The Pursuit of Happiness

The phrase means something different to every person. The Declaration of Independence states "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." Please feel free to comment on any of the posts or browse the topic links on the left hand side below.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

The Great American Silence

President Kennedy to Dubya: I may have slept with Marilyn Monroe,
but you sir have committed high treason.

The Great American Silence

Since September 11, 2001, the American public has retreated from open and honest discussion and debate about some of the greatest issues of our time: 9/11, national and global security, healthcare, poverty, racism, energy, environment, etc. Since 9/11, we have relied on and listened to the right-wing corporate media dominate the discussion on all of these issues. Based on the limited information spoon fed to us through FOX, MSNBC and CNN, we the American public, have already made up our minds on the issues and are essentially divided into two camps, liberal and conservative, blue and red, standing firm and stubborn in our positions and conclusions about the direction that this country is heading.

From the very moment that the president stood on the destruction of the twin towers, he wrapped himself in the American flag and exploited his position for political purposes. The moment was ripe for letting the dogs of war out of their gates. It was a time for the bush administration to take full advantage of the moment and settle old scores in Iraq. Similar to other periods preceding war throughout American history, the country once again became deluded in patriotic fervor. The president used (and continues to use) shameless jingoism to his advantage. Only now, some five years later, is the public realizing that maybe this president wasn't such a good choice. Meanwhile, we have let an American president and the republican party take control of the discourse regarding our values and our rights.

As is the cornerstone of his administration and similar to the political labeling of other legislation (i.e. "no child left behind"), he deceived the American public, taking full advantage of the emotional state of the American people at the time, using the term "patriot" to represent legislation that had secret and hidden agendas. Under extreme political pressure from the bush administration, and without having enough time to be thoroughly read by members of Congress, the "patriot" act was passed in a rushed fashion. There was only one dissenting vote, Barbara Lee, an African American congresswoman representing her district in Oakland, Calfornia. Congresswomen Lee is the true patriot who stood up for what she believed and did not cave into the patriotic drum beat of the time, having the foresight to see that it was bad policy and a deception.

Today we are just discovering the sordid details that the act entails. We have been deceived, bamboozled, tricked, hoodwinked, and trapped into a war that is being driven by the military industrial complex and into policies that are destroying the very fabric of American government. This president and his administration are ripping the foundations of our government away from the American people. We are living in a time of incredible threat to our way of life and our institutions. Instead of listening to each other, voicing our opinions, and demanding justice, we are distracted by the entertainment, convenience and creature comfort culture. We want to be entertained by, as opposed to holding accountable, our politicians. We live in our creature comforts, we must have DVD players in our vehicles, flat screen TVs with HD, one thousand channels, and video on demand. We are a society of convenience now dependent on the internet for delivering goods to our door, demand drive-through service and expect and want it, whatever it is, now. We are distracted by the entertainment. Most Americans are sitting back watching from their loungechair or couch, silent, drowning in fear. This behavior almost begs the question, which is worse? The corruption that is going on or the lack of outrage to it? This is the Great American Silence.

Some have suggested that there are parallels to be drawn between the American public's silence, complacent indifference to the issues, and rascist fears and ignorance of Muslims on the one hand, and the German public's cult-like acceptance of fascism under Hitler, on the other. Some folks have simply given up while others are waiting for the house of cards that is the republican party to fall. Some absolutely don't care about it, don't want to think or hear about any of it. I've got my own life, my own deal, my own problems. I'm too busy. Got news for ya, we do not live in a vacuum. Individual actions or non-actions affect the world around us. Whether you agree or disagree, we all have responsibility for the care of our society and our environment. Of any time, this is the moment to reach out and get involved.

As President Kennedy said on that snowy day, January 20, 1961, in his inaugural address to the nation:

Now the trumpet summons us again—not as a call to bear arms, though arms we need; not as a call to battle, though embattled we are—but a call to bear the burden of a long twilight struggle, year in and year out, "rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation"—a struggle against the common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease, and war itself.

Can we forge against these enemies a grand and global alliance, North and South, East and West, that can assure a more fruitful life for all mankind? Will you join in that historic effort?

In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shrink from this responsibility—I welcome it. I do not believe that any of us would exchange places with any other people or any other generation. The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it—and the glow from that fire can truly light the world.

And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.

My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.

