Sunday, July 3, 2011


Writing about freedom and independence when you have neither is an interesting exercise. Yet, the nation celebrates its 235th birthday and the occasion should be a moment to reflect on our inalienable rights and where we are as a people in achieving the vision articulated in 1776.

Baseball, apple pie and Chevrolet's aside, 235 years after its founding, how well is this experiment in republican democracy working? (No, don't freak, I am not saying the Republicans founded the nation or they bear any resemblance to the founding fathers...ok maybe some emerged from John Calhoun’s loins, but that is grist for another mill.) We have a representative form of government designed to make the will of the people the law of the land. Really?

According to Thomas Jefferson, our creator, (note no reference to God with a capital "G") endowed us with certain rights. We are given the right to life. (That cheering you hear is from regressives saying we finally got him...he is now in favor of a right to life). For some Americans, life is getting longer, but for others, particularly people of color, the working poor and those at the bottom of the economic ladder, their lives are stagnant and any gains incidental. It turns out for many so-called "patriots", you have a right to be born but afterwards you are on your own. In almost any metric of childhood nurturing, the United States lags close to last among the industrialized nations of the world. From infant mortality to low birth-weight babies, to pre-natal care and nutrition, we are not exactly leading the pack. If by some unfortunate quirk of fate, you live in Texas, most of the South, or any state controlled by regressives, your right to a life of potential and fullness is in jeopardy. For the second half of the 20th century, you had a chance to live a life with better economic potential than your parents and the belief your children's quality of life could exceed your own. Progress was on the march and the middle class thriving. Today, after 70 plus years of class warfare, what would most Americans say about their progress pursuing life?

Perhaps none of the rights listed by Jefferson is more under threat than our right to liberty. Since World War II, there has been a war against liberty...a war conducted by the moneyed interests, the powerful and the corporatists against everyone else. Whether it was the McCarthy witch-hunts and loyalty oaths, blacklists and faux patriotism, interning American citizens in concentration camps, or an FBI and CIA running amok among average citizens, your liberty was curtailed. The government ran COINTELPRO, a counterintelligence program, aimed at our own people. In San Francisco, the FBI produced a coloring book, which attacked the police, and then passed it off as originating with the Black Panthers to crush a children's breakfast program the Panthers were running for poor people in the Fillmore. The CIA infiltrated peace groups and instigated violence. Even though the Church Commission exposed the out of control nature of the nation's law enforcement and intelligence services, no one could have envisioned how much worse things would get after September 11, 2001. With the passage of the Patriot Act, illegal electronic data mining, wiretaps on email, cell phones and internet activity, national security letters, and expanded FBI powers to come into your home, bug your computer, subpoena your library records all without your knowledge, the 4th amendment has ceased to exist. The first amendment is under siege, the 5th amendment has become window dressing and no nation except for China has more of its citizens behind bars. Cell phones are now designed to track your every move and insurance companies want to bug your car. Along with On-Star like systems, there is nowhere in the nation you can travel in privacy. There is more and more pressure to create a national ID card and laws in Georgia, Arizona and Alabama will require all residents to carry "papers" to prove their citizenship. Can you imagine Jefferson's take on all of this?

Your creator endowed you with the right to pursue happiness. Can we arrive at a definition of what it means to be happy these days? In 235 years, what is the American definition of achieving happiness? In your pursuit of a right given to you by your creator, and so precious it cannot be taken away from you according to Jefferson, do you have the right or can you have the expectation of a roof over your head, food on your table and clothes on your back? (No, sorry that's socialism) In pursuing happiness, should you be able to gather together with fellow workers to petition for a safe workplace, just salary and equal rights for all workers? (The answer is no in Wisconsin and other states where regressives want to end the right to collective bargaining) Can you pursue happiness if constantly worried about an illness, which could bankrupt and destroy your family's economic health? Is a good education a piece of the happiness puzzle? As schools for the middle class and poor fail, (they don't fail in Saratoga, Cupertino, Palo Alto, Ross or Moraga), as college gets more and more expensive, as community colleges turn students away, what are working Americans supposed to do? The corporate media has spent billions over the last 60 years to convince us happiness is best pursued consuming and buying. (2/3 of our economy depends on you spending money you don't have) We will be happy if we have the latest flat screen TV, Smartphone or iPad. We will experience ecstasy if we wear the latest fashions and keep hot pockets in the freezer.

