June 03, 2008

ACtivism: Chris Hedges on the BuZh appearance at Furman College

America's Democratic Collapse
by Chris Hedges
Note: Chris Hedges gave this keynote address on Wednesday, May 28, in Furman
University's Younts Conference Center. The address was part of protests by
faculty and students over the South Carolina college's decision to invite
George W. Bush to give the May 31 commencement address.
When it was announced in May that Bush would deliver the commencement
address, 222 students and faculty signed and posted on the school's Web site
a statement titled "We Object." The statement cites the war in Iraq and the
administration's "obstructing progress on reducing greenhouse gases while
favoring billions in tax breaks and subsidies to oil companies that are
earning record profits."
"We are ashamed of the actions of this administration. The war in Iraq has
cost the lives of over 4,000 brave and honorable U.S. military personnel,"
the statement read. "Because we love this country and the ideals it stands
for, we accept our civic responsibility to speak out against these actions
that violate American values."
I used to live in a country called America. It was not a perfect country,
God knows, especially if you were African American or Native American or of
Japanese descent in World War II, or poor or gay or a woman or an immigrant,
but it was a country I loved and honored. This country gave me hope that it
could be better. It paid its workers wages that were envied around the world
It made sure these workers, thanks to labor unions and champions of the
working class in the Democratic Party and the press, had health benefits and
pensions. It offered good public education. It honored basic democratic
values and held in regard the rule of law, including international law and
respect for human rights. It had social programs from Head Start to welfare
to Social Security to take care of the weakest among us, the mentally ill,
the elderly and the destitute. It had a system of government that, however
flawed, was dedicated to protecting the interests of its citizens. It
offered the possibility of democratic change. It had a media that was
diverse and endowed with the integrity to give a voice to all segments of
society, including those beyond our borders, to impart to us unpleasant
truths, to challenge the powerful, to explain ourselves to ourselves.
I am not blind to the imperfections of this America, or the failures to
always meet these ideals at home and abroad. I spent 20 years of my life in
Latin America, Africa, the Middle East and the Balkans as a foreign
correspondent reporting in countries where crimes and injustices were
committed in our name, whether during the Contra war in Nicaragua or the
brutalization of the Palestinians by Israeli occupation forces. But there
was much that was good and decent and honorable in our country. And there
was hope.
The country I live in today uses the same words to describe itself, the same
patriotic symbols and iconography, the same national myths, but only the
shell remains. America, the country of my birth, the country that formed and
shaped me, the country of my father, my father's father and his father's
father, stretching back to the generations of my family that were here for
the country's founding, is so diminished as to be nearly unrecognizable. I
do not know if this America will return, even as I pray and work and strive
for its return. The "consent of the governed" has become an empty phrase.
Our textbooks on political science are obsolete. Our state, our nation, has
been hijacked by oligarchs, corporations and a narrow, selfish political
elite, a small and privileged group which governs on behalf of moneyed
interests. We are undergoing, as John Ralston Saul wrote, "a coup d'etat in
slow motion." We are being impoverished -- legally, economically,
spiritually and politically. And unless we soon reverse this tide, unless we
wrest the state away from corporate hands, we will be sucked into the dark
and turbulent world of globalization where there are only masters and serfs,
where the American dream will be no more than that -- a dream, where those
who work hard for a living can no longer earn a decent wage to sustain
themselves or their families, whether in sweatshops in China or the decaying
rust belt of Ohio, where democratic dissent is condemned as treason and
ruthlessly silenced.
I single out no party. The Democratic Party has been as guilty as the
Republicans. It was Bill Clinton who led the Democratic Party to the
corporate watering trough. Clinton argued that the party had to ditch labor
unions, no longer a source of votes or power, as a political ally. Workers,
he insisted, would vote Democratic anyway. They had no choice. It was better
he argued, to take corporate money. By the 1990s, the Democratic Party,
under Clinton's leadership, had virtual fundraising parity with the
Republicans. Today the Democrats get more. In political terms, it was a
success. In moral terms, it was a betrayal.
