freedom, my friends. Read everything very carefully. Take nothing at face value. Always remember that the Freedom we are bringing to the rest of the world is the Freedom of the many to be eaten by the few.

This is not the same Freedom that our fallen heroes fought and died for. This is not the Freedom the Pilgrims risked their lives to obtain. Neither is it the Freedom that lies at the heart of a Democracy.

What does Bush mean when he says "Democracy"? What do we think when we hear it? Again, the answers to these two questions are very different.

As children, we were taught that Democracy was the greatest system of government ever devised, one in which all citizens were valued equally and in which everyone had the right to vote. These votes, we were taught, were the ultimate symbol of our power, and every elected official would be forced do what was right for the people he represented, because if he failed to do so, the people would use their awesome power and vote him out of office. It made us feel so good to know that we lived in a Democracy! We were comforted by the knowledge that our views counted for something, that we, the people, had the power to elect those responsible for making the laws of the land, and that once those laws were made, all people were obliged to abide by them. It made us so proud to know that we lived in a Democracy, and we innately understood that it was fitting and proper for all the fallen heroes of bygone years to have sacrificed their lives in the valiant effort to protect and preserve our Democracy, our nearly-perfect system of government. Nothing bad could ever happen in a Democracy, because as soon as politicians showed themselves to be capable of working against the best interests of the people, we would simply wait until the next election and vote them out. We were taught that no Democracy would ever wage an unjust war, for example, because the people would not support it. And by and large, in schoolrooms all over the country, we believed this and felt safe and secure because of it.

Unfortunately, it isn't true. Or maybe it is true but it just doesn't apply to us. This is becoming clearer and clearer with every passing day. The USA was not a Democracy at its beginning, because many wealthy people held slaves, who were not allowed any freedoms, much less the right to vote. And even after the slaves were freed, the USA still wasn't true a Democracy, because women were not allowed to vote. Even when women gained the right to vote, it still wasn't a true Democracy, because of all the various laws and rules and regulations and practices that effectively eliminated the voting rights of many people, most of whom just happened to be poor and black and inclined to vote against the status quo.

Forty years ago, after a long and bitter struggle, these problems were supposedly solved. But in reality they are still with us. But they are no longer alone, for we also have a whole new set of problems. For starters, we have voting machines which leave no paper trail, and which therefore have no reliability. They were manufactured by corporations whose owners have publicly stated their commitment to Bush's re-election. The software that runs these machines is declared to be "a trade secret" and therefore is immune to inspection. So in fact we have no idea whether the votes are being counted the same way as they are being cast. With a problem like this, we don't even need any others!

But, alas, there are many others. Hundreds of thousands of problems, all pointing in the same direction. All kinds of problems, glitches, irregularities, and even clearly intentional and criminal misconduct, all tending to favor the re-election of the president.

Is this a coincidence? Or was the election rigged?

Is this a question? No it is not!

I could see the phony result of this election coming, from a long way away. Anyone who was paying attention knew that it was going to be stolen, even before it happened. And anyone who was paying attention on election night knew that it was being stolen, even as it was happening. Apparently the Democratic leadership wasn't paying attention. Or else they didn't care. Or else they were complicit in the crime. Who knows? What difference does it even make? At this point all that matters is this: It is now painfully obvious that the USA is not a Democracy, and in fact it no longer even resembles one.

And instead of trying to fix the problems we have at home, we are now spending our treasure and the blood of our people, supposedly bringing Democracy to Iraq. We are supposed to be preparing Iraq for an election. And it is only fair to ask: How is everything going? Here's a partial answer, from the excellent Iraqi blog Baghdad Burning.
There are several problems. The first is the fact that, technically, we don't know the candidates. We know the principal heads of the lists but we don't know who exactly will be running. It really is confusing. They aren't making the lists public because they are afraid the candidates will be assassinated.

Another problem is the selling of ballots. We're getting our ballots through the people who give out the food rations in the varying areas. The whole family is registered with this person(s) and the ages of the varying family members are known. Many, many, many people are not going to vote. Some of those people are selling their voting cards for up to $400. The word on the street is that these ballots are being bought by people coming in from Iran. They will purchase the ballots, make false IDs (which is ridiculously easy these days) and vote for SCIRI or Daawa candidates. Sunnis are receiving their ballots although they don't intend to vote, just so that they won't be sold.

Yet another issue is the fact that on all the voting cards, the gender of the voter, regardless of sex, is labeled "male". Now, call me insane, but I found this slightly disturbing. Why was that done? Was it some sort of a mistake? Why is the sex on the card anyway? What difference does it make? There are some theories about this. Some are saying that many of the more religiously inclined families won't want their womenfolk voting so it might be permissible for the head of the family to take the women's ID and her ballot and do the voting for her. Another theory is that this 'mistake' will make things easier for people making fake IDs to vote in place of females.

All of this has given the coming elections a sort of sinister cloak. There is too much mystery involved and too little transparency. It is more than a little bit worrisome.
Our own election wore a sinister cloak too, with all kinds of mystery and no transparency at all. The process, and the result, were both more than a little bit worrisome. Because most of us knew that our so-called president, who had stolen his office four years earlier in another very worrisome election, was an imbecile who was up to no good. So we banded together and rose up as good citizens do, and we voted him out of office. Or at least we tried. We voted and voted and voted against him, and the exit polls showed us clearly that he had lost. But guess what? He's still here. He's the bad dream that would not go away. And now he has clearly announced his intentions. He is embarking on an evil crusade, a war against the rest of the world, and he has couched it in terms that no foreigner could possibly misunderstand. But Americans can, and do, misunderstand. It happens quite easily. Because we hear the magic words, Freedom and Democracy, and we turn into innocent little school-children again.

