December 29, 2003
"NIGERIA: ANTI-BULLET CHARM FAILS A traditional healer was shot in the head and killed by a client who was testing the potency of an anti-bullet charm the healer had prepared for him, the police in central Benue State said. To confirm its efficacy, the healer tied the charm around his neck and insisted that the client fire a gun at him, a police spokesman said, adding, 'The experiment proved fatal.'"
In the wake of Mr. Bush's address to the nation following the capture of Saddam Hussein we were reassured, if we ever needed (we always do), that the world (read the United States) was now a safer place. One week later, on December 21, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge stated, "Today, the United States Government raised the national threat level from an Elevated to High risk of terrorist attack -- or from Code Yellow to Code Orange." Three days later, in a news conference following the case of mad cow disease in Washington State, Secretary of Agriculture Ann M. Veneman declared, "I have been in contact with Secretary Ridge and I would emphasize that, based on the information available, this incident is not terrorist related nor is it related in any way to our nation's heightened alert status." She added, "I cannot stress this point strongly enough." For good countenance, The New York Times printed a column to the right of the excerpts from that news conference, entitled "Intelligence Cites Some U.S. Cities." It read, "Officials said Tuesday that they were analyzing recently collected terrorism intelligence to determine why a handful of American cities were mentioned, but they cautioned that the locales were not necessarily considered targets."
This encapsulates 2003 in a nutshell. The Madison Ave. folks could not have dreamed of a better timing and product placement, worthy of Jay Leno or David Letterman. We are both safer and at a higher risk; the "terrorists" are after our cows (or is it the Canadians, eh?) and our cities; planes are grounded but life's good -- Season's Greetings. Don't worry, America; just stay alert and go on with your business (insert here you favorite retailer). We'll take care of the store.
This is how the year is ending. This is how it began, filled with dazing falsities and deceptions, making a mocking imitation of reality, and rejoined by the incongruity of US national politics. Were it not for the human and environmental disaster inflicted upon the Iraqis, Molière rather than Orwell would come to mind, making 2003 a truly burlesque year.
America chose to go to war, a preemptive war against a country that had never attacked it, to remove an alleged threat to its safety and security. Weapons of mass destruction, both nuclear and biological, and links to the dreaded bin Laden's al Qaeda were invoked to unilaterally invade and occupy a country whose only crime -- and prize -- is to possess the second largest oil reserves in the world. Links to bin Laden were unfounded; WMD were non-existent; no radioactive materials were located, except the DU ordnance used by the conquerors. Peu importe, we were told by our democratically un-elected, court-anointed great leader, the "real" objective was to remove a tyrant and to bring freedom and democracy to the Periphery.
As the antiwar movement hit the doldrums and went home to lick its wounds, spurious squabbles among the elites of the bicephalous system (neocons vs. neolibs) made the rounds dissecting the merits of going in alone or with the UN imprimatur, and once the deed was consummated, how to best consolidate the latest strategic acquisition, all agreeing on staying the course, declaiming in unison the "we cannot fail" mantra, all the while focusing their attention on the biggest prize of all -- the White House.
The collusion between the two parties, if it ever needed demonstration, was clearly in evidence with the likes of Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton -- more hawkish on Iraq and Afghanistan than the Bushites themselves -- and Maria Shriver, claiming to be a Democrat with a big D, campaigning on behalf of her husband, the newly elected California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (a republican), in favor of his proposed budget (more cuts in social services, no taxes on the happy few, new bonds to pass the tab on to future generations, etc.). Even more striking was the election of Gavin Newsome in the San Francisco mayor's race. Mr. Newsome was endorsed by the likes of Senator Boxer, Jesse Jackson, Bill Clinton and Al Gore, and received his margin of victory over Green candidate Matt Gonzalez from the republican voters! All in all a Mary Matalin & James Carville circuitous spectacle, so brilliantly and entertainingly orchestrated by NBC (read G.E.) master-puppeteer Tim Russert.
We had to witness the media-labeled insurgent candidacy of Howard Dean, a consummate centrist insider endorsed by Al Gore -- another consummate insider -- who in a phoenix-like awakening became the populist darling of the lib-labs, save-the-whales and the ANWR enviros (see the must-read report by Jeffrey St. Clair on CounterPunch regarding the ANWR swindle), libertarian geeks, and the me-no-spoiler-syndrome Greens, or see peace activists looking up to Wesley Clark as the best anti-war candidate with an impeccable war pedigree to unseat the current occupant of the prized Washington real estate, all in the name of a specious "Anyone But Bush" strategy. So convinced of the qualitative menace posed by the Bushites ("Fascism is coming to America!"), strange fellow-travelers, from the Loyal Opposition of The Nation's Cruise Missile Left to Third Party progressives and members in high standing of the Greens and Chomskian anarchists joined forces. These enlightened people disserted at length and convinced themselves (and their respective constituencies) that this particular administration, driven by none other than god himself, was bent to dismantle the last remnants of our moribund democracy and bring us back to happier days when, in the unforgettable 1902 words of railroad magnate George F. Baer,
The rights and interests of the laboring man will be protected and cared for, not by the labor agitators, but by the Christian men to whom God in His infinite wisdom has given control of the property interests of the country, and upon the successful Management of which so much depends.In short, Mr. Bush and his acolytes have been playing on our fears of the terrorists, and the democrats on our fears of Mr. Bush and his acolytes. Due to American standard of political forgetfulness this clever manipulation of the electoral process through emotions should not be held against these good folks. It's an old story indeed (remember Reagan and Goldwater in the time of the commies?) -- one, which has been perfected over time to control any potential emancipation from the bicephalous system. There is no right time to break away as formidable clouds keep looming over the country every four-year cycle or so. Evidently, such timely regularity should only be construed as an un-coincidental practice...
There were plenty other punching balls and odd balls that were risible. Some inventive guy patented a bleu-blanc-rouge freedom fry; we found out that Strom Thurmond was not really a segregationist, especially in his younger years (his family seemed thrilled by the news...); navel-centered advocates of the Revolution invaded the Internet using free blogging services paid by on-line advertising to advance their oh-so-collective, anti-capitalist cause, and financing their side-endeavor (they do have a daily job, or they are retired) through Amazon.com and Paypal -- models, as we all know, of collectivism; another smart guy figured out that from a GDP standpoint it made sense to incarcerate anybody whose yearly income is below $12 to 15,000; Jesse Helms retired; the pope is still alive; Palestinians are not; Wal-Mart is king of the block, albeit the block has disappeared; the economy is way up, the working families are way down; the defense industry is thriving; our very Michael Stowell has gone homeless and no one cares...
It's been a swell year. We may all need an anti-bullet charm though... 2004 promises to be quite interesting. Let's hope the experiment will not prove fatal.
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1. See, http://www.history.ohio-state.edu/projects/coal/1902AnthraciteStrike/Baer.htm (last visited, December 26, 2003). (back)
Gilles d'Aymery is Swans' publisher and co-editor.
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