The North American Free Trade Agreement was sold to the country by the
Clinton White House as an opportunity to raise the incomes and prosperity of
the citizens of the United States, Canada and Mexico. NAFTA would also, we
were told, staunch Mexican immigration into the United States.
"There will be less illegal immigration because more Mexicans will be able
to support their children by staying home," President Clinton said in the
spring of 1993 as he was lobbying for the bill.
But NAFTA, which took effect in 1994, had the curious effect of reversing
every one of Clinton's rosy predictions. Once the Mexican government lifted
price supports on corn and beans for Mexican farmers, they had to compete
against the huge agribusinesses in the United States. The Mexican farmers
were swiftly bankrupted. At least 2 million Mexican farmers have been driven
off their land since 1994. And guess where many of them went? This desperate
flight of poor Mexicans into the United States is now being exacerbated by
large-scale factory closures along the border as manufacturers pack up and
leave Mexico for the cut-rate embrace of China's totalitarian capitalism.
But we were assured that goods would be cheaper. Workers would be wealthier.
Everyone would be happier. I am not sure how these contradictory things were
supposed to happen, but in a sound-bite society, reality no longer matters.
NAFTA was great if you were a corporation. It was a disaster if you were a
Clinton's welfare reform bill, which was signed on Aug. 22, 1996,
obliterated the nation's social safety net. It threw 6 million people, many
of them single mothers, off the welfare rolls within three years. It dumped
them onto the streets without child care, rent subsidies and continued
Medicaid coverage. Families were plunged into crisis, struggling to survive
on multiple jobs that paid $6 or $7 an hour, or less than $15,000 a year.
But these were the lucky ones. In some states, half of those dropped from
the welfare rolls could not find work. Clinton slashed Medicare by $115
billion over a five-year period and cut $25 billion in Medicaid funding. The
booming and overcrowded prison system handled the influx of the poor, as
well as our abandoned mentally ill. And today we stand in shame with 2.3
million of our citizens behind bars, most for nonviolent drug offenses. More
than 1 in 100 adults in the United States is incarcerated, and 1 in 9 black
men ages 20 to 34 is behind bars. The United States, with less than 5
percent of the global population, has almost 25 percent of the world's
The growing desperation across the United States is unleashing not simply a
recession -- we have been in a recession for some time now -- but the
possibility of a depression unlike anything we have seen since the 1930s.
This desperation has provided a pool of broken people willing to work for
low wages and without unions or benefits. This is good news if you are a
corporation. It is very bad news if you work for a living. For the bottom 90
percent of Americans, annual income has been on a slow, steady decline for
three decades. The majority's income peaked at $33,000 in 1973. By 2005,
according to New York Times reporter David Cay Johnston in his book "Free
Lunch," it had fallen to a bit more than $29,000, this despite three decades
of economic expansion. And where did that money go? Ask ExxonMobil, the
biggest U.S. oil and gas company, which made a $10.9 billion profit in the
first quarter of this year, leaving us to pay close to $4 a gallon to fill
up our cars. Or better yet, ask Exxon Mobil Corp. Chief Executive Rex
Tillerson, whose compensation rose nearly 18 percent to $21.7 million in
2007, when the oil company pulled in the largest profit ever for a U.S.
company. His take-home pay package included $1.75 million in salary, a $3.36
million bonus and $16.1 million of stock and option awards, according to a
company filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. He also
received nearly $430,000 of other compensation, including $229,331 for
personal security and $41,122 for use of the company aircraft. In addition
to his pay package, Tillerson, 56, received more than $7.6 million from
exercising options and stock awards during the year. Exxon Mobil earned $40
61 billion in 2007, up 3 percent from the previous year. But Tillerson's
2007 pay was not even the highest mark for the U.S. oil and gas industry.
