Why Americans Don't Deserve the Rights and Freedoms They Have Now
Do you consider yourself patriotic? Which answer describes you best?
The First Ingredient is Complacency
I won’t lie to you. This article is going to be ugly.
This is not a rant. I gave that up. However, like all of my uglier writings, this one is fueled by a bit of a sinus headache, coffee deprivation, and the course of human events. Fair warning, after reading this you may find me to be a heartless bastard and report me to the local authorities for treason.
The three events that brought this article to life were 1) yesterday’s bombing in Boston, 2) paying my taxes, and 3) my wife’s call for jury duty. Before that, I had a very long contemplation of where we are as a country and as a people.
Unlike the articles that I wrote twelve years ago, I have learned that being part of a movement of faux patriotism solves nothing. There is something to be said about the quote “those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”
I don’t want a repeat of the last twelve years.
These three elements combined have drawn a very disturbing picture of what we’ve become within the last century. We are not our grandparents, our great grandparents, nor our great great grandparents who fought the Nazis or in the Korean War. We are not the people who had authentic patriotism in our hearts and fought for this country when it needed us. We are also not the people who were able to successfully protest the authoritarian governments of the sixties or seventies that supported the war in Viet Nam or fought for some of the rights that we hold dear today.
We are not the people who look at the Constitution or the Declaration of Independence as a great work of civic genius. We’ve become a group of people obsessed with whether or not those ideas originated from the Bible and whether this country has been or will become a Christian theocracy.
I don’t hear the voice of reason anymore. All I hear are a bunch of sabers rattling from rightwing racists who only want to encourage fighting without actually participating in it. These warmongers would sooner watch the blood of innocent people who had the misfortune of being born in the same country as the faction of extremists that planned the attack on our country than actually finding the perpetrators who brought about those criminal acts.
No, what I hear are arguments for corporate tax breaks and support for the oil companies that are bringing ecological chaos to our planet. I hear armchair conservative economists spout Thomas Friedman theories on how we are a global economy and how we are a bunch of poorly educated group of slackers that deserve the recession we currently have. And somehow, we want to treat these corporations as people. I don’t know why. Can a corporation fight and die for its country or is it more likely that it would flee its home, like a draft dodger, where it would hide its assets in a safe place?
Yet, some would argue that it deserves an opportunity to vote.
We as a people have grown accustomed to our rights. We do nothing for them without grumbling about what we need to do to preserve them. When we get a message in the mail about jury duty, are we more likely to embrace the opportunity to do something for our system of justice or are we going to complain about the possibility of wages lost on a prolonged case?
As members of this society, it’s time that we actually take a good look at ourselves and ask if we’ve actually done anything to preserve our rights as Americans.
Acts of Terrorism
Yesterday’s bombing in Boston was a tragedy that brought so many memories back to the forefront. I began to remember the World Trade Center’s bombing in 1993, the Oklahoma City bombing of 1995, and, of course, the World Trade Center (and Pentagon) attacks of 2001. After each bombing, there was a huge show of compassion for the victims followed by an aggressive stance of jingoism to whoever the attacker was. The first two attacks were based domestically (The Blind Sheik in Jersey City and Timothy McVeigh of New York) and happened at a time when we resolved things through law enforcement rather than through foreign policy.
As it should be.
After the 9-11 attacks, when it was confirmed that the largest attack on continental United States by a foreign power since the War of 1812 was from Saudi Arabian terrorists called the Al Qaida, the leadership of this country focused, not on capturing the terrorists, but to embrace the spirit of jingoism for its own political agenda. According to Richard Clarke, the political agenda, in this case, began with justifying a war planned by the Bush Administration against Iraq – a country that had absolutely nothing to do with the Al Qaida, the terrorists that attacked us, or the man who planned the attack, Osama bin Laden.
What we got as a consequence of the 9-11 attacks were a reduction of our freedoms that we hold dear through the PATRIOT ACT. This was an attack on our right to privacy and an incentive for any law enforcer to search property under the guise of homeland security. We went for this because we really thought that it was required to keep the American people safe from terrorist attack.
It didn’t. It never could. It never would.