Finally, whether you are citizens of America or citizens of the world, ask of us the same high standards of strength and sacrifice which we ask of you. With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth God's work must truly be our own.

Everything we do or don't do affects our environment, our world. We are more focused on dancing with the stars, fear factor, desperate housewives, survivor, and american idol, than we are the actual issues that threaten our government, our country, our world and our very existence. On one end, we have extremist fundamental christians psychologically removing themselves from reality by praying for nuclear war to prepare for the second coming of christ. On the other end we have complete nihilism. Is it just me (and the other approximate 150 million americans who tend to agree), or have we gone literally mad? It's like we are living in a circus of mad people running around not caring about anybody but themselves and their money.

America is a brutal existence for many, unless of course you are wealthy and don't care. We are still debating the rights of undeserving versus deserving poor, dismantling and destroying what we have left of social programs, safety nets, and social contracts, while at the same time bending over backwards to provide wealthy corporations and CEO's with corporate welfare in the form of billions of dollars in payouts, financial forgiveness, and tax breaks.

As a society, we are more focused on morality then we are human rights. More concerned with puppies than human beings who live on the streets. Don't get me wrong, I like puppies. But the predominant view seems like it never changes, does it? It's always the same old pull-up-by-your-bootstraps; be a man; suck it in; self-righteous-morality consumed-victimization based-fundamental extreme right wing, holy roller Christian mentality. All you bleeding heart liberals can move the hell out of the country if you don't like it. Love it or leave it. Is this really what our country has come to? Hate-filled, fear-based, divisive, and indifferent? Any criticism of the corporate greed, the republican conservatism, the corruption, the bold faced corrupt lying - go to hell you pinko commie. In pockets of the country, blood thirsty violence and hate bubble at the surface. Abortion clinics are bombed. State sanctioned murder. Government sponsered torture. On the milder side, road rage. It's get ahead of the other guy despite how many lives are ruined. This is a society of mixed messages. We go to church, superficially appearing "moral", but at the same time we are backstabbing people around us, talking behind their backs.

Many accuse liberals of being "alarmists" and all criticism of this president and the corruption that follows him is dismissed as just blowing a lot of hot air. It is so interesting to me that in a time when real corruption is happening to the 1000th degree (as opposed to hearing about stained blue dresses) we would rather shut it down and watch TV. It's mind-boggling how so many are indifferent to the real death and destruction that is occurring on a grand scale in the form of extreme poverty, suffering, torture, war, the displacement of a million and a half Americans from New Orleans! (remember that America?) and the literal dismantling of the constitution, social entitlement programs and the environment. Rather than pay attention, we are consumed by consumption, with five minute attention spans, asleep at the wheel.

Many Americans excuse this president's actions by reasoning that Clinton was so much worse because he lied about sexual impropriety with a White House intern. I know America is a nation focused on morality, but really, ask yourself, what is truly immoral here? Having an extra-marital affair or committing high treason by lying, deceiving, and scheming against the American people and its institutions? I and many, many others in this country and world keep hope that the pendulum that is U.S. policy and government will eventually swing back from extreme moral and political conservatism, corruption, and incompetency to fairness, justice, and equality.

Someday the chickens that are the republican party will come home to roost. They are already, in a mafia-like way, destroying themselves. One by one, corrupt officials are being removed from the administration or Congress and with immunity granted, they spill the beans under oath about what really went on. It's the mafia-ization of government. If justice is served, eventually the don, the family boss that is Bush/Cheney/Rove will go, frog-marched down the steps of the White House.

Many would like to believe that there is still hope for justice and equality. For many years now, we have been on a lost course at sea. We are still a ship without a captain. The pendulum will swing back, eventually.

A Declaration of Rights for the 21st Century by Thom Hartmann

1. Human rights are for humans. Corporations are not persons. We must update the 14th Amendment to insert "natural" before the word "persons" so corporations can no longer claim the "right to lie," the "right to hide their crimes," the "right to buy politicians and influence elections," and "the right to force themselves on communities that don't want them." Corporate charter laws should be amended on a state-by-state basis to reinstate the spirit of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act by again outlawing the ownership of one corporation by another, to limit the term of a corporation, to insert Corporate Code-like language requiring a corporation to place the needs of its community above its desire for profits, and, as Teddy Roosevelt so strongly urged us, to ban corporations from political activity of any sort. Similarly, corporations are not nations and shouldn't stand on an equal footing with nations. The United States should withdraw from support of treaties and agreements such as NAFTA, GATT, WTO, and its support of The World Bank.

