Well, I like 13 things about it
By Michael Moore/ Michaelmoore.com/ October 17, 2021
On Tuesday night, while conducting this Substack’s first live-stream Q & A (a now monthly “thank you” to our paid members), I was asked a question by Anupa Perera from Toronto that took me a bit by surprise:
What do I like about America? Wow. A dozen things immediately came to mind. But then I paused, wondering at first if she was asking me this question because she thought I disliked my country. What had I done to make this Canadian think such a thing? Of course I realize I am seen as one of America’s most vocal critics. That’s Ok. I am. Proudly. So this is the answer I gave her:
“Does it sound like I don’t like America? I think one of the best things you can do is, if you love your country and you love your fellow citizens, is to point out the things which we’ve got to fix — and then fix them. Obviously, I want it to be better here. I want to live in a better country. I want us to treat the people of this world better. Some of you have heard me say this before — that I want to ‘save the America we’ve never had.’
And the truth is, I’m really tired. Just like a lot of you during this pandemic, I’m really burned out and exhausted. I’m sorry that the rest of the world has to see us this way. But we can change that and we can fix ourselves.”
And all of that is true. But my answer felt incomplete. And impersonal on my part. It wasn’t the whole story. The truth is, I really, really love this country and its people, my people. Still, I worried that perhaps I’ve never made this abundantly clear.
You can literally and legally say anything you want in the United States of America — except you can’t yell “THIS MOVIE SUCKS!” in a crowded theater. The free speech protections are so absolute, you can even lie as long as you don’t know you’re lying and you are not doing it with malice. You can hold any kind of opinion you want, and you can conduct any form of peaceful protest. You can even legally brandish your gun at that peaceful protest! You can belong to the craziest religion and worship an old shoe as your god if you want. These rights are hard-fast and intractable. Some will argue this has not helped us lately. But I take the position that the crazy surrounding us now forces the rest of us to sharpen our brains and engage in the debate, armed with facts and compassion — and with that we will come out ahead. And we have. By over 7 million votes! More of that! And yes, that makes me like America.
What makes this such a crazy, cool, exciting place to live is its immense diversity — thousands, millions, from each and every country on Earth. A nation whose people speak between 350 and 420 different languages.
Thank God we are not a melting pot. Who would we be if we all just melted into one homogenous caldron of iron? Isn’t it better that we are more like a stew or a salad — a variety of ingredients that keep their own individual identity, but come together as one entity to create something very tasty and often quite good?
Our American diversity creates a vast expanse of ideas, inventions, creativity, politics, beliefs, food, culture, community — and all of this is happening despite the high levels of racism, misogyny, capitalist greed and the relentless everyday crushing by the haves of the have-nots. What a testimony to us that, with all of the hate we have to overcome from each other, our country has ended up giving the world everything from the Polio vaccine to the zipper to Chuck D to the World Wide Web. Two brothers from Ann Arbor invented Photoshop. Two sisters and a friend began Planned Parenthood. Two siblings from Dayton were the first to build and fly an airplane. A Syrian Muslim American baby is adopted by two Armenian Americans and they name the baby Steve Jobs.
Fortunately, there is no mass assembly of our citizenry into robotic automatons. We all seemingly have a different sense of humor. In any given minute there’s a million new directions in which we can go because we are constantly asking “WHY NOT?!” Even the idiots amongst us are just so cute and adorable as they walk around clueless in a zombified state, completely unaware that we have brought the planet to its reluctant knees. We take and post spectacular snapshots of our grilled salmon. We make silly Tik-Toks of ourselves dancing to “Billie Jean” and we try not to worry about our cousin who just sent us “proof” of the aborted fetal cells secretly placed inside the Pfizer vaccine. Madness. But we are also Ava DuVernay, Cornel West, Quentin Tarantino, Ruth Ben-Ghiat, AOC, Aziz Ansari, Barbara Lee, Ang Lee, Billy Collins, Linda Sarsour, Rod Birleson, Susan Sarandon, Alexandria Villaseñor, my mailman “Willy” Williams, Kathy Najimy, Daniel Ellsberg, Mehdi Hasan, Katie Halper, Sam Riddle, every IATSE member on my union crew, Francesca Fiorentini, and Mr. Vineski, our beloved and crusty grade school janitor.
3. There are more women than men in medical school and law school, more American women than men who won medals at this year’s Olympics, and most weeks on the New York Times Fiction Bestseller List there are as many or more women authors than men.
