Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Celebration Day

Give yourselves a hand or three. A hearty hug. An extra flute of champagne. A big tip. A week at the beach. Because you did it. You did it, you did the do!

(NY Times/Chip Somedevilla/Getty Images)

You went out and voted and helped to clean house. You ensured that at least 29 Democrats replaced Republicans to flip the House of Representatives, and your votes shifted six seats from several of the Senate's most notorious right-wing racists and homophobes to Democrats, so that they now control the Congress's upper house as well. You also ensured that Democratic candidates, some of them true progressives, now control the majority of governorships, and dominate in statehouse legislatures.

You did this, American people, despite the government and media disinformation and misinformation bombardment, the months and weeks and days of harassment and intimidation, the balloting chicanery, the disparity in financial support from big business and the megarich, and even the wrongheadedness of members of the Democratic Party itself, the Republite DLC wing and some of the party's powerbrokers.

You have placed in office progressive legislators like new Senators Sheldon Whitehouse, Bernie Sanders, Amy Klobuchar, Sherrod Brown, and Jon Tester, and new Congresspeople Patrick Murphy, Joe Sestak, Jim Yarmuth, Jerry McNerney, Tim Walz, and many others.

You did this, and you've left the pundits, the prognosticators, and most of all the President and his party dazed and confused. His thuggish politics of fear, deception and demonization finally lost. Not even Diebold machines could rescue him. He stammered and stuttered today like someone who was punch drunk--as he probably was. He even sent one of his most inept and arrogant captains, Donald "Back Off" Rumsfeld, packing (only to replace him with a retread from his father's era, but that's another story).

(Doug Miller/New York Times)

Cutting away dead and rotting flesh is, as I learned years ago from Michael Harper, called "debridement." You wielded the laser, and the result is enough to give all of us some measure of hope.


Unfortunately, anti-gay marriage bans passed in 8 states, although in 5 the opposition exceeded 40%. That is a very good sign for the future. Arizona, however, rejected an anti-civil union bill. It's increasingly clear that as the new generation of voters, many of whom do not possess the homophobia and heterosexism of their elders, mature, they will continue to reject anti-gay measures, but for now, the Republicans will continue to use them, along with racist and class-based appeals, whether they work or not.

In Michigan, despite opposition even from the entire Democratic leadership and high-level Republicans like losing gubernatorial candidate and Amway founder Dick DeVos, voters passed an anti-affirmative action ban by a margin of about 58%-42%. The deeply deceitful proposal, spearheaded by racial basketcase Ward Connnerly, mirrors ones in California and Washington State. It's a terrible stain on an otherwise very good day, but I think that down the road it may be possible to overturn it as well. The immediate effects for the University of Michigan, however, may be as dire as they were in other places such bans came into effect.

In South Dakota, voters rejected the extreme anti-abortion bill that the legislature passed and governor signed. Female voters' ballots were decisive. I doubt this will stop some states like Mississippi that have been fiending to pass anti-abortion laws, but with a Democratic Senate Judiciary committee controlled by Vermont's Pat Leahy, there's no way that another Alito or Roberts will skate onto any of the nation's courts. No. Way. It's been interesting to see ultraconservatives lament this loss of power; Pat Buchanan was just the latest to bemoan it tonight on Scarborough Country. Oh well....


What we began to challenge head on yesterday 2005 Nobel Laureate in Literature Harold Pinter described in his award lecture last year:

Political language, as used by politicians, does not venture into any of this territory [ambiguity] since the majority of politicians, on the evidence available to us, are interested not in truth but in power and in the maintenance of that power. To maintain that power it is essential that people remain in ignorance, that they live in ignorance of the truth, even the truth of their own lives. What surrounds us therefore is a vast tapestry of lies, upon which we feed.

Having torn down at least part of the tapestry, let's make sure that we feed no longer.


And speaking of Pinter's speech, one of its points of incandescence is his discussion of the US's involvement in Nicaragua under Ronald Reagan, which came to be known, as a result of the Congressional investigations and special prosecution, as the Iran-Contra Affair. Here is Pinter, in clarifying prose, on that whole sordid, horrid, criminal escapade:

The tragedy of Nicaragua was a highly significant case. I choose to offer it here as a potent example of America's view of its role in the world, both then and now.

I was present at a meeting at the US embassy in London in the late 1980s.

