Monday, August 18, 2003

That’s the night the lights went out in Brooklyn.

By: Chris Chandler
Boston, MA
08 15 03

How `bout this: I’m in a Sheraton hotel. That is because I was flying from our nation’s capitol to Montreal for a well deserved vacation. But due to the power outage in the Northeast – from Cleveland to Ottawa to Augusta to New York City – my connecting flight didn’t meet and I wound up here – in a luxury hotel on Delta’s tab.

The hotel is packed – all sorts of international travelers, most notably a 747 full of folks coming in from Istanbul.

For nearly 24 hours, New Yorkers have been without power. I was thinking: Well, maybe now if their water was cut – and then you interrupted the food supply – and you added foreign, non-English-speaking troops walking up and down every block – perhaps from a completely different culture – maybe wearing a fez, wooden shoes and Liederhosen (an image as foreign to us as that get-up George W was wearing on the deck of that aircraft carrier)… maybe then New Yorkers would start to get a glimpse of what life is like in Baghdad.

It is hard for us to imagine.

USA Today posted a photo of pedestrian commuters crossing the Brooklyn Bridge – and comparing it to 9-11. Everything gets compared to 9-11. Isn’t that why we checked into Motel Iraq? 9-11? Even though it is widely accepted that there is no connection, because Osama knew better than George’s son that Saddam’s secular tendencies did not resonate with his people. The Iraqi population is less likely to embrace the American concept of free-market capitalism than Saddam himself. Saddam always kinda liked the idea – if he could just gas his people into accepting the notion of drive-through windows.

So when Iraqis see how quickly we can get the lights back on in New York City, does it not follow that they should wonder if we are not dragging our feet intentionally in Baghdad? Or did they give Enron a deregulated deal on Baghdad Power and Light? Does anyone remember the rolling blackouts in California?

The Northeast was just slower at accepting deregulation than California. But still… it makes me wonder…

“Give em a few more weeks – then we’ll turn the lights on and they’ll think we are heroes.”

One seems to forget that the lights and water worked just fine before we started bombing.

Is our occupation all part of a coercion tactic to force Iraqis to trade in their turbans for Washington Redskins caps?

Bush guaranteed us that the U.S. – oops, I mean coalition forces – would check out of Motel Iraq when the Iraqis were able to elect a new government. But as it turns out, you can check out any time you like – but you can never leave.

Perhaps, instead of Operation Show Off Our Hi-Tech Weaponry, they should have sent Arnold Schwartzenegger in to “Total Recall” Saddam Hussein – put 672 names on a ballot and let them decide. But maybe that would have been more expensive – and maybe they would have wound up with the Iraqi equivalent of Arnold Schwarztenegger. After all, as Greg Palast has written, “Unlike Arnold Schwarzenegger, Gov. Gray Davis stood alone against the bad guys without using a body double. Davis called Reliant Corp. of Houston a pack of ‘pirates’ – and now he'll walk the plank for daring to stand up to the Texas marauders.”

Actually, the original plan was to send in Arnold as a candidate – Operation Kindergarten Cop they called it. That is, until we discovered that the largely Shiite Iraqis were inclined to choose a theocracy – that did not include any judges from Alabama.

Can one coerce another to be free?

“You’ve now got freedom of speech – you can say anything you want.”

“What’s that?”

“Oh, $hit, he said he was going to kill me.”


“That’ll teach him.”

Do we have an obligation to coerce Iraqis to live in a very expensive “free” society?

Seems to me, the last thing we really want in our latest colony is democracy.

If a slave does not want any of the things his “massa” keeps from him, does that mean he was never a slave?

But what if he is persuaded by his liberators – at the point of a gun – that he does not want to be a slave anymore – instead he would like to be a busboy in the Hard Rock Cafe? Does that make him free – or just a slave to his new owner?

America has always worn stripes, plaid, and polka dots simultaneously when sitting down at the table with a totalitarian dictator dressed in olive drab and wearing more medals than Michael Jackson.

I mean, we accept Salvadoran, Bangladeshi, or even Saudi exploitation of human rights while damning Cuban, North Korean, or Iranian abuses….

Usually, (as was the case with Saddam) the despots we support are more “like us” than the people over whom they reign.

When we colonize, we really want one of two things: a society with a gross national product large enough for us to expand our own marketplace so that they too should pay at the pump – or one so desperate they are willing to work for nothing to make sure we can keep our Washington Redskins caps on the rack at 7-Eleven for $3.49, and have no idea what “pay at the pump” is – for they have never seen a pump, let alone owned a car.

If elections were held in most Arab monarchies, the result would be a society that differs even further from our own than it did before the election – I mean, “Hey, they had an election! – How much different do you want them to be?”

Despots may want capitalism without democracy while their subjects may want democracy without capitalism. Hmmmm… Which scenario most resembles our own?

We have big business buying the “resignation” of California’s governor – or spending more than the gross national product of the entire Third World’s population to impeach a president for getting a blow job. (Won’t somebody give George a blow job – he needs one so.) We have Texas legislators crossing state lines to be out of reach of their own sergeant at arms to prevent the redrawing of political boundaries. Does anyone remember Florida?

Not to mention that over half the eligible population never votes – but you would be hard pressed to find a single American who has never been to a McDonald’s.

As Louis Menand points out in the New Yorker, those citizens living under Saddam Hussein were not “happy slaves” – it does not follow that the things he and his deck of cards prevented Joe Iraqi from having were Wal-Marts, Bob’s Big Boys, and the Colonel’s Original Recipe. But they’re gonna get em.

So as New Yorkers stumble in the dark for one night – trying to eat all the ice cream in Manhattan before it melts and swapping anecdotes about fish in aquariums that died when the pump was turned off – remember, the shortest route to power is to keep the power on – and not let a would-be leader – elected or not – say, “Look what they have done to our country.”

It worked wonders for Rudolph Giuliani. I wonder how it is working for Saddam Hussein.

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