Welcome to our new American future. I’m trusting it will be kinder and smarter when old angry white men won’t be calling all the shots. By the 2040s, white people will be the minority. Women are already the majority — in part because they live four years longer than men. They go to the dentist. They vote more than men. And they account for a whopping 80% of all fiction books sold in America. The average age of an American today is 37 years old. The average member of the working class is a woman of color in her 40s. This is turning into a great and much better stew.
Save up and come to New York City just once for a long weekend (Thursday-Sunday). Go to Times Square and get the cheap, half-price Broadway or Off-Broadway tickets — and see 6 plays over those 4 days! You will go back home with your feet a-dancin’, your horizons expanded, and your mind blown. Your 9 to 5 cubicle will never look the same again. Some day you may pick up a pen, get a notebook, and export the crazy wonderful stories that are in your head and, with your own hand, put them down on paper. Paper! They will be read by you over and over and they will bring you joy and comfort. Perhaps later they will be read or experienced by others. This is the ticket to Freedom. This is why I like America. (Note: When I was on Broadway in 2017, I asked my producers to lower the ticket price in the balcony to $29 — and if anyone from my town in Michigan wrote me and said they couldn’t afford that, I told the box office to let them in for free. And in spite of all those discounts and freebies, I was still the top-grossing Broadway play (non-musical) for 6 weeks of my 12-week limited run. My point to Broadway producers: let’s make all theater affordable to everyone!)
You probably thought we Americans created all that! Ha! That’s why we’re so good. Masters of illusion! We’re the kind of neighbor that borrows the Tupperware and forgets to return it. We love borrowing all kinds of ideas from our neighbors and then making them better — and then finally making them ours. And don’t forget Mexico! They think we’re so great and wonderful, they want to live here! They look at us and see millions of white supremacists and say to themselves, “Now THAT is where I want to raise my kids!” Why reject people who love us in spite of our flaws? I don’t know any French who want to give up their homes and citizenship and dessert and be one of us. Plus, don’t forget — the Mexicans gave us popcorn, chocolate, chewing gum, cotton, potatoes and the tomato. Mmmmmerica!
In other words, I can roam in the desert, slide down a vanishing glacier, take a walk in the woods, make snow angels in a blizzard, wrestle an alligator, climb a 20,000 ft mountain, grow oranges, live in a city of 9 million yet be just 10 minutes from the wilderness of the Palisades, chase tornadoes, outrun hurricanes, live in a bayou, dig up dinosaurs, and sit and watch a Joshua Tree survive or a honeybee die. I can do all of this — and never leave my home.
You can be a niche musician of any genre, and if you’re good at it, there are so many Americans — 330 million of us — from which to find your audience. Your chance of filling a thousand-seat auditorium is not as difficult as you might think. You can be an indie filmmaker with 299 million of your fellow Americans who detest your movies — but if just 1/300th of this country friggin’ loves you, you’ll have an incredible $10 million opening weekend! Sounds doable! Play the massive numbers — they’re in your favor. This isn’t Belgium. Just 40,000 readers out of 300 million citizens is all you need to make that bestseller list! You can like America, and it can like you, too.
From the over 1,000 socialist mayors and other elected officials of the early 1900s to the socialist programs of FDR to Bernie winning nearly half of all the state Democratic primaries in 2016, the majority of Americans are standing ready to finally have paid family leave, free community college, free pre-K, expanded Medicare with free hearing aids and glasses for the elderly, student debt forgiveness, child care costs cut in half, two hot meals a day in school for all children, a $15 to $20-an-hour minimum wage and the cost of prescriptions cut by 59 to 79%. And nearly everyone now agrees the rich need to start paying their share of the taxes. Americans are natural democratic socialists — “We, the people“ are the first three words of our country’s constitution! We created the world’s first massive system of free public libraries, free fire departments (yes, back in the day, if your house caught fire, you had to pay to have it put out) and free public schools for everyone. Whether we use the “S” word or not, most of us believe everyone deserves a seat at the table and a fair slice of the pie. That’s what makes it so nice to live here, knowing that a couple hundred million people think just like you do! I like this about America and I like knowing we’ll soon be a flawed but well-meaning quasi-socialist paradise — and I’ll be alive to see it.
9. Rock-n-Roll, Hip-Hop, Jazz, Punk, Soul, The Blues, Country, Bluegrass, Gospel, Detroit Techno, American Folk and Weird Al Yankovic.
Just a sampling of the music we’ve invented and given to the world. This alone is reason enough to be grateful to have grown up here, live here and go for a nice long drive here — with the windows open or the top down and the radio cranked to 11.