The United States Congress was about to decide whether to give more money to the Contras in their campaign against the state of Nicaragua. I was a member of a delegation speaking on behalf of Nicaragua but the most important member of this delegation was a Father John Metcalf. The leader of the US body was Raymond Seitz (then number two to the ambassador, later ambassador himself). Father Metcalf said: 'Sir, I am in charge of a parish in the north of Nicaragua. My parishioners built a school, a health centre, a cultural centre. We have lived in peace. A few months ago a Contra force attacked the parish. They destroyed everything: the school, the health centre, the cultural centre. They raped nurses and teachers, slaughtered doctors, in the most brutal manner. They behaved like savages. Please demand that the US government withdraw its support from this shocking terrorist activity.'

Raymond Seitz had a very good reputation as a rational, responsible and highly sophisticated man. He was greatly respected in diplomatic circles. He listened, paused and then spoke with some gravity. 'Father,' he said, 'let me tell you something. In war, innocent people always suffer.' There was a frozen silence. We stared at him. He did not flinch.

Innocent people, indeed, always suffer.

Finally somebody said: 'But in this case "innocent people" were the victims of a gruesome atrocity subsidised by your government, one among many. If Congress allows the Contras more money further atrocities of this kind will take place. Is this not the case? Is your government not therefore guilty of supporting acts of murder and destruction upon the citizens of a sovereign state?'

Seitz was imperturbable. 'I don't agree that the facts as presented support your assertions,' he said.

As we were leaving the Embassy a US aide told me that he enjoyed my plays. I did not reply.

I should remind you that at the time President Reagan made the following statement: 'The Contras are the moral equivalent of our Founding Fathers.'

The United States supported the brutal Somoza dictatorship in Nicaragua for over 40 years. The Nicaraguan people, led by the Sandinistas, overthrew this regime in 1979, a breathtaking popular revolution.

The Sandinistas weren't perfect. They possessed their fair share of arrogance and their political philosophy contained a number of contradictory elements. But they were intelligent, rational and civilised. They set out to establish a stable, decent, pluralistic society. The death penalty was abolished. Hundreds of thousands of poverty-stricken peasants were brought back from the dead. Over 100,000 families were given title to land. Two thousand schools were built. A quite remarkable literacy campaign reduced illiteracy in the country to less than one seventh. Free education was established and a free health service. Infant mortality was reduced by a third. Polio was eradicated.

The United States denounced these achievements as Marxist/Leninist subversion. In the view of the US government, a dangerous example was being set. If Nicaragua was allowed to establish basic norms of social and economic justice, if it was allowed to raise the standards of health care and education and achieve social unity and national self respect, neighbouring countries would ask the same questions and do the same things. There was of course at the time fierce resistance to the status quo in El Salvador.

I spoke earlier about 'a tapestry of lies' which surrounds us. President Reagan commonly described Nicaragua as a 'totalitarian dungeon'. This was taken generally by the media, and certainly by the British government, as accurate and fair comment. But there was in fact no record of death squads under the Sandinista government. There was no record of torture. There was no record of systematic or official military brutality. No priests were ever murdered in Nicaragua. There were in fact three priests in the government, two Jesuits and a Maryknoll missionary. The totalitarian dungeons were actually next door, in El Salvador and Guatemala. The United States had brought down the democratically elected government of Guatemala in 1954 and it is estimated that over 200,000 people had been victims of successive military dictatorships.

Six of the most distinguished Jesuits in the world were viciously murdered at the Central American University in San Salvador in 1989 by a battalion of the Alcatl regiment trained at Fort Benning, Georgia, USA. That extremely brave man Archbishop Romero was assassinated while saying mass. It is estimated that 75,000 people died. Why were they killed? They were killed because they believed a better life was possible and should be achieved. That belief immediately qualified them as communists. They died because they dared to question the status quo, the endless plateau of poverty, disease, degradation and oppression, which had been their birthright.

The United States finally brought down the Sandinista government. It took some years and considerable resistance but relentless economic persecution and 30,000 dead finally undermined the spirit of the Nicaraguan people. They were exhausted and poverty stricken once again. The casinos moved back into the country. Free health and free education were over. Big business returned with a vengeance. 'Democracy' had prevailed.

But democracy has truly prevailed. Daniel Ortega, the candidate of the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), was elected on Sunday as Nicaragua's new president. Despite the ministrations of the Bush administration, despite convicted felon Oliver North's campaigning with former Contra leaders, despite facing a wealthy, conservative opponent, Ortega prevailed, with strong support from the country's working-class and poor populace. He has promised to work with Washington, as well as Latin America's main leftist leaders, but openly rejected the US Republicans who'd been condemning his possible win. He will face a possible conservative plurality in Nicaragua's Congress, though his own party has retained nearly as many seats, and a coalition is possible.