THE YEAR IN NIGHTMARES
by Joyce Marcel
American Reporter Correspondent
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- This nightmare year opened with the world still reeling from the Indian Ocean tsunami which swept away more than 200,000 people in 12 countries. The devastation made it hard not to see that we're all on this planet together, we're all vulnerable to the force of nature, and, as John Donne wrote in 1623, "Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind. And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee."
Then, in September, to make sure we wouldn't forget Donne's words, Hurricane Katrina wiped away the Gulf Coast. To our shame, the world saw that parts of America are much like a Third World country, and that our arrogant President George W. Bush, flying high above the fray, doesn't care.
Callousness runs in the family. When his mother, Barbara Bush - she who so famously said about the possibility of American deaths before the Iraq war, "Oh, I mean, it's not relevant. So why should I waste my beautiful mind on something like that?" - visited the New Orleans evacuees at Houston's Astrodome, she said, "And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this - this (here she chuckled slightly) is working very well for them."
Meanwhile, the America that has a heart mourned for the dead, the homeless, the wreckage, and the loss of New Orleans, the spiritual home of American music. "Roll out your old-time carriage. Roll out your rubber-tyre hack. There's 12 men goin' to the graveyard, but 11 comin' back."
As the year progressed, it became harder to understand exactly whose playbook Mr. Bush and his administration were reading from. In a manner that was pure Stalinesque, we learned that the administration was paying right-wing columnists to push its ideas onto the op-ed pages of gullible newspapers, while at the same time stonewalling the rest of the press in an attempt to keep its every action secret.
Also in the mode of the old U.S.SR, we learned that President Bush was transporting "terrorists" to secret gulags in Eastern Europe, the better to torture them, while in the manner of Stasi, the former East German spy apparatus famous for spying on millions of innocent citizens, he authorized spying on the private lives of Americans and nonprofit organizations.
Then, in pages borrowed directly from the playbook of Saddam Hussein, he used chemical weapons - white phosphorous - in Fallujah. First the military lied about it, then admitted it, and then said that technically, white phosphorous wasn't a "chemical weapon."
Also from the pages of Saddam, this administration's love of torture was so great that even while disgusted Americans were demanding and end to it, Vice-President Dick Cheney was lobbying Congress to keep it going.
In fact, virtually the only playbook the president seems to hold in contempt is the Constitution of the United States, which he thinks he can use for toilet paper. "It's only a God-damned piece of paper," he was quoted as saying.
The best thing you could say about the year in Bushland was that the administration proved once again the old adage that if you stand up to a bully, he will back down. After the country turned against Mr. Bush's plan to privatize social security, it disappeared from the radar screen. When it was discovered that the administration was paying columnists to write propaganda, President Bush was forced to condemn the practice. When the brutal revengist policies of the administration - like the outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame - was revealed, "Scooter" Libby, Cheney's chief of staff, was forced to resign. Now that Americans, in growing numbers, are turning against the war in Iraq, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is talking about immediate troop reductions.
What else has our Republican government done to shine a light on its incompetence and veniality? In April, poor Terri Schiavo was allowed to die amid howls of rage from two Bushes - the President and the Governor of Florida; the autopsy confirmed what the doctors said, that she had been brain-dead for years. In December, Governor Arnold Schwartzenegger allowed the killing of poor Stanley "Tookie" Williams, a founding member of the Crips who had spent years inside a California prison renouncing gang violence. "To kill him is a way of making politicians look tough," said Rev. Jesse Jackson. "It does not make it right. It does not make any of us safer. It does not make any of us more secure."
Mark Twain once said, "Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear - not absence of fear." So this was a good year for heroes, for people who stood up to the bullies. Civil rights heroine Rosa Parks died, and her body lay in state while her achievements were celebrated throughout the country. Gold Star mother Cindy Sheehan camped out in front of Mr. Bush's ranch and practically single-handedly jump-started an anti-war movement. Journalist Amy Goodman tirelessly reported the news and saw the audience for her "Democracy Now" grow exponentially. The major newspapers started doing their jobs, and that's how we learned about American gulags, governmental spying, and who knows what's next.
This was also a hard year personally. In April, we lost our dear friend, builder Steve VanDemark, who died much too soon at the age of 55. And in June we lost columnist Marty Jezer, whose wise and wry approach to the world is still missed by his readers and his many friends. He was 64.
Will 2006 have fewer nightmares? Will the country finally wake up and impeach President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney? Will they stand where they belong, in the Hague as war criminals? Or will America keep trudging along its wrongheaded path towards total degradation - up next, a wall along the Mexican border.
All I have to offer is something the writer and philosopher Lin Yutang once said: "Hope is like a road in the country; there was never a road, but when many people walk on it, the road comes into existence."
Joyce Marcel is a free-lance journalist who writes about culture, politics, economics and travel. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.