If there’s a military draft, anyone can sign a card saying they refuse to kill and they won’t be given a gun. I liked that when I was 18 and I said to the local draft board, “No Vietnamese ever called me a snowflake!” Hell no, I wouldn’t go, and I liked that I could do that in such a militaristic country.
…and not only will the ten bucks be faithfully delivered to the vendor in the aisle, both hot dogs with mustard and relish will make it all the way back to you, unstolen, uneaten and intact. Yes, we have crime, but no one steals another person’s hot dog. UnAmerican.
Yes, there’s a lot wrong in America. But that gives us each a chance to fix it. There’s literally something we can do to fix something here every single night and day. Never boring! Never a dull moment! What would we do if we all lived in Denmark?! Ride bikes?
By Chris Hedges/ ScheerPost/ October 6, 2021
Judge Loretta Preska, an advisor to the conservative Federalist Society, to which Chevron is a major donor, sentenced human rights attorney and Chevron nemesis Steven Donziger to six months in prison Friday for misdemeanor contempt of court after he had already spent 787 days under house arrest in New York.
Preska’s caustic outbursts — she said at the sentencing, “It seems that only the proverbial two-by-four between the eyes will instill in him any respect for the law” — capped a judicial farce worthy of the antics of Vasiliy Vasilievich, the presiding judge at the major show trials of the Great Purges in the Soviet Union, and the Nazi judge Roland Freisler who once shouted at a defendant,”You really are a lousy piece of trash!”
Donziger, a graduate of Harvard Law School, has been fighting against polluting American oil companies for nearly three decades on behalf of indigenous communities and peasant farmers in Ecuador. His only “crime” was winning a $9.5 billion judgment in 2011 against Chevron for thousands of plaintiffs. The oil giant had bought Texaco oil company holdings in Ecuador, inheriting a lawsuit alleging it deliberately discharged 16 billion gallons of toxic waste from its oil sites into rivers, groundwater, and farmland. Since the verdict, Chevron has come after him, weaponizing litigation to destroy him economically, professionally, and personally.
The sentencing came a day after Donziger petitioned the court to consider an opinion by the United Nations human rights council that found his house arrest a violation of international human rights law. The U.N human rights council said his house arrest counted as detention under international law and it was therefore illegal for Judge Preska to demand an additional six months in jail. Amnesty International also called for Donziger’s immediate release.
Donziger and his lawyers have two weeks to appeal the judge’s order that Donziger be sent immediately to jail. Preska denied Donziger bail claiming he is a flight risk. If the Federal Court of Appeals turns down Donziger’s appeal he will go to jail for six months. The irony, not lost on Donziger and his lawyers, is that the higher court may overturn Preska’s ruling against him, but by the time that decision is made he will potentially have already spent six months in jail.
“What Judge Preska is trying to do is force me to serve the entirety of my sentence before the appellate court can rule,” Donziger told me by phone on Monday. “If the appellate court rules in my favor, I will still have served my sentence, although I am innocent in the eyes of the law.”
Donziger, his lawyers have pointed out, is the first person under U.S. law charged with a “B” misdemeanor to be placed on home confinement, prior to trial, with an ankle monitor. He is the first person charged with any misdemeanor to be held under home confinement for over two years. He is the first attorney ever to be charged with criminal contempt over a discovery dispute in a civil case where the attorney went into voluntary contempt to pursue an appeal. He is the first person to be prosecuted under Rule 42 (criminal contempt) by a private prosecutor with financial ties to the entity and industry that was a litigant in the underlying civil dispute that gave rise to the orders. He is the first person tried by a private prosecutor who had ex parte communications with the charging judge while that judge remained (and remains) unrecused on the criminal case.
“No lawyer in New York for my level of offense ever has served more than 90 days and that was in home confinement,” Donziger told the court. “I have now been in home confinement eight times that period of time. I have been disbarred without a hearing where I have been unable to present factual evidence; thus, I am unable to earn an income in my profession. I have no passport. I can’t travel; can’t do human rights work the normal way which I believe I am reasonably good at; can’t see my clients in Ecuador; can’t visit the affected communities to hear the latest news of cancer deaths or struggles to maintain life in face of constant exposure to oil pollution. In addition, and this is little known, Judge [Lewis A.] Kaplan has imposed millions and millions of dollars of fines and courts costs on me. [Kaplan is the judge for Chevron’s lawsuit against Donziger; Preska is his handpicked judge for the contempt charges.] He has ordered me to pay millions to Chevron to cover their legal fees in attacking me, and then he let Chevron go into my bank accounts and take all my life’s savings because I did not have the funds to cover these costs. Chevron still has a pending motion to order me to pay them an additional $32 [million] in legal fees. That’s where things stand today. I ask you humbly: might that be enough punishment already for a Class B misdemeanor?”