So if we are not paying close attention, if we are not deliberately trying to read between the lines, we can easily slip into the comfortable habit of believing what our president tells us. His office is so powerful, the occasion of an inauguration carries so many proud memories for each of us, that we can easily make the mistake of believing him when he says he is determined to spread Freedom and Democracy all over the world.

In reality he wants nothing of the kind. He wants Freedom, all right. But he wants it for himself. What he clearly wants is the Freedom to attack anyone, anywhere and at any time. But he knows we will not support that. So he wants us to think he has good deeds in mind. That's why he said things like:
There is only one force of history that can break the reign of hatred and resentment, and expose the pretensions of tyrants, and reward the hopes of the decent and tolerant, and that is the force of human freedom.
Note the choice of words: he says "human freedom" but he doesn't really mean it. He means "corporate freedom". He has never shown any interest in freedom for all humanity. He leads the least "decent and tolerant" government that has ever ruled the USA, and has fostered more "hatred and resentment" than any president we have ever had. If you know something of his history, and if you read his whole speech carefully, and if you take his words literally, you might almost start to suspect that he was planning to use force to overthrow his own government. But of course that is not what he meant at all. The irony in his speech was clearly unintentional.

And that includes this:
So it is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world.
As if the United States has any interest in promoting democratic movements and institutions. The United States has a long history of intervening in democratic countries anywhere in the world, whenever they manage to elect a leader who values his own people more highly than the "rights" of the multinational corporations who control the natural and other resources his country, and of many others. From all indications, the United States is now embarked on a course of action that will do nothing to end tyranny in our world. On the contrary. If he gets his wish, George Bush will spread tyranny and chaos, will foster terrorism and oppression, everywhere in our world.

And then there's this:
America's belief in human dignity will guide our policies, yet rights must be more than the grudging concessions of dictators; they are secured by free dissent and the participation of the governed. In the long run, there is no justice without freedom, and there can be no human rights without human liberty.
As if Bush placed any value on human dignity. As if free dissent were welcome in the USA. As if the governed had any chance to participate. If any of that were true, George Bush would be out pounding the corporate paving stones, looking for another job. He would not be standing there smirking at all of us while declaring total and eternal war on the rest of the world.

Then there's this:
The leaders of governments with long habits of control need to know: To serve your people you must learn to trust them. Start on this journey of progress and justice, and America will walk at your side.
As if the current "leadership" of America trusts us. As if they wish to serve us. As if the current American "leadership" is interested in justice. Ha! If there were any justice in the world, the entire "leadership" of the USA would be in prison.

But there isn't. And they aren't. And so... it's four more years. Four more evil bloody years. And George W. Bush, the twice-unelected so-called president of the United States, has clearly voiced his evil intentions. He is determined to spread Freedom and Democracy all over the world, regardless of what it might cost.

Here we go again, but this time it's "writ large".

First it was Afghanistan, and the pretext was that the Taliban had something to do with September 11th. It was a war on "terrorists and those who harbor terrorists". It was a "hunt for Osama bin Laden". We were going to "smoke him out of his cave". We were going to do the right thing for a change. Yeah, right!

Then it was Iraq, and the pretext was that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. Or maybe he had something to do with September 11th. Or maybe he was planning to get weapons of mass destruction. Or maybe he was planning to have something to do with September 11th. Or whatever. Whatever the American people might be willing to swallow. Yeah, right!

Now it's the rest of the world. And the pretext is going to be whatever George Bush decides it's going to be. Some "poor" country that doesn't have enough Freedom and therefore needs to be attacked. Or some "backwards" nation that doesn't have enough Democracy and therefore needs to be demolished. Just whatever. Whatever he feels like doing.

But there's a problem. The Kool-Aid-soaked American people are finally starting to wake up. They are not going to swallow this. Or at least they are not going to swallow it willingly. But then again, do they really have any choice? We shall see.

Four more years. Freedom and Democracy. Anywhere in the world. Whatever the cost. The American people still have no idea of the cost. Well ... here is a primer. Here is one slight and fleeting glimpse of the cost. This is what Freedom looks like in Fallujah. Study it closely, if you can stand it. This is what Democracy is going to look like in Iraq.

This is what Freedom and Democracy are going to look like, wherever George Bush decides to spread them, in Iran, in Syria, in North Korea, or anywhere else in the world. Wherever. Whatever. Just because. And whatever the cost.

If you think you can handle it, you can read the full text of Bush's second inaugural address here. But please be very careful. It's loaded with code words. Do not take any of them at face value.


We need another song. We really need another song tonight, don't we? Here's an old one, written thirty years ago, but it could have been written yesterday. It's by Bruce Cockburn.


look away across the bay
yankee gunboat come this way
Uncle Sam gonna save the day
come tomorrow we're all gonna pay
and it's burn baby burn
when am I going to get my turn?
burn baby burn
when am I going to get my turn?

something dead under the bed
local diplomats hang their heads
never mind what the government said
they're either lying or they've been misled
and it's burn baby burn
when am I going to get my turn?
burn baby burn
when am I going to get my turn?

Phillipines was yesterday
Santiago and Greece today
how would they ever make the late news pay
if they didn't have the CIA?
and it's burn baby burn
when am I going to get my turn?
burn baby burn
when am I going to get my turn?

here it comes, the loaded gun
"must keep the commies on the run"
you'd buy or bury everyone
for liberty and life and just plain fun
and it's burn baby burn
when am I going to get my turn?
burn baby burn
when am I going to get my turn?