1) The United States government (largely through the CIA and its predecessors) is directly responsible for the overthrow of at least half a dozen democratically elected governments around the world over the past hundred plus years. Among these are many of our neighbors in Latin America such as Guatemala in 1954, Brazil in 1964, and Chile in 1973. Further afield we have Iran in 1953, which is particularly ironic considering the dire straits of our present day relationship. This list doesn’t include the toppling of non-elected governments (almost all of them replaced by brutal dictators) such as Syria in 1949 and Ghana in 1966. It also doesn’t include direct invasion by U.S. troops such as the Philippines in 1898, Panama (first in 1895 and again at least eight more times since), Grenada in 1983, and most recently, Iraq in 2003. Although many Americans cannot even point these countries out on a world map and remain blissfully ignorant of American interference with their internal affairs, the residents of these countries have certainly not forgotten and in many cases haven’t completely forgiven us either. Can anyone blame them?
The events of September 11th, 2001 are arguably the worst thing that has ever happened to America – worse even than Pearl Harbor – but not for the reasons you might expect. What makes them worse is the grand irony that’s been piled on top of the insult and injury; ten years later, it’s now clear that the biggest blow we received that day was neither the loss of innocence nor the loss of life but rather the government’s hysterical reaction to it all, spearheaded by the Neocons and other fear-mongers of the Far Right. This has done far more to destroy our civil liberties and way of life than anything the terrorists ever accomplished on their own.
It is a well-known quirk of human nature that when things go well in life, people often try to find someone to whom they can express their thanks. When things go badly, they look equally for someone to blame. And if there is no one to thank, or no one to blame, then they make someone up. Plentiful harvest this year? – thank God. Healthy children? – God. Won the lottery? Survived a plane crash? Scored a touchdown…? – God.
When it comes to misfortune, however, people tend to get a bit cagey, as they’re not so eager to point the finger at the almighty creator and master of the universe. Hit by lightning? – “Unlucky, my friend.” Killed in a plane crash? – “It must have been his time to go.” Diagnosed with terminal cancer? – “God works in mysterious ways.”
It could reasonably be said that whenever three or more people are engaged in any kind of joint decision-making process, politics will be involved. They are an inevitable part of human interaction and a seemingly unavoidable element of the power structures that go hand in hand with governance. It could also be said, without irony, that the biggest problem in our current political landscape is in fact, politics.
The gridlock, inaction, and partisan bickering that characterize the state of our elected officials in Washington, DC are largely a result of the pressures they face in constantly worrying about their next reelection. In the 2008 presidential campaign, the ballots had scarcely been tallied before the political wrangling for the 2012 elections had already begun. When it comes to congressmen, who serve for only two years at a time, and who, over the last forty years, have had an average reelection rate of over ninety-percent, their time in office is one never-ending campaign. How can our politicians be expected to do their jobs and focus on governing when their primary focus is on their own political survival?
On a clear, sunny September morning in the first year of the new millennium, a small group of radical Islamic terrorists, armed with nothing more than box cutters and a suicidal longing for dark-eyed virgins, hijacked four jetliners and used them to murder over three thousand innocent people. In reaction, the United States government declared a “War on Terror,” embarking on a ten-year imperialist adventure that has so far cost the American taxpayers over one trillion dollars, in addition to causing the direct and indirect deaths of tens of thousands of men, women, and children in foreign lands (the vast majority of whom had nothing to do with the events of that September day). Adding further insult to injury, Congress saw fit to pass a series of highly repressive laws here at home, which have endangered, if not outright destroyed, many of the most cherished constitutional liberties of our own citizens.
America is a nation born of revolution. Most of the individual rights and protections laid out in the Constitution were put there, not as part of some abstract philosophy of just governance, but rather in direct reaction to the harsh treatment the American colonists had endured at the hands of the despotic British monarchy and the soldiers it sent from overseas to enforce its decrees. Articles such as Amendment IV, which states;
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated…
were enacted expressly to prevent the kinds of arbitrary and malicious acts perpetrated by the “Redcoats” or “Lobsterbacks” (as British soldiers were mockingly called) against colonial citizens in the course of trying to stifle dissent against the King’s rule. The same goes for Amendment V;
No person shall be… deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law,
• The United States has less than five percent of the total human population, yet locks up nearly twenty-five percent of the world’s prisoners (the majority for non-violent offenses). That’s 2.3 million people behind bars – the most of any country on Earth and by far the highest per capita rate – almost five times that of Britain, eight times that of Germany, and a whopping twelve time that of Japan.
• The U.S. also emits twenty-five percent of global carbon dioxide emissions – the second highest of any nation in both gross tonnage as well as per capita.
• The gap in pay between CEOs at some of America’s largest companies and their average workers stands at a ratio of over three hundred to one – the largest of any developed country.
The First Amendment to the United States Constitution clearly states, “Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press”. These freedoms are considered so essential to the functioning of our democracy and the preservation of our liberty that they were enshrined in the founding document of our nation, making up the first few lines in the aptly named Bill of Rights. Following a major Supreme Court decision in 1919, later refined by subsequent cases in 1927 and 1969, some basic limitations were placed on these constitutional liberties; namely, that no one has a right to say anything in public which is likely to incite “imminent lawless action”. Together with laws against defamation, whose roots can be traced back to ancient Rome and which forbid causing “false or unjustified injury of the good reputation of another,” as well as perjury, these are pretty much the only restrictions imposed on what Americans are allowed to say in the public sphere.
America today is facing a crisis of liberty perhaps more profound than even that faced in the Revolutionary and Civil wars. On one hand are the continuing militarization of civilian police forces and the steady erosion of civil liberties embodied by the Patriot Act, the Military Cooperation with Law Enforcement Act, and the just-passed National Defense Authorization Act. In addition to trashing the protections of the Bill of Rights, these laws authorize and promote the sale of surplus military hardware (including grenade launchers and armored personnel carriers) to civilian police departments nationwide – the vast majority of which is being used, not to combat terror, but rather in enforcing the over-thirty-year-old and increasingly futile War on Drugs.