Judge Preska was unmoved.
“Mr. Donziger has spent the last seven years thumbing his nose at the U.S. judicial system,” Preska said at his sentencing hearing. “Now it’s time to pay the piper.”
The six-month sentence was the maximum the judge was allowed to impose; she ruled that his house arrest cannot be counted as part of his detention. From start to finish, this has been a burlesque. It is emblematic of a court system that has been turned over to lackies of corporate power, who use the veneer of jurisprudence, decorum, and civility to make a mockery of the rule of law.
When the law is neutered, judges become the enforcers of injustice. These corporate judges, who epitomize what Hannah Arendt called the banality of evil, now routinely make war on workers, civil liberties, unions, and environmental regulations.
Preska sent Jeremy Hammond to prison for a decade for hacking into the computers of a private security firm that works on behalf of the government, including the Department of Homeland Security, and corporations such as Dow Chemical. In 2011, Hammond released to the website WikiLeaks and Rolling Stone and other publications some three million emails from the Texas-based company Strategic Forecasting Inc., or Stratfor. The sentence was one of the longest in U.S. history for hacking and the maximum Preska could impose under a plea agreement in the case. I sat through the Hammond trial. I watched Preska spew her bile and contempt at Hammond from the bench with the same vitriol she used to attack Donziger.
Preska is also infamous for her long judicial crusade to force New York public schools to provide tax-subsidized free space for evangelical churches based on blatantly illogical readings of the Constitution.
The persecution of Donziger fits a pattern familiar to millions of poor Americans who are coerced into accepting plea deals, many for crimes they did not commit, and sent to prison for decades. It fits the pattern of the judicial lynching and prolonged psychological torture of Julian Assange and Chelsea Manning. It fits the pattern of those denied habeas corpus and due process at Guantánamo Bay or in CIA black sites. It fits the pattern of those charged under terrorism laws, many held at the federal Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC) in Lower Manhattan, who cannot see the evidence used to indict them. It fits the pattern of the widespread use of Special Administrative Measures, known as SAMs, imposed to prevent or severely restrict communication with other prisoners, attorneys, family, the media, and people outside the jail. It fits the pattern of the extreme sensory deprivation and prolonged isolation used on those in our black sites and prisons, a form of psychological torture, the refinement of torture as science. By the time a “terrorist” is dragged into our secretive courts the bewildered suspect no longer has the mental and psychological capability to defend themselves. If they can do this legally to the demonized they can, and one day will, do it to the rest of us. The Donziger case is an ominous warning that the American legal system is broken.
Ralph Nader, who graduated from Harvard Law School, has long decried the capture of the courts and law schools by corporate power, calling the nation’s attorneys and judges “lucrative cogs in the corporate wheel.” He notes that law school curriculums are “built around corporate law, and corporate power, and corporate perpetration, and corporate defense.”
Victor Klemperer, who was dismissed from his post as a professor of Romance languages at the University of Dresden in 1935 because of his Jewish ancestry, astutely noted how at first the Nazis “changed the values, the frequency of words, [and] made them into common property, words that had previously been used by individuals or tiny troupes. They confiscated words for the party, saturated words and phrases and sentence forms with their poison. They made language serve their terrible system. They conquered words and made them into their strongest advertising tools [Werebemittle], at once the most public and most secret.” And, Klemperer noted, as the redefinition of old concepts took place the public was oblivious.
This redefinition of words and concepts has, as Klemperer witnessed during the rise of fascism, allowed the courts to twist the law into an instrument of injustice, revoking our rights by judicial fiat. It has seen the courts permit unlimited dark money into political campaigns under Citizens United, defending our money-saturated elections as the right to petition the government and a form of free speech. The courts have revoked our right to privacy and legalized wholesale government surveillance in the name of national security. The courts grant corporations the rights of individuals, while rarely holding the individuals who run the corporations accountable for corporate crimes.
Very few of the legal rulings that benefit corporate power have popular support. The corporate disemboweling of the country, therefore, is increasingly given cover by Christian fascists, who energize their base around abortion, prayer in schools, guns and breaking down the separation of church and state. These issues are rarely addressed in cases before federal courts. But they distract the base from the slew of pro-corporate rulings that dominate most court dockets.