Occidental Petroleum Corp. CEO Ray Irani made $33.6 million, and Anadarko
Petroleum Corp. chief James Hackett took in $26.7 million over the same
For each dollar earned in 2005, the top 10 percent got 48.5 cents. That was
the top tenth's greatest share of the income pie, Johnston writes, since
1929, just before the Roaring '20s collapsed in the Great Depression. And
within the top 10 percent, those who made more than $100,000, nearly all the
gains went to the top tenth of 1 percent, people like Tillerson or Irani or
Hackett, who made at least $1.7 million that year. And until we have real
election reform, until we make it possible to run for national office
without candidates kissing the rings of Tillersons, Iranis and Hacketts to
get hundreds of millions of dollars, this rape of America will continue.
While the Democrats have been very bad, George W. Bush has been even worse.
Let's set aside Iraq, the worst foreign policy blunder in American history.
George Bush has also done more to dismantle our Constitution, ignore or
revoke our statutes and reverse regulations that protected American citizens
from corporate abuse than any other president in recent American history.
The president, as the Boston Globe reported, has claimed the authority,
through "signing statements," to disobey more than 750 laws enacted since he
took office, asserting that he has the power to set aside any statute passed
by Congress when it conflicts with his interpretation of the Constitution.
Among the laws Bush said he can ignore are military rules and regulations,
affirmative action provisions, requirements that Congress be told about
immigration services problems, whistle-blower protections for nuclear
regulatory officials, and safeguards against political interference in
federally funded research. The Constitution is clear in assigning to
Congress the power to write the laws and to the president a duty ''to take
care that the laws be faithfully executed." George Bush, however, has
repeatedly declared that he does not need to ''execute" a law he believes is
unconstitutional. The Bush administration has gutted environmental, food and
product safety, and workplace safety standards along with their enforcement.
And this is why coal mines collapse, the housing bubble has blown up in our
face, and we are sold lead-contaminated toys imported from China. Bush has
done more than any president to hand our government directly over to
corporations, which now get 40 percent of federal discretionary spending.
Over 800,000 jobs once handled by government employees have been outsourced
to corporations, a move that has not only further empowered our shadow
corporate government but helped destroy federal workforce unions. Everything
from federal prisons, the management of regulatory and scientific reviews,
the processing or denial of Freedom of Information requests, interrogating
prisoners and running the world's largest mercenary army in Iraq has become
corporate. And these corporations, in a perverse arrangement, make their
money off the American citizen. Halliburton in 2003 was given a no-bid and
non-compete $7 billion contract to repair Iraq's oil fields, as well as the
power to oversee and control Iraq's entire oil production. This has now
become $130 billion in contract awards to Halliburton. And flush with
taxpayer dollars, what has Haliburton done? It has made sure only 36 of its
143 subsidiaries are incorporated in the United States and 107 subsidiaries
(or 75 percent) are incorporated in 30 different countries. Halliburton is
able through this arrangement to lower its tax liability on foreign income
by establishing a "controlled foreign corporation" and subsidiaries inside
low-tax, or no-tax, countries known as a "tax havens." They take our money.
They squander it. And our corporate government not only funds them but
protects them. Halliburton -- and Halliburton is just one example -- is the
engine of our new, rogue corporate state, serviced by people like George
Bush and Dick Cheney, once the company's CEO.
The disparity between our oligarchy and the working class has created a new
global serfdom. Credit Suisse analysts estimates that the number of subprime
foreclosures in the United States over the next two years will total 1,390
000 and that by the end of 2012, 12.7 percent of all residential borrowers
in the United States will be forced out of their homes. The corporate state,
which as an idea is an abstraction to many Americans, is very real when the
pieces are carefully put together and linked to a system of corporate power
that has made this poverty, the denial of our constitutional rights, and a
state of permanent war inevitable. The assault on the American working class
-- an assault that has devastated members of my own family -- is nearly
complete. The U.S. economy has 3.2 million fewer jobs today than it did when
George Bush took office, including 2.5 million fewer manufacturing jobs. In
the past three years, nearly 1 in 5 U.S. workers was laid off. Among workers
laid off from full-time work, roughly one-fourth were earning less than $40
000 annually. A total of 15 million U.S. workers are unemployed,
underemployed, or too discouraged to job hunt, according to the Labor
Department. There are whole sections of the United States which now resemble
the developing world. There has been a Weimarization of the American working
class. And the assault on the middle class is now under way. Anything that
can be put on software -- from finance to architecture to engineering -- can
and is being outsourced to workers in countries such as India or China who
accept a fraction of the pay and work without benefits. And both the
Republican and Democratic parties, beholden to corporations for money and
power, allow this to happen.