The PATRIOT ACT and all of the actions taken to “keep us safe” were exercises in keeping us afraid. We began with color coded days that deviated from yellow to orange (never going back to green or up to red but fluctuated in the wind of our political environment). In the large scheme of things there wasn’t anything we could do about the state of color we were in. All it really did was indicate that the bus we’d be on would be subject to some delays as luggage or items would be inspected by a person who had no idea what to look for. It also gave our terrorists an indicator on when we’d be on less of an alert.
We let our government get away with this because we were afraid. And our government, at the time, took advantage of that – all in the guise of homeland security. When our congress became so gummed up with the issue of flag burning instead of looking into things that actually mattered, I knew we were in trouble.
I’m not a military strategist. I can’t tell you if this was part of some grand intelligence scheme made by the CIA. It just didn’t make sense to me.
Meanwhile, England was foiling the plot of the terrorist cells that ran a car into a concrete barricade at an airport through police investigations. For the same event, America decided it was better to ban water bottles and shampoos on airplanes, causing massive lines for anyone sipping on a bottle of Poland Springs.
That was terrorism from a foreign power.
We’ve been attacked again in Boston. We still don’t know who the culprit is. We don’t know if it is a domestic terrorist like Timothy McVeigh or a foreign one like the Al Qaida. What I hear now is the sound of jingoism and saber rattling from some of my less enlightened acquaintances on Facebook using the same star spangled baloney that pulled us into the War in Iraq and revealing themselves to be the fascists that they are.
Don’t fool yourself. As Sinclair Lewis remarked about fascism, “When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross.” I can already see these people happily allowing police into their homes and supporting a violation of the Constitution’s fourth and sixth amendments.
All for the illusion of safety.
My wife hates jury duty. She’s one of these people that seems to get picked right on time every seven years or so.
Her reaction to jury duty is not uncommon. It’s the fodder of comedy writers around the country. If you listen to anyone complain about jury duty you’ll hear about time lost at work, the risk of being drawn into an O.J. Simpson-like scenario, the low pay for their time, and the boredom of waiting to be called.
Me? I love it.
I was on jury once. It was fascinating. I live a stone’s throw from our county court house. It was like getting a lecture on civics and the justice system. The judge explained everything to the jury, what they were responsible for, and you got to listen to a real crime. You also haven’t lived until you’ve actually seen a real trial lawyer strut his stuff. It wasn’t just interesting; it was entertaining.
Do you know why we have trial by jury in this country? We were so dead against tyranny that we didn’t want a governor or lord to summarily punish us without our right to be heard in front of a jury of our peers. Essentially, we get our chance to prove our innocence in front of people who aren’t lords, politicians, or kings. It’s our chance to convince people like us that we are innocent and that the court needs to presume that we are innocent until we are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
My wife brought up a point that a jury doesn’t matter because the judge could override the verdict. Initially, I thought my wife was wrong. It turned out that she was right. I looked it up almost immediately after she said it. This was to avoid the gut reaction of telling her that she was wrong – which every husband who has ever lived can tell you is a fatal mistake.
Yes, it is true.
Normally, a judge can order a mistrial or he can override a GUILTY verdict in the event that a case is emotionally charged and if the prosecutor has failed to illustrate the crime to the judge – where he can render a decision of NOT GUILTY. The rationale behind this is that the judge has more legal knowledge than the jury. It cannot work the other way around.
To be thorough, though, I need to mention that there are three states that have overridden a jury’s verdict for a crime regarding punishment – in Alabama, Florida, and Delaware. Florida and Delaware have very strict standards for override, but in Alabama there have been judges residing over capital cases that have overridden a jury’s verdict of life sentences and have pushed for the death penalty. This policy for Alabama remains controversial and is the basis for my argument.
We, as Americans, should not ever slack jury duty. It is our most common exercise of saying to our government, “We are still in charge.”
The fact that we have so many Americans willing to shirk this duty – and I stress the word duty – that it makes us unworthy of our right to a fair trial.
Yes, I understand it’s inconvenient. Yes, I understand many of us could have our jobs put in jeopardy with the possibility of an extended trial. But I find it better than having someone accuse me of a crime I didn’t commit without a fair trial and in front of people that are just like me.