Corporations such as Tyson Foods, Purdue, Walmart, and Sam’s Warehouse have poured millions into institutions that indoctrinate these Christian fascists, including Liberty University and Patrick Henry Law School. They fund the Judicial Crisis Network and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which campaigned for Amy Coney Barrett’s appointment to the Supreme Court. Barrett opposes abortion and belongs to People of Praise, a far-right Catholic cult that practices “speaking in tongues.” She and the other far-right ideologues are hostile to LGBTQ rights. But this is not why she is so beloved by corporations, who are not interested in abortion, LGBTQ equality or gun rights.
Barrett and the Christian fascists embrace an ideology that believes that God will take care of the righteous. Those who are poor, those who are sick, those who go to prison, those who are unemployed, those who cannot succeed in society do so because they have failed to please God. In this worldview there is no need for unions, universal health care, a social safety net or prison reform. Barrett has ruled consistently in favor of corporations to cheat gig workers out of overtime, green-light fossil fuel extraction and pollution and strip consumers of protection from corporate fraud. The watchdog group Accountable.US found that as a circuit court judge, Barrett “faced at least 55 cases in which citizens took on corporate entities in front of her court and 76% of the time she sided with the corporations.”
The Christian fascists, allied with organizations such as the Federalist Society, under the Trump administration gave lifetime appointments to nearly 200 judges, roughly 23 percent of all federal judgeships. That included 53 to the nation’s appellate courts, the court immediately under the Supreme Court. The American Bar Association, the country’s largest nonpartisan coalition of lawyers, has rated many of these appointments as unqualified. There are currently six Federalist Society Supreme Court justices, including Amy Coney Barrett, Neil Gorsuch, and Brett Kavanaugh, who Nader calls “a corporation masquerading as a human being.” Two Federalist Society Supreme Court justices, Clarence Thomas and the late Antonin Scalia, who was an original faculty advisor to the organization founded by conservative law students in 1982, were supported in the nomination process by Joe Biden.
The stacking of the courts with corporate puppets, however, began long before Trump. It was carried out by both Republican and Democratic administrations. Preska was appointed by Republican President G.W. Bush. However, the judge who preceded Preska in the Donziger case, Judge Lewis A. Kaplan, a former lawyer for the tobacco industry who had undisclosed investments in funds with Chevron holdings, according to his public financial disclosure statement, was appointed by Democratic President Clinton.
The targeting of the courts was one of the key goals of Lewis Powell, a corporate lawyer later elevated to the Supreme Court by President Nixon. In Powell’s 1971 memo to the Chamber of Commerce, a blueprint for the slow-motion corporate coup that has taken place, he called on business interests to pack the judiciary with corporate-friendly judges.
The courts in all tyrannies are dominated by mediocrities and buffoons. They make up for their intellectual and moral vacuity with a zealous subservience to power. They turn courtroom trials into opera buffa, at least until the victim is shackled and pushed out the door to a prison cell. They fulminate in caustic tirades at the condemned, whose sentence is never in doubt and whose guilt is never in question.
“It started when Texaco went into Ecuador in the Amazon in the 1960s and cut a sweetheart deal with the military government then ruling Ecuador,” Donziger told me for a column I wrote about his case a year ago. “Over the next 25 years, Texaco was the exclusive operator of a very large area of the Amazon that had several oil fields within this area, 1500 square miles. They drilled hundreds of wells. They created thousands of open-air, unlined toxic waste pits where they dumped the heavy metals and toxins that came up from the ground when they drilled. They ran pipes from the pits into rivers and streams that local people relied on for their drinking water, their fishing, and their sustenance. They poisoned this pristine ecosystem, in which lived five indigenous peoples, as well as a lot of other nonindigenous rural communities. There was a mass industrial poisoning.”
“The verdict came down, about $18 billion in favor of the affected communities, which is what it would take at a minimum to clean up the actual damage and compensate the people for some of their injuries,” Donziger told me. “That eventually got reduced on appeal in Ecuador to $9.5 billion, but it was affirmed by three appellate courts, including the highest court of Ecuador. It was affirmed by the Canadian Supreme Court, where the Ecuadorians went to enforce their judgment in a unanimous opinion in 2015.”
Chevron promptly sold its assets and left Ecuador. It refused to pay the fees to clean up its environmental damage. It invested an estimated $2 million to destroy Danziger. Chevron sued him, using a civil courts portion of the federal law famous for breaking the New York Mafia in the 1970s, the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations, or RICO Act. Chevron, which has more than $260 billion in assets, hired an estimated 2,000 lawyers from 60 law firms to carry out its campaign, according to court documents. But the oil giant, which did not want a jury to hear the case, dropped its demand for financial damages, which would have allowed Donziger to request a jury trial. This allowed Judge Kaplan to decide the RICO case against Donziger alone. He found credible a witness named Alberto Guerra, an Ecuadorian judge, relocated to the US by Chevron at a cost of some $2 million, who claimed the verdict in Ecuador was the product of a bribe. Kaplan used Guerra’s testimony as primary evidence for the racketeering charge, although Guerra, a former judge, later admitted to an international tribunal that he had falsified his testimony.
