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The American Heritage dictionary defines bread and circuses as “Offerings, such as benefits or entertainments, intended to placate discontent or distract attention from a policy or situation.” The term was used by the ancient Romans to describe how their rulers kept the population in the dark at politically opportune moments.

The Romans have been outdone by 21st century America. The distractions are becoming more numerous and substantive issues are addressed less often, just as the truth has become more and more frightening.

We don’t have a circus maximus with gladiators fighting to the death or animals killing human beings for the enjoyment of blood thirsty crowds. Instead we have a corporate media and a corrupt government. They point us in the direction of information that is useless, tasteless, or simply stupid. That is on a good day. On a bad day they cover up the very grave danger that America poses to the entire world.

The corporate media make sure that Michael Jackson’s pajama clad appearance in court was known to anyone not living under a rock. On the other hand, very few Americans know that their government is now responsible for kidnapping terror suspects and sending them to countries that routinely engage in torture. In one instance a German national was kidnapped in Europe and sent to Afghanistan where he was tortured not by vicious foreigners but by Americans. The tactics used by Chile under Pinochet or Argentina during its dirty war are now routinely used by the U.S. government.

The United States Congress has no interest in investigating any of these crimes. While the U.S. government conducts mafia-like kidnappings, Congress is concerned about bulky baseball players. Of course there is a gossipy amusement factor at work in debating whether Barry Bonds is now or has ever been a steroid user. It is acceptable for sports talk shows to pose that question but it is unconscionable for Congress to use our time on this issue when our government conducts extrajudicial kidnappings like the worst dictatorships in human history.

When celebrity crime or juiced up athletes don’t provide enough distraction, the corrupt government and their media side kicks return to the old standbys of fear and paranoia. There have been recent false alarms about anthrax in Washington and a report on the consequences of hypothetical terror attacks. After giving the public a laundry list of frightening scenarios and body count estimates we were told that the report was released by mistake.

What a coincidence. As the anniversary of the Iraq occupation brings annual protests and renewed questions from a skeptical public we are given new reasons to fear, keep our mouths shut, and put our faith in Dubya and his team.

Congressional Republicans are completely shameless. No sooner had they brought former baseball star Mark McGwire to tears over questions of steroid use than they used the tragedy of a Florida family for political gain.

Terry Schiavo has been suffering from severe brain damage for 15 years. Her husband, her next of kin, has been trying to let her die with some dignity. Her parents disagree with his decision and a legal battle has ensued. The controversy should have remained between the family members and their lawyers but Florida Governor Jeb Bush couldn’t resist earning his right wing bona fides by using this woman’s family to placate right to lifers.

After years of legal wrangling Congressional Republicans involved themselves and reached a nadir in usefulness and a high point in stupidity when they subpoenaed Terry Schiavo to appear at a hearing. If she had gone to Congress she would not have been the only brain damaged person in attendance. She would have been the only one who came by the condition honestly, however.

Finally, the presidential ringmaster himself, Dubya, theatrically rushed back to Washington to sign the Schiavo bill cobbled together by his congressional clowns.

While tearful sluggers and brain damaged women who can’t speak are dragged before the cameras, the architects of American terror are getting away with their crimes. The trumped up reasons for occupying Iraq were obviously lies from the very beginning. It has recently been revealed that the crime is even worse than originally thought.

The Bushmen planned a coup in Iraq from their first days in office. The attacks of September 11 gave them an out. They didn’t need a coup, they just said over and over for a year and a half that Saddam was a terrorist. Because of media non-reporting and official malfeasance the Iraqi people are now suffering in their third year of occupation.

They are being killed by trigger happy troops at check points. They are being killed when bombs fall on their homes and they are being killed in custody. The government admits to 108 such deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan. If they admit to 108, how many murders have actually been committed?

If our leaders take the time to find out they will have to put steroids on the back burner. Not to worry. Congress will find another Terry Schiavo or sports scandal to investigate. If they don’t, the public would focus on them and then the circus would be over.

Margaret Kimberley’s Freedom Rider column appears weekly in . Ms. Kimberley is a freelance writer living in New York City.  She can be reached via e-Mail at You can read more of Ms. Kimberley's writings at

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March 24 2005
Issue 131

is published every Thursday.

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