It used to be that you could pretty well count on Republicans to protect the flag and the cross. With Christian patriot George W. Bush at the helm, however, flag-dragging and cross-crushing have joined other new Republican pastimes such as outing CIA agents, raising record deficits, bloating government's size and power, and, of course, denigrating the mothers of our war dead.
You've likely read about how one of Bush's conservative neighbors was so upset with Cindy Sheehan's vigil on the periphery of Bush's precious 300th-plus day of vacation that the Texan used his pickup truck to run over dozens of flags and crosses bearing the names of U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq. When authorities caught up with the guy, he was outside his disabled truck, which had a flat tire and a wooden cross stuck in its undercarriage. You've got to wonder if that's covered by the manufacturer's warranty.
Events like this typically amuse the bejesus out of me, but not at the price tag Bush's nutty agenda carries: more than 1,860 American dead; thousands and thousands and thousands wounded; Christ knows how many Iraqi men, women and children dead or maimed; our security situation incalculably worsened; our reputation in the world besmirched; our values trampled; not to mention the hundreds of billions of dollars the war has cost. I've lost count, and so evidently has the administration, since as much as $20 billion has gone missing in Iraq.
What will it take to stop this war?
You. And me. And a lot more of us. The deal sucks: Bush's guys control all three branches of government. They own the media and practically everything else. Most news organizations scarcely report any real news, and most Americans don't watch or read even that, which is why two-thirds of them think Saddam Hussein slept with Paula Abdul.
Even with a majority of Americans catching on now that this war was based on falsehoods, was mishandled and has made our nation less secure, Bush just goes bicycling along, unmoved by facts, public opinion or a mother's grief.
What can we do? Plenty of little things, incremental things, things that may seem maddeningly slow, but things that are necessary if this country is to regain some semblance of its soul. We need acts of nation-building, in which we Americans aren't just consumers but also citizens. As Skipper Alan Hale or someone once said, "Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom," and that means being vigilant of one's own motives and institutions.
So here are some things to think and do:
Talk to Republicans. Some of them are human, and are as concerned as you about the Bush administration's war on reality. Some others just need to be reminded what Republicans once stood for. As much as they believe government should be run like a business, they don't think the business model should be Enron's. They might question why billions of dollars have been lost, embezzled or otherwise unaccounted for since the war began (more than $1.8 billion mislaid by Halliburton alone). Some wonder why the advice of military leaders on troop strength and postwar planning was brushed aside by Bush's aides, resulting in today's mess. Some wonder why, if it's a "coalition of the willing," all 63 of the troops killed in Iraq so far this month have been American.
Some don't like the way deployments in Iraq have drained states of National Guard units and other first responders, agreeing with several Republican governors that we're left unable to respond to crises at home. Some don't like the Big Brother aspects ushered in by the war; even the California National Guard has an intelligence branch, doing the important work of spying on the families of slain American soldiers and others. Some Republicans don't like their tax dollars being spent to feed us lies and propaganda, like the concocted story of Pat Tillman's death in Afghanistan, or the revelation earlier this month that the Army was fabricating quotes from "unnamed Iraqis" in its press releases. So talk to that neighbor.
Talk to Christians. Torturing prisoners, piling them up naked or taunting them with menstrual blood probably is not something Jesus would have done. He who advised turning the other cheek also likely wouldn't have been down with a "pre-emptive war" that bombed thousands of innocent civilians. Some Christians, especially those with bits of cross embedded in their tires, might not understand that the U.S. in Iraq is acting more like the Roman Empire than like Christ, but other Christians might be enlightened by the facts. We need every heart and mind in this battle, and maybe some will join with you as you . . .
Talk to passing cars. I've argued in these pages before against the efficacy of the street-corner protests taking place in our fair county, how the complexity of the issues surrounding the war can't be addressed on a cardboard sign read at 45 mph. But there aren't that many other avenues of expression open to us, and Cindy Sheehan's Crawford vigil has, at least for now, renewed press interest in anti-war protests. For info on how and where to get involved, check out the very informative www.ocpeace.org site and/or get on the mailing list at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Help promote true democracy in Iraq. Since Bush's sole remaining excuse for invading Iraq was that we needed to free its people, shouldn't they be allowed some actual freedom? Yes, a constitution would be nifty, but most Iraqis have more immediate concerns, such as how they've had no say in the reconstruction of their country, which was shopped out largely to Bush-supporting U.S. companies, which despite multibillion-dollar contracts have not provided even the meager electricity, potable water, sanitation, food distribution, transportation and other basics the country previously had. How about building support (write your congressperson; contribute to democracy-building organizations in Iraq, etc.) for an election to allow Iraqis to participate in their future, instead of leaving it to Bush cronies?
While they're at it, the election could ask whether the Iraqi people really want their oil and other resources seized from them and privatized. That's not even a topic in the new constitution. Instead, Iraq's oil fields were laid open to foreign oil companies via policies imposed by Paul "Mr. Viceroy to You" Bremer, without a word from Iraqis. Do you suppose the Iraqis might have an opinion on that?
One thing that Americans and Iraqis have in common is the majority of folks in both countries want U.S. forces to leave Iraq. In Iraq, where the issue is decidedly more compelling, polls show a whopping majority—well over 70 percent of Iraqis—want us to bid adieu. Remember how proud Bush was of the voter turnout in the last Iraqi election? Just think of the huge numbers he could boast of if a U.S. withdrawal was on the ballot. Suggest this to your congressperson today. C'mon, Dana: You love democracy, don't you?