John Keker of San Francisco, one of Donziger’s lawyers on that case, said he was up against 160 lawyers for Chevron and during the trial he felt “like a goat tethered to a stake.” He called the court proceedings under Kaplan “a Dickensian farce” and a “show trial.”
In the end, Kaplan ruled that the judgment in the Ecuadorean court against Chevron was the result of fraud. He also ordered Donziger to turn over decades of all client communication to Chevron, in effect eradicating attorney-client privilege, a backbone of the Anglo-American legal system with roots dating to ancient Rome. Donziger appealed what was, according to legal experts following the case, an unprecedented and illegal order. While Donziger’s appeal was pending, Kaplan charged him with misdemeanor criminal contempt for this principled stance — carrying a maximum sentence of six months — as well as his refusal to turn over his passport, his personal electronics and to refrain from seeking the collection of the original award against Chevron. When the U.S. attorney’s office declined for five years to prosecute his criminal contempt charges against the environmental lawyer, Kaplan, using an exceedingly rare judicial maneuver, appointed the private law firm of Seward & Kissel, to act in the name of the government to prosecute Donziger. Neither the judge nor the law firm disclosed that Chevron has been a client of Seward & Kissel.
Kaplan also violated the established random case assignment protocol to personally assign Preska, who had served on an advisory board of the Federalist Society, a group to which Chevron has been a lavish donor, to hear the case. Kaplan had Preska demand Donziger post an $800,000 bond on the misdemeanor charge. Preska placed him under house arrest and confiscated his passport, which he has used to meet with attorneys around the world attempting to enforce the judgment against Chevron. Kaplan managed to have Donziger disbarred. He allowed Chevron to freeze Donziger’s bank accounts, slapped Donziger with millions in fines without allowing him a jury, forced him to wear an ankle monitor 24 hours a day and effectively shut down his ability to earn a living. Kaplan allowed Chevron to impose a lien on Donziger’s apartment in Manhattan where he lives with his wife and teenage son.
None of this would surprise those targeted by the tyrannies of the past. What would be surprising, perhaps, to many Americans is how advanced our own corporate tyranny has become. Donziger never stood a chance. Neither does Julian Assange. These judges are not, in the end, focused on Donziger or Assange, but on us. The show trials they preside over are meant to be transparently biased. They are designed to send a message. All who defy corporate power and the national security state will be lynched. There will be no reprieve because there is no justice.
Bill Maher’s New Rules Commentary is too real and too scary!
In The End, Bin Laden Won
He couldn’t have done it without us
By Michael Moore/ MichaelMoore.com/ September 7, 2021
I decided to go and meet the Taliban in the spring of 1999, two years before the 9/11 attacks. Most of us, including me, didn’t know much about the Taliban back then, nor did we want to. A decade earlier, the CIA funded and trained Muslim rebels to kick the Soviets out of Afghanistan after ten years of occupation. That made America happy — the Soviet Union defeated! Humiliated! Our pundits called it “their Vietnam!“ like we had actually learned a single damn lesson from Vietnam. As for what was left of Afghanistan, well, who friggin’ cared?
So in 1999, the Taliban landed on my radar. They had banned kite flying and made it illegal to watch TV, two of my favorite pastimes. What was wrong with these people? I decided to go and ask them.
I couldn’t figure out how to get over there without four plane changes and a couple of rented mules, so I settled for a meeting with one of their top leaders, Abdul Hakeem Mujahid, their ambassador to the United Nations.
At that time, the UN hadn’t officially recognized the Taliban-led government of Afghanistan, so Ambassador Mujahid couldn’t take his seat in the UN Assembly.
Undeterred, the ambassador and the Taliban set up their own UN consulate — in Queens. Next to a nail salon and an endoscopy clinic. So I headed out to the borough that gave us Donald Trump and Archie Bunker to hold a one-on-one meeting with the Taliban leader.