Take a look at our government departments. Who runs the Defense Department?
The Department of Interior? The Department of Agriculture? The Food and Drug
Administration? Who runs the Department of Labor? Corporations. And in an
election year where we are numbed by absurdities, we hear nothing about this
subordinating of the American people to corporate power. The political
debates, which have become popularity contests, are ridiculous and empty.
They do not confront the real and advanced destruction of our democracy.
They do not confront the takeover of our electoral processes.
We have watched over the past few decades the rise of a powerful web of
interlocking corporate entities, a network of arrangements within subsectors
industries, or other partial jurisdictions to diminish and often abolish
outside control and oversight. These corporations have neutralized national,
state and judicial authority. They dominate, for example, a bloated and
wasteful defense industry, which has become sacrosanct and beyond the reach
of politicians, most of whom are left defending military projects in their
districts, no matter how redundant, because they provide jobs. This has
permitted a military-industrial complex, which contributes lavishly to
political campaigns, to spread across the country with virtual impunity.
Defense-related spending for fiscal 2008 will exceed $1 trillion for the
first time in history. The U.S. has become the largest single seller of arms
and munitions on the planet. The defense budget for fiscal 2008 is the
largest since the Second World War even as we have more than $400 billion in
annual deficits. More than half of federal discretionary spending goes to
defense. This will not end when Bush leaves office. And so we build Cold War
relics like $3.4 billion submarines and stealth fighters to evade radar
systems the Soviets never built and spend $ 8.9 billion on ICBM missile
defense that will be useless in stopping a shipping container concealing a
dirty bomb. The defense industry is able to monopolize the best scientific
and research talent and squander the nation's resources and investment
capital. These defense industries produce nothing that is useful for society
or the national trade account. (Seymour) Melman, like President Eisenhower,
saw the defense industry as viral, something that, as it grew, destroyed a
healthy economy. And so we produce sophisticated fighter jets while Boeing
is unable to finish its new commercial plane on schedule, and our automotive
industry tanks. We sink money into research and development of weapons
systems and starve technologies to fight against global warming and
renewable energy. Universities are awash in defense-related cash and grants,
and struggle to find money for environmental studies. This massive military
spending, aided by this $3 trillion war, is hollowing us out from the inside
Our bridges and levees collapse, our schools decay, and our safety net is
taken away.
The corporate state, begun under Ronald Reagan and pushed forward by every
president since, has destroyed the public and private institutions that
protected workers and safeguarded citizens. Only 7.8 percent of workers in
the private sector are unionized. This is about the same percentage as in
the early 1900s. There are 50 million Americans in real poverty and tens of
millions of Americans in a category called "near poverty." Our health care
system is broken. Eighteen thousand people die in this country, according to
the Institute of Medicine, every year because they can't afford health care.
That is six times the number of people who died in the 9/11 attacks, and
these unnecessary deaths continue year after year. But we do not hear these
stories of pain and dislocation. We are diverted by bread and circus. News
reports do little more than report on trivia and celebrity gossip. The FCC,
in an example of how far our standards have fallen, defines shows like Fox's
celebrity gossip program "TMZ" and the Christian Broadcast Network's "700
Club" as "bona fide newscasts." The economist Charlotte Twight calls this
vast corporate system of spectacle and democratic collapse "participatory
How did we get here? How did this happen? In a word, deregulation -- the
systematic dismantling of the managed capitalism that was the hallmark of
the American democratic state. Our political decline came about because of
deregulation, the repeal of antitrust laws, and the radical transformation
from a manufacturing economy to a capital economy. This understanding led
Franklin Delano Roosevelt on April 29, 1938, to send a message to Congress
titled "Recommendations to the Congress to Curb Monopolies and the
Concentration of Economic Power." In it, he wrote:
The first truth is that the liberty of democracy is not safe if the people
tolerate the growth of power to a point where it becomes stronger than the
democratic state itself. That, in its essence, is Fascism -- ownership of
Government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private
power. The second truth is that the liberty of a democracy is not safe if
its business system does not provide employment and produce and distribute
goods in such a way to sustain an acceptable standard of living.
