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Thursday, October 28, 2004

Bush Plans to Enforce Mandatory "Mental Tests"

Among the things the second term of the Bush junta will bring is the
New Freedom Initiative. This is a proposal, barely reported in the
press, to give all Americans- beginning with school children- a
standardized test for mental illness. Those who flunk the test will
be issued medication, and those who do not want to take their
medication will be urged to have it implanted under their skin.
Needless to say, the New Freedom commission, appointed by
the President, is composed almost entirely of executives, lawyers,
and lobbyists for pharmaceutical corporations.

The question is: Will anyone pass the test? Half of America is
clearly deranged, and it has driven the other half mad.

The President openly declares that God speaks through him.
The Republicans are making television advertisements featuring
the actor who played Jesus in Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the
Christ," while sending out pamphlets that warn that if Kerry is
elected he will ban the Bible. Catholic bishops have decreed that
voting for Kerry is a sin (mortal or venial?) that must be confessed
before one can take communion. The one piece of scientific
research actively promoted by the government is investigating
whether having others pray for you can cure cancer. (The National
Institute of Health has explained that this is "imperative" because
poor people have limited access to normal health care.) At the
official gift shop in Grand Canyon National Park, they sell a book that
states that this so-called natural wonder sprang fully formed in the six
days of Creation. We already know that the current United States
government does not believe in global warming or the hazards of
pollution; now we know it doesn't believe in erosion either.

The polls are evidence that the country is suffering a collective
head injury. On any given issue-- the economy, the war in Iraq,
health care-- the majority perceive that the situation is bad and
the President has handled it badly. Yet these same people, in
these same polls, also say they'll be voting for Bush. Like a
battered wife-- realizing yet denying what is happening, still
making excuses for their man-- the voters are ruled by fear and
intimidation and the threat of worse to come. They've been
beaten up by the phantom of terrorism.

Every few weeks we're bludgeoned by warnings that terrorists
may strike in a matter of days. Incited by the Department of
Homeland Security, millions have bought duct tape and plastic
sheeting to protect their homes from biological and chemical attack,
and have amassed caches of canned food and bottled water. To
ensure that everyone everywhere stays afraid, 10,000 FBI agents
have been sent to small towns to talk to local police chiefs about what
they can do to fight terrorism. After the massacre at Beslan, school
principals received letters from the Department of Education instructing
them to beware of strangers.The Vice President intones that if Kerry is
elected, terrorists will be exploding nuclear bombs in the cities. (And,
to anticipate all possibilities, also warns that terrorists may set off
bombs before the election to influence the vote. . . but we're not
going to let them tell Americans who to vote for, are we?)

Fear has infected even the most common transactions of daily life.
It is not only visitors to the US who are treated as criminals, with
fingerprints and photographs and retinal scans. Anyone entering any
anonymous office building must now go through security clearances
worthy of an audience with Donald Rumsfeld. At the airports, fear of
flying has been replaced by fear of checking-in. Nearly every day there
are stories of people arrested or detained for innocuous activities, like
snapping a photo of a friend in the subway or wearing an antiwar
button while shopping in the mall. Worst of all, the whole country
has acquiesced to the myth of terrorist omnipotence. Even those who
laugh at the color-coded Alerts and other excesses of the anti-terror
apparatus do not question the need for the apparatus itself. The
Department of Homeland Security, after all, was a Democratic
proposal first rejected by Bush.


Common sense has retreated to the monasteries of a few websites. It is
considered delusional to suggest that international terrorism is nothing
more than a criminal activity performed by a handful of people, that
Al-Qaeda and similar groups are the Weather Underground, the Brigato
Rosso, the Baader-Meinhof Gang, with more sophisticated techniques
and more powerful weapons, operating in the age of hysterical 24-hour
television news. They are not an army. They are not waging a war.
They are tiny groups perpetrating isolated acts of violence.

There's no question they are dangerous individuals, but- without
demeaning the indelible trauma of 9/11 or the Madrid bombings- the
danger they pose must be seen with some kind of dispassionate
perspective. A terrorist attack is a rare and sudden disaster, the
man-made equivalent of an earthquake or flood. More people die
in the U.S. every year from choking on food than died in the Twin
Towers. About 35,000 die annually from gunshot wounds. (While
Bush lifts the ban on assault weapons, and both Bush and Kerry
promote gun ownership, a captured al-Qaeda manual recommends
traveling to the U.S. to buy weapons.) About 45,000 die in car
crashes-- while the Bush administration lowers automobile safety
standards to increase the profits of the auto industry, major
donors to his campaign. Millions, of course, die from diseases,
and one can only imagine if the billions spent on useless
elephantine bureaucracies like the Department of Homeland
Security had gone to hospitals and research. If the goal were
genuinely to protect lives, fighting terrorism would be a serious
matter for police and intelligence agencies, and a small project of a
nation's well-being.

Compare, for a moment, Spain. After the Madrid bombings, the
police, in a few days, arrested those responsible. (After 9/11, the U.S.
rounded up more than 5,000 people- many of whom still in jail and not
a single one of whom has been proven to have any connection to any
form of terrorist activity.) They did not carpet-bomb Morocco. They
are quietly increasing police surveillance without Terror Alert national
panics and with little or no interruption of daily life. And,
geographically, demographically, and historically (the
fundamentalist dream of recuperating al-Andalus), there is a
much greater possibility of another terrorist attack in Spain
than in the U.S.

But of course the current "war on terrorism" is not about saving
lives at all; it's about keeping power in the hands of a tiny cell of
ideologues. In the manner of all totalitarian societies, the Bush junta,
with a happily compliant mass media, has wildly exaggerated the
power of the Enemy. This has allowed them to wage a war in Iraq
they began planning long before 9/11 and to plot further invasions,
to suspend Constitutional rights and disdain international law, to
enrich their friends and ignore the opinions of most of the world.
Many Americans who dislike Bush will still vote for him in November
because the marketing campaign has made him appear the resolute
"wartime" Commander-in-Chief who will keep the nation "safe." It
has become futile to try to argue that this war on terror doesn't exist,
that the actual war in Iraq has nothing to do with the safety of
Americans at home, and that abroad it has killed or maimed
more Americans than 9/11. It remains to be seen what price
the country, and the world, will pay for this fantasy.


An unnamed "senior adviser" to Bush recently told the journalist Ron
Suskind that people like Suskind were members of "what we call the
reality-based community": those who "believe that solutions emerge
from [the] judicious study of discernible reality." However, he
explained, "That's not the way the world really works anymore.
We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality.
And while you're studying that reality... we'll act again, creating
other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how
things will sort out. We're history's actors, and you, all of you,
will be left to just study what we do."

This may well be the clearest expression yet of the Bush Doctrine. To
become enraged by particulars-- the daily slaughter in Iraq, the prison
torture, the worst economy since the Great Depression, the banana
republic tricks and slanders of the electoral campaign-- is to miss
the point. We are no longer in "discernible reality." In the second
term, the only choice will be to line up for your medication and enjoy
the New Freedom. As Bush now says in every speech, "freedom is
on the march."

--Eliot Weinberger

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