When I walked into their consulate, Ambassador Mujahid and his staff of all male secretaries were overjoyed to see me. My first thought: I think I am the first American to stop by and pay them a visit. I was their one-man Welcome Wagon, but without the banana bread. I did, though, bring other gifts: a parakeet, a kite, some Queens swag, a Mets t-shirt, a terminal map of LaGuardia and JFK (if you tell a joke before the tragedy occurs, is that too too soon?), and a portable television set. He accepted it all in good humor (though he wouldn’t touch the TV).
We sat down to discuss U.S.-Afghan relations. He was grateful for American weapons used back in the liberation of Afghanistan from the Soviets, and he mentioned that a Taliban delegation had visited Texas at the invitation of Governor George W. Bush’s oil baron buddies to discuss energy and a “pipeline deal.” They also served me some tasty almonds and a very, very sweet cup of tea. To their credit, they allowed me to film our historic meeting for my TV series, “The Awful Truth”. (You can watch the 7-minute Taliban segment below).https://www.youtube-nocookie.com/embed/9z2SgyZzwIg?rel=0&autoplay=0&showinfo=0&enablejsapi=0
My diplomatic mission with the Taliban ultimately failed. Afghanistan would soon turn on us by giving safe haven to the multimillionaire son of one of the richest families in Saudi Arabia, a man by the name of Osama bin Mohammed bin Awad bin Laden. From Afghanistan he would build his al-Qaedamovement and plan (with his Saudi cohorts) his attacks on the United States. Attacks? Yes, attacks, because bin Laden knew one attack would not be enough to wake up the American infidels. So he blew up our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. But that killed mostly Kenyans and Tanzanians (224 dead, 4,500 injured) — so, like, no biggie. (If you think I’m being flip, tell me how many people died two and a half weeks ago in Hurricane Grace. Don’t sweat it if you don’t know. They were only Mexicans. All 14 of them.)
A couple years later, bin Laden tried to get our attention again with a kamikaze attack on the USS Cole — but that too would not be enough. Bin Laden knew he was dealing with a country that was clueless about the outside world and slowAF to respond. Ultimately he figured out that only a grand, cinematic Hollywood gesture would grab us by our tub of popcorn and make us spill our Goobers everywhere. His idea was simple, symbolic and deadly: Just take aim at the two things Americans and their leaders lusted for the most — money and military power — and then send your flying bombs at high speed right into them. Blow up their Pentagon and their Wall Street, watch their towers of power come crashing to the ground, watch Humpty Dumpty take a great fall.
Here’s what I think. I think it was a guy thing. Men. Angry men. He and the other rebels had already done the impossible by bringing one of the world’s two superpowers to its knees — the Soviet Union. It was a fatal blow to the Ruskies, and just nine months later, the Berlin Wall came down and that was that for the Kremlin. Bin Laden was so pumped, so inspired — so why not be the ultimate baller and totally extinguish the remaining superpower — the U.S. of A.!
This is not to say he didn’t have a bonkers fundamentalist belief system with a well-designed political strategy. It was just a strategy we weren’t used to. It didn’t involve invading other countries the normal way. There was no plan to plunder and steal our natural resources. He simply sought to bankrupt us — financially, politically, spiritually. And to kill more of us. And get us to wipe out our American Dream.
He also wanted to neuter our military and show the world that we could be defeated by men in caves who possessed nary a single fighter jet, or a Blackhawk helicopter or a can of napalm to their name. He knew it would be easy to make us impotent, that we were all hat, all “I’ll huff and I’ll puff and I’ll blow ya all down!”
He knew that unlike his own deep religious beliefs, ours were all talk, all show. He knew that our sect of Christianity is often just a big con — “love your neighbor” as long as they’re white like you; “the last in line (40 million in poverty)” shall be “first” and the Elon Musks and Mark Zuckerbergs “will be last.“ Ha! Never. “Blessed are the peacemakers,” as long they‘re not Chelsea Manning and Ed Snowden; “feed the hungry” (no raise in food stamps from 1962 until last week. Last week!).
The majority of Americans no longer attend church. So, score one for us. We do have our own fundamentalists and true believers, but no one here any longer is going to bow down and wash the feet of the bishop or blow Pastor Maloney. It was different for bin Laden—he wasn’t faking it. He knew the strength of his fundamentalism and knew that he could find some schmucks to sign up to fly planes into buildings in exchange for the promise of eternal glory. Bin Laden understood the way we used our Good Book — to ban abortion or police homosexuality — because bin Laden was doing the same thing, only even more capably and at an even more destructive scale.