The rise of the corporate state has grave political consequences, as we saw
in Italy and Germany in the early part of the 20th century. Antitrust laws
not only regulate and control the marketplace, they serve as bulwarks to
protect democracy. And now that they are gone, now that we have a state that
is run by and on behalf of corporations, we must expect inevitable and
perhaps terrifying political consequences.
I spent two years traveling the country to write a book on the Christian
right called "American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America.
In depressed former manufacturing towns from Ohio to Kentucky it was the
same. There are tens of millions of Americans for whom the end of the world
is no longer an abstraction. They have lost hope. Fear and instability has
plunged the working class into personal and economic despair, and not
surprisingly into the arms of the demagogues and charlatans of the radical
Christian right who offer a belief in magic, miracles and the fiction of a
utopian Christian nation. And unless we re-enfranchise these Americans back
into the economy, unless we give them hope, our democracy is doomed.
As the pressure mounts, as this despair and desperation reaches into larger
and larger segments of the American populace, the mechanisms of corporate
and government control are being bolstered to prevent civil unrest and
instability. It is not accidental that with the rise of the corporate state
comes the rise of the security state. This is why the Bush White House has
pushed through the Patriot Act (and its renewal), the suspension of habeas
corpus, the practice of "extraordinary rendition," the warrantless
wiretapping on American citizens and the refusal to ensure free and fair
elections with verifiable ballot-counting. It is part of a package. It comes
together. It is not about terrorism or national security. It is about
control. It is about their control of us.
Sen. Frank Church, as chairman of the Select Committee on Intelligence in
1975, investigated the government's massive and highly secretive National
Security Agency. He wrote:
"That capability at any time could be turned around on the American people
and no American would have any privacy left, such is the capability to
monitor everything. Telephone conversations, telegrams, it doesn't matter.
There would be no place to hide. If this government ever became a tyranny,
if a dictator ever took charge in this country, the technological capacity
that the intelligence community has given the government could enable it to
impose total tyranny, and there would be no way to fight back, because the
most careful effort to combine together in resistance to the government, no
matter how privately it was done, is within the reach of the government to
know. Such is the capability of this technology. I don't want to see this
country ever go across the bridge. I know the capability that is there to
make tyranny total in America, and we must see to it that this agency and
all agencies that possess this technology operate within the law and under
proper supervision, so that we never cross over that abyss. That is the
abyss from which there is no return."
When Sen. Church made this statement, the NSA was not authorized to spy on
American citizens. Today it is.
... We are fed lie after lie to mask the destruction the corporate state has
wrought in our lives. The consumer price index, for example, used by the
government to measure inflation, has become meaningless. To keep the
official inflation figures low, the government has been substituting basic
products they once measured to check for inflation with ones that do not
rise very much in price. This trick has kept the cost-of-living increases
tied to the CPI artificially low. The disconnect between what we are told
and what is actually true is worthy of the old East German state. The New
York Times' consumer reporter, W.P. Dunleavy, wrote that her groceries now
cost $587 a month, up from $400 a year earlier. This is a 40 percent
increase. California economist John Williams, who runs an organization
called Shadow Statistics, contends that if Washington still used the CPI
measurements applied back in the 1970s, inflation would be in the 10 percent
range. The advantage to the corporations is huge. A false inflation rate,
one far lower than the real rate, keeps equitable interest payments on bank
accounts and certificates of deposit down. It masks the deterioration of the
American economy. The Potemkin statistics allow corporations and the
corporate state to walk away from obligations tied to real adjustments for
inflation. These statistics mean that less is paid out in Social Security
and pensions. It has reduced the interest on the multitrillion-dollar debt.