A guy goes into a store and picks up a candy bar and begins to eat it. The cashier yells at the man and tells him that he has to pay for it. The man does.
In essence, that’s what our taxes are about.
We have some expectations on what our government is about. We provide for the common defense and general welfare of this country. That’s what it says in the Constitution.
The government builds roads and bridges. They provide us with a police department, fire department, and all kinds of public services which are done through our taxes. If you use our roads or eaten (or used) something that was okay’d by our FDA, you’ve eaten the candy bar.
We’ve also set up certain institutions that will care for our elderly and needy. This includes Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Unemployment Insurance, and Welfare. These funds get taken out of our paycheck and are also supported by the taxes we pay. We have these things so that if we are completely screwed that we have some kind of relief. This is so our system is fair even to the least of us.
Do you know what it wasn’t for? Bailing out corporations that are too big to fail.
Does that mean that I think bailing out AIG was a bad idea? No, I don’t. I’m not stupid. Anyone with an ounce of business sense knows that you can run a business without insurance. Actually, you can’t really do anything without insurance. You can run a business, buy a house, buy a car, buy a plane, or get a loan without insurance of some kind. Had AIG failed, any business with AIG as an underwriter WORLD WIDE, would have been affected. As AIG insures countries around the world and was the fifth largest company in the world that would have meant a global catastrophe.
The banks are a different story. The Fed insures depositor’s money so that if a bank goes under the poor bastard that had his money in that bank would have a protected amount (provided that amount was within the FDIC’s limit per account; if it’s less the depositor shouldn’t lose anything).
Using money from the taxpayers to cover and reward financial incompetence is not what this country is about. Allowing a reward and such prosperity at the expense of the taxpayer’s future is nothing short of criminal.
This was done and continues to be done by our Congress and the banking regulators who have been more interested in protecting the rights of banks rather than the rights of the taxpaying citizens of this country.
More than anything else, we have seen that corporate lobbying to government officials is at an all-time high, and due to the fact that senators and congressmen have no term limits, once one of these guys is bought they stay bought.
They aren’t working for the people. They are working for corporate America with the taxpayer reaping no benefit from his labor. If you’re doing your best to support one of these people, congratulations – you’re part of the problem.
America on Amazon
I think one of the best scenes in television history were from The Newsroom.
The former scene, given by Jeff Daniels as Will McAvoy, was about how America isn’t the best country in the world anymore. How people in this country dared to dream and build things. How we as a people weren’t intimidated by intelligence and should be aware that the first step in resolving a problem was to recognize the problem.
One of the worst things that happened to our country was the exploitation of our own humanity. We, as people, are victim to our double edged sword of compassion. It is truly one of our greatest assets and one of our worst weaknesses. In our compassion for the victims of any and all terrorist attacks our own sense of injustice, outrage, and pain has lead our country down a road of violence, torture, and aggression.
And the only people who have profited from any of this have been the war profiteers.
Our system of government has been so wrapped up in partisan politics that we have created a new perception of blame. Our government’s goal lately isn’t to serve the people rather it has fallen into the hands of people who wish to keep a career in a role that was never meant to be one. The great experiment that Thomas Jefferson and James Monroe had in mind was based on the premise that fresh ideas coming from the people would keep our country from falling into the hands of tyranny.
And what do we have now? We have a society that favors the upper 1% of income possessors (I am specifically avoiding the word “earners” – which implies work and earnings) granting power to a faux royalty that more often than not inherited their wealth. What’s more is they’ve bought the government of the people, by the people, and for the people wholesale.
And we allowed it to happen.
Have we become a country of sniveling spineless children who are so ready to give up the rights fought for by our ancestors for that small bit of safety that we believe can only come by giving up our rights? Have we become a society that fails to recognize that the pursuit of happiness applies to both heterosexuals and homosexuals to find that certain someone they can call their own without having the doctrine of an antiquated book of myths that originated in a foreign country?
We are a country of apathetic individuals that care nothing of the falling grade point averages of our children and foster the belief that even the minimal amount of duty that we have to either vote or take part in our justice system is just too demanding for our lifestyles. We care nothing of our own progress or our own decline.
Now you may commence with the stoning. I am ready for it.