Bin Laden and his gang were mad geniuses. He knew that those towers would collapse, in part because he was an architectural and civil engineer. And in part because he knew those buildings were probably built like crap — I mean, OBL was a friggin’ contractor! His family were the biggest builders of big buildings in the Middle East. And eight of his hijackers on 9/11 all had engineering degrees! The pilots, I’m guessing, had at one time flown for the Saudi Air Force. They didn’t learn to do what they did with such precision on a video game simulator in Arizona in between stops at the strip club. (President Biden has just announced he’s releasing the classified Saudi documents. We’ll see.)
But here’s the real tell of bin Laden’s prescience: How did he know we would start and stay in a 20-year war, offering up our young sons and daughters to him on the altar of our military-industrial complex?
Bush used to say dumbshit stuff like “better to fight ‘em over there than over here!” It turned out to be the other way around — bin Laden suckered us into fighting over there — so he could kill us over there.
How did he know we’d spend trillions fighting a frail man on dialysis who had split from Afghanistan before the bulk of our troops got there? A terrorist threat so large that it did not exist! BOO!
How did he know we’d pass legislation giving up our sacred constitutional rights — and call it a Patriot Act? How did he know we’d put a spy camera on every corner from Butte, Montana to Fort Myers, Florida — but not one on the main drag in Abbottabad, Pakistan where he lived “in hiding?”
How did he know we’d burn trillions on something we ironically called “Homeland Security” — the “Homeland,” where a half-million were homeless, and millions more with homes foreclosed on, their families evicted; and “Security,” where the majority of Americans lived from paycheck to paycheck, 40% of them with not more than $400 to their name.
Bin Laden wanted to blow up the idea of America, not the Mall of America. He did not have visions of empire. He never thought of invading the United States and taking over our NFL stadiums or burning down our Piggly Wigglys or outlawing the Girl Scouts. He hates women and girls, but I’ll bet he’d love those Thin Mints.
How did he know we would be so obsessed with him — to such an extent where we would massively, cruelly neglect the needs of our own people, denying them help like free health care — and instead, take their homes from them to pay off the hospital bills.
Was it really about the 3,000 dead that made us occupy Afghanistan for 20 years? I mean, c’mon, we’ve lost 3,000 on many days during this pandemic and no one is going to read their names every year at some memorial. And, no, we’re not invading the bat market in Wuhan. Hopefully not.
No, my friends, it’s something else. Bin Laden had our number. Killing him, disbanding al-Qaeda, may have made it look like we won. But in death, he is able to see the fruits of his labor. We, his mortal enemy, are in disarray, seriously at war with ourselves. Violence looms with us every day. Men, angry men, violent men, have now won the right to force the majority gender into giving birth against their will — birth slaves, who will now have no say of their own. SHUT UP AND PUSH! PUSH!! And speaking of slaves, the owners of America are freaking out because they don’t have enough slave laborers in 2021 because workers are refusing to come back to work for shitty wages and in Covid conditions that might get them killed. The end game? The eventual forcing of essential workers to show up and do their goddamned job — or else. So much for that parade we gave them. Yay heroes!
Osama, are you happy now? We were never “great” as the MAGA hats proclaimed, but we were good, we were, at least, most of us, trying. Of course the Black and Brown people know that’s not entirely true. They know that they may just have to save themselves and deal with us in the way we’ve dealt with them. Don’t worry white people — we’ve got 340 million+ guns in our homes! That’ll hold us for a while.
The sad truth is that we never bothered to fight our two true terrorist threats — 1) Capitalism, an economic system that is built on greed and thievery and kills people who must live in flooded basement apartments, and 2) what we call “climate” — but the window to reverse that has now closed, and our only chance to stop the climate catastrophe, an historic extermination event, from getting worse is now the decision we face. It is the first time that a species has decided to eliminate itself. That’s real terrorism, and while we may not be able to turn back now, we can at least get a grip on ourselves, halt the deluge, stop the greed, close the income inequality gap, reduce our glutinous consumption and eliminate the profit motive.
Voters can replace a party that knows how to fight with one that knows how to govern
The Democratic party is basically a governing party, organized around developing and implementing public policies. The Republican party has become an attack party, organized around developing and implementing political vitriol. Democrats legislate. Republicans fulminate.
In theory, politics requires both capacities – to govern, but also to fight to attain and retain power. The dysfunction today is that Republicans can’t govern and Democrats can’t fight.
Donald Trump is the culmination of a half-century of Republican belligerence. Richard Nixon’s “dirty tricks” were followed by Republican operative Lee Atwater’s smear tactics, Newt Gingrich’s take-no-prisoners reign as House speaker, the “Swift-boating” of John Kerry, and the Republicans’ increasingly blatant uses of racism and xenophobia to build an overwhelmingly white, rural base.