Corporations never have to pay real cost-of-living increases to their
employees. The term "unemployment" has also been steadily redefined. This
has rendered official data on employment worthless. In real terms, about 10
percent of the working population is unemployed, a figure that is, over the
long run, unsustainable. The economy, despite the official statistics, is
not growing. It is shrinking. And as the nation crumbles, we are awash with
the terrible simplicity of false statistics. We confuse our emotional
responses, carefully manipulated by advertisers, pundits, spin doctors,
television hosts, political consultants and focus groups, with knowledge. It
is how we elect presidents and those we send to Congress, how we make
decisions, even decisions to go to war. It is how we view the world. Four
media giants -- AOL-Time Warner, Viacom, Disney, and Rupert Murdoch's
NewsGroup -- control nearly everything we read, see and hear. This growing
disconnect with reality is the hallmark of a totalitarian state.
"Before they seize power and establish a world according to their doctrines,
Hannah Arendt wrote, "totalitarian movements conjure up a lying world of
consistency which is more adequate to the needs of the human mind than
reality itself; in which, through sheer imagination, uprooted masses can
feel at home and are spared the never-ending shocks which real life and real
experiences deal to human beings and their expectations. The force possessed
by totalitarian propaganda -- before the movements have the power to drop
iron curtains to prevent anyone's disturbing, by the slightest reality, the
gruesome quiet of an entirely imaginary world -- lies in its ability to shut
the masses off from the real world."
So what do we do? Voting is not enough. If voting was that effective, to
quote the activist Philip Berrigan, it would be illegal. And voting in an
age when elections are stolen by rigged ballot machines and a stacked
Supreme Court willing to overturn all legal precedent to make George Bush
president, will not work. I am not saying do not vote. We should all vote.
But that has to be the starting point if we want to reclaim America. We must
lobby, organize and advocate for the dissolution of the World Trade
Organization and NAFTA. The WTO and NAFTA have handcuffed workers and
consumers and stymied our efforts to create clean environments. These
agreements are beyond the control of our courts and have crippled our
weakened regulatory agencies. The WTO forces our working class to compete
with brutalized child and prison labor overseas, to be reduced to this level
of slave labor or to go without meaningful work. We need to repeal the
anti-worker Taft-Hartley law of 1947. The act obstructs the organization of
unions. We need to transfer control of pension funds from management to
workers. If these pension funds, worth trillions of dollars, were in the
hands of workers, the working class would own a third of the New York Stock
The working class has every right to be, to steal a line from Obama, bitter
with liberal elites. I am bitter. I have seen what the loss of manufacturing
jobs and the death of the labor movement did to my relatives in the former
mill towns in Maine. Their story is the story of tens of millions of
Americans who can no longer find a job that supports a family and provides
basic benefits. Human beings are not commodities. They are not goods. They
grieve and suffer and feel despair. They raise children and struggle to
maintain communities. The growing class divide is not understood, despite
the glibness of many in the media, by complicated sets of statistics or the
absurd, utopian faith in unregulated globalization and complicated trade
deals. It is understood in the eyes of a man or woman who is no longer
making enough money to live with dignity and hope.
George Bush, who will be here on Saturday, has done more to shred, violate
or absent the government from its obligations under domestic and
international law. He has refused to sign the Kyoto Protocol, backed out of
the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, tried to kill the International Criminal
Court, walked out on negotiations on chemical and biological weapons, and
defied the Geneva Convention and human rights law. He has set up offshore
penal colonies where we deny detainees basic rights and openly engage in
torture. He launched an illegal war in Iraq based on fabricated evidence we
now know had been discredited even before it was made public. And if we as
citizens do not hold him accountable for these crimes, if we allow the
Democratic majority in Congress to get away with its refusal to begin the
process of impeachment, which appears likely, we will be complicit in the
codification of a new world order, one that will have terrifying
consequences. For a world without treaties, statutes and laws is a world
where any nation, from a rogue nuclear state to a great imperial power, will
be able to invoke its domestic laws to annul its obligations to others. This
new order will undo five decades of international cooperation -- largely put
in place by the United States -- destroy our own constitutional rights and
thrust us into a Hobbesian nightmare. We are one, maybe two, terrorist
attacks away from a police state. Time is running out.