Leave some children behind. Perhaps you've read about the massive new government/commercial database Army recruiters are using to aggressively target and track schoolkids as young as 16, trolling for those hard-up or screwed-up enough to be persuaded into uniform. Consider also that Bush's much-touted but underfunded education act contains a sneaky clause requiring schools to provide student information to military recruiters, and you get the real meaning of "No child left behind." But you can help tell parents what the government isn't telling them: that they have the right, at least for now, to have their kids put on a do-not-call list. Contact your local school district and insist they make parents aware of their opt-out right, and check out www.militaryfreeschools.org to see what else you can do.
Don't give George W. Bush your money. Or Osama bin Laden. Every time you buy gasoline, you're handing money to the oil companies that handed tens of millions of dollars to Bush and other Republicans' campaigns, not to mention the hundreds of millions they've spent in the past five years lobbying for their interests, which is why some of the most insanely profitable companies on earth just got $6 billion in subsidies in Bush's energy bill. In Iraq, they'll be getting the oil wells, while America's sons and daughters get the shaft.
A lot of the oil they sell us comes from Arab dictators, who may socialize with the Bush family, but don't have much use for the rest of us. They're modest about it, but rich Saudis have funded al Qaeda for years, and they also fund schools that turn out antsy little extremists who have been taught to hate us.
If you must buy gasoline, buy it from Citgo stations. The company is wholly owned by Venezuela, which, unlike Saudi Arabia, has a democratically elected president, and none of its citizens have flown jets into U.S. buildings. Citgo does not contribute money to Bush, possibly because, at the same time in 2001 when the White House was ignoring warnings about the al Qaeda threat, it was busy supporting the military coup that temporarily ousted Hugo Chavez, Venezuela's elected president. Chavez enjoys huge popular support in his country, in part because he uses the country's oil proceeds to benefit his nation's poor. To find the Citgo near you, visit the company website (citgo.com); most 7-Elevens offer Citgo gasoline.
This Tuesday, Chavez extended his policy to our poor: While Bush flitted between GOP fundraisers and war-touting speeches in California—seemingly oblivious that America is amidst one of its worst natural disasters in history—Chavez met with Jesse Jackson and offered the US heating oil at reduced rates, so our hardest-hit citizens might make it through winter.
Help the Democrats find their spines. It's sad to see so many Democrats in Washington suffering from spinal lackofitus, crawling about with barely enough skeletal integrity to proffer their butts for their weekly rump ride from the Republicans. Why didn't more Dems vote against the war or the PATRIOT Act? Why didn't every single Democrat in Congress try to crowd into that basement cupboard where Rep. John Conyers was forced to hold his hearing on the Downing Street memos? Why, when Democrats do speak the truth, do they so often back down and apologize for it?
Because they're scared. They don't know just how many people out here are hungering for truth and action. Write to them, let them know you've got their backs, that you'll support and applaud their efforts if they rise to the cause, and that you'll boot their sorry reamed asses out of office if they don't. Go to www.house.gov to contact representatives, then go to www.democrats.org, click on "contact," say hi to Howard Dean, and let him know you like his style.
Volunteer to help win the midterm elections. Non-presidential elections don't get much of a turnout. Tom DeLay's PACs have gerrymandered so many states that it's almost impossible to beat the Republicans. They've got the big money and have the bully in the White House bully pulpit. They manufacture the voting machines! Regardless of all that, it's imperative that Democrats win some seats in Congress, so that ethical Republicans won't feel it's such a lost cause to join with Democrats in doing the right thing, which might just include . . .
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Impeachment, prosecutions and firings. Yes, it rises to that. Bush lied to the American people. He lied to Congress. His top advisers compromised national security to cover up those lies. Bill Clinton was impeached for telling lies in which the only casualties were the spermatozoa slain by digestive acids. Bush's lies have led to tens of thousands of deaths, and many of the American deaths were the result of an arrogant war plan that ignored what Pentagon and State Department experts told the administration about the realities of Iraq. Just this month, yet another prewar memo surfaced in which the administration was warned that the lack of planning for the war's aftermath would lead to increased risk for our troops there. What, me worry?
Or how about trying Donald Rumsfeld for criminal negligence? Remember when the soldier in Iraq asked Rumsfeld why he and his fellow troops were fighting in vehicles that probably had less armor than the Bush daughters' stateside SUV? Rumsfeld replied, "You have to go to war with the army you have, not the army you want."
Which is true enough—when there's an immediate threat requiring war. But not even the war's most ardent supporters will argue that Iraq posed an imminent threat, while most experts and world leaders questioned whether there was any threat at all; time has proved there wasn't. Iraq was under embargo, and UN inspection patrolled the country freely. Any conceivable threat was contained. This was a purely elective war, which, if needed at all, could have been launched six months or even years later, when our troops were properly equipped and prepared. It was absolutely irresponsible for the secretary of defense to have put them in harm's way without cause. But he did, and he should be held accountable.
But this is all just wishful thinking unless a great many things change first, and the only thing we can ever change is the present. You can sit and stew, or you can take the lid off and boil for a while. It's time, you know.