2. We own our government and our commons. "Drowning government in a bathtub" as the neo-cons recommend may have been a good idea in the Soviet Union, but the United States is a constitutional representative democratic republic where our government is, literally, us. It was designed to work for us, be owned by us, exist solely by virtue of our ongoing approval, and must answer to us. Government functions must be transparent, and that transparency must also apply to corporations hired by government, particularly any who handle our votes. The shared commons of our nation - including our air, water, transportation routes, airwaves and cable networks, communication systems, military, police, prisons, fire services, health care infrastructure, and courts must be held either by locally-controlled non-profit corporations or by government responsive to its citizens. Because our federal legislators represent us, any benefits, rights, and privileges they have voted for themselves must apply to all of us. Similarly, just as we must balance our budgets every year except when in a crisis, so must our governments. Finally, government must not be a stepping-stone to private profiteering. We must re-institute laws against "revolving doors," particularly with regulatory agencies and the military and those they regulate or who provide military supplies.

3. In a democratic republic, government must represent the will of the majority of the citizens while protecting the rights of the minorities. To make American government more democratic, we must join the rest of the world's modern democracies and institute either proportional representation or Instant Runoff Voting systems at local, state, and federal levels. Similarly, human rights movements defending minorities and women against exploitation by corporate power structures or harm from paranoids, homophobes, and racists must be recognized, and the Equal Rights Amendment passed.

4. A strong middle class is vital to democracy. In 1792, James Madison defined government's role in promoting an American middle class, "By the silent operation of the laws, which, without violating the rights of property, reduce extreme wealth towards a state of mediocrity, and raise extreme indigence toward a state of comfort." To say that somebody who earns millions a year by arbitrage "works that much harder" than a middle-class wage earner is simple nonsense. We recommend restoring inflation-indexed income tax and inheritance tax rates to those that were extant from the 1930s to the 1960s - during the golden era of the American middle class. We also recommend that government become the "employer of last resort" by taking on public works projects and supporting the arts, as it did during that era, and establishing a truly livable minimum wage.

5. Building a civilization on liquefied fossils and then thinking it will last forever makes no sense. According to British Petroleum, world oil reserves are enough to sustain us only into our children's lifetimes, and then will run out. We must institute a Manhattan Project type of effort to create viable energy sources that are not dependent on fossil fuels, and, in the meantime, take immediate steps to reduce use of and preserve our precious stores before they're exhausted.

6. We are part of nature. The natural world - including our water and air - is our most vital and essential commons, and therefore must be protected from those who would despoil it for short-term profit. As we poison the world, we cause human cancer epidemics and degrade our own quality of life. We - through our representative government - must take immediate steps to protect the commons we share with all other life on planet Earth.

7. Education is a human right, regardless of station of birth. When Thomas Jefferson founded the University of Virginia, his vision was to provide a free education to every person interested in and capable of participating. The Founders knew that classroom education is a right - and not a requirement - for life in a democracy. Therefore, university education should be free to all who academically qualify, and primary school education should not be compulsory but neither should it be provided by for-profit corporations..

8. Health care is a human right and necessary to sustain freedom in a democracy. America should join every other industrialized democracy in the world by instituting a single-payer health care system.

9. America is not a kingdom, and we don't elect kings. To turn back from the "imperial presidency" and return the executive branch to its position co-equal with the other two branches of government, we recommend disbanding the primary instrument of presidential power - the Office Of Homeland Security - and requiring the President to meet weekly in open and public discussion with all members of Congress, as is done in the United Kingdom (“Prime Minister’s Questions”) and most other modern democracies.

10. The US Government is an instrument of secular democracy, not a religious theocracy, and has no right in our churches, homes, or bedrooms. What we do in private, among consenting adults, is our business and our business only. Prostitution, drug abuse, alcoholism, and gambling addiction are medical problems, and thus should be handled by medical authorities, and all attempts to place these in the realm of the criminal justice system should be rescinded. Similarly, the government has no right or business using the language or beliefs of any one of our many religions, or to tell any of our religions what or how they should behave or believe.