We must not allow international laws and treaties -- ones that set minimum
standards of behavior and provide a framework for competing social,
political, economic and religious groups and interests to resolve
differences -- to be discarded. The exercise of power without law is tyranny
And the consequences of George Bush's violation of the law, his creation of
legal black holes that can swallow American citizens along with those
outside our borders, run in a direct line from the White House to Abu Ghraib
Guantanamo and military brigs in cities such as Charleston. George Bush --
we now know from the leaked Downing Street memo -- fabricated a legal
pretext for war. He decided to charge Saddam Hussein with the material
breach of the resolution passed in the wake of the 1991 Gulf War. He had no
evidence that Saddam Hussein was in breach of this resolution. And so he and
his advisers manufactured reports of weapons of mass destruction and
disseminated them to a frightened and manipulated press and public. In short
he lied. He lied to us and to the rest of the world. There are tens of
thousands, perhaps a few hundred thousand people, who have been killed and
maimed in a war that has no legal justification, a war waged in violation of
international law, a war that under the post-Nuremberg laws is defined as "a
criminal war of aggression."
We have blundered into nations we know little about. We are caught between
bitter rivalries and competing ethnic groups and leaders we do not
understand. We are trying to transplant a modern system of politics invented
in Europe characterized, among other things, by the division of earth into
independent secular states based on national citizenship in a land where the
belief in a secular civil government is an alien creed. Iraq was a cesspool
for the British when they occupied it in 1917. It will be a cesspool for us
as well. We can either begin an orderly withdrawal or watch the mission
A rule-based world matters. The creation of international bodies and laws,
the sanctity of our constitutional rights, have allowed us to stand
pre-eminent as a nation -- one that seeks at its best to respect and defend
the rule of law. If we demolish the fragile and delicate domestic and
international order, if we permit George Bush to create a world where
diplomacy, broad cooperation, democracy and law are worthless, if we allow
these international and domestic legal safeguards to unravel, our moral and
political authority will plummet. We will erode the possibility of
cooperation between nation-states, including our closest allies. We will
lose our country. And we will, in the end, see visited upon us the evils we
visit on others. Read Antigone, when the king imposes his will without
listening to those he rules or Thucydides' history. Read how Athens'
expanding empire saw it become a tyrant abroad and then a tyrant at home.
How the tyranny the Athenian leadership imposed on others it finally imposed
on itself. This, Thucydides wrote, is what doomed Athenian democracy; Athens
destroyed itself. For the primary instrument of tyranny and empire is war
and war is a poison, a poison which at times we must ingest just as a cancer
patient must ingest a poison to survive. But if we do not understand the
poison of war -- if we do not understand how deadly that poison is -- it can
kill us just as surely as the disease.
Hope, St. Augustine wrote, has two beautiful daughters. They are anger and
courage. Anger at the way things are and the courage to see they do not
remain the way they are. We stand at the verge of a massive economic
dislocation, one forcing millions of families from their homes and into
severe financial distress, one that threatens to rend the fabric of our
society. We are waging a war that devours lives and capital, and that cannot
ultimately be won. We are told we need to give up our rights to be safe, to
be protected. In short, we are made afraid. We are told to hand over all
that is best about our nation to those like George Bush and Dick Cheney, who
seek to destroy our nation.
A state of fear only engenders cruelty -- cruelty, fear, insanity, and then
paralysis. In the center of Dante's circle, the damned remained motionless.
If we do not become angry, if we do not muster within us the courage, indeed
the militancy, to challenge those in the Democratic and Republican parties
who herd us toward the corporate state, we will have squandered our courage
and our integrity when we need it most.

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