I am a flawed and sinful man. I fell for many of the siren songs of consumerism, egotism and selfishness, which are sold to us daily. I am a cautionary tale to be avoided at all costs. I am not unique, just slower on the uptake than most. However, when studies about happiness and liberty and quality of life are conducted by reputable firms, the United States is never first. It's not even in the top ten. Why? I was once asked by Sean Hannity if America is the greatest country in the world. I responded "for whom?" This comment got me a mention in his first book as an example of a liberal who hates his nation. It really is true; patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels. (I wish I could remember who coined that) Real patriotism means you love your country enough to fight for its best notions.

So, on this fourth of July I want to celebrate a nation which enables all its citizens to have a life...a long life, with potential and possibilities...which inspires and free of fear and whose only limits are self imposed. 235 years later, I want to live in a country whose citizens won't trade personal liberty for the illusion of security. Liberty should be the third rail of politics, not social security. We should be safe in our person and papers. A politician who won't defend our personal liberty, who is easily stampeded by peer pressure and media hysteria, should hold no office. It's time to stop being afraid of whatever current boogey man the government and media thrust upon us. Nothing can harm you more than waking up one day wondering what happened to the liberties Jefferson envisioned and the Constitution enshrined. Finally, I want to celebrate a nation which defines a happy life as one free from the fear of homelessness, hunger, persecution and materialism and instead encourages pursuing loving relationships, a rising tide lifting all boats, an admission it is in loving and caring for others we receive love and care for ourselves. I want to live in a nation where my children can seek their dreams and achieve more than I ever thought was possible.

As you grill the hot dogs and burgers, smoke the ribs, eat peach cobbler or chocolate cake, I want you to take a moment to remember what Jefferson wrote, what Lincoln fought to preserve, what Roosevelt envisioned in his New Deal and what Obama's election represented and please find a way to fight for it, agitate about it and demand its promise be fulfilled for all nation with liberty and justice for all.



  1. And exactly how is America supposed to reach your Utopian state, Bernie? By raising taxes on "the rich"? Sure. That'll do it.

  2. Well, I dare say that a re-read of the Gospels would be a good start. They reject powerful self interest and point to a loving God who serves the least, the last and the lost. Happiness might be found in knowing that you are loved and loving, even tho the world may see it differently.

    And freedom? Freedom to worship and to choose one's own attitude toward any given situation still exists.

    Thanks for a thought-provoking piece, Bernie. Hang in there!

  3. Anon: no, raising taxes on the rich alone will not do it. However, granting unfair, obscene tax breaks to the mega-wealthy has halped to create a Latin-American style inequality trap in the U.S.

    There should at least be a flat tax rate, or perhaps slightly higher tax raetes for the extremely affluent. Trickle-down Reaganomics has been a failure for the most part.

    And no, it won't create a Utopian state, but it'll help reduce the inequality problem somewhat. Otherwise, the U.S. is going to become like Argentina in several decades(no offense to Argentinians).

    And of course, there needs to be immigration reform. Due to paranoia over terrorism, there are many highly-skilled, law-abiding immigrants who are been kept out, or forbidden to apply for citizenship.

  4. We wouldn't need to bring in highly skilled, law abiding immigrants if we would make an effort to educate our own citizens. We constantly carp about how our high school students lack knowing the basics at graduation. Well, why would they want to make the effort? There are very few jobs that pay a living wage for those with just a high school graduation. To put food on the table and a roof over your head usually requires at least a two year degree. If only the rich can afford that education, why should we expect our high school students to knock themselves out, knowing they won't be able to afford the end product? And what happens to a country where we bring in educated immigrants to do our jobs while our own citizens starve for lack of education and for lack of work?

  5. I totally agree. Some of the things that gave USA an edge in the last century, education for all, a vibrant middle class have been adopted by other countries and seems to be forgotten in USA. What happened to a congress that strives for the good of USA. The only concern seems to be re-election so that they can control the money flow again.

  6. Every year or so I type your name into the SEARCH box to see if there's any news. Nice to find you're still "active". I worked 10-12 hr swing/grave shifts at a 3M plant in Petaluma between 1986 & 2009, and you & Ray T. helped keep me awake. After they closed our factory ( to ship the jobs overseas ) in mid-2009, I hung around til the lease was up on my apt. Found twice the apt. for much less in Sparks, NV. NO state income taxes...but NO jobs either. Holding my own, by running on savings....and enjoying "early retirement" at 56....I guess. If nothing else, it's given me time to focus on my artwork for a few years. If I'm supposed to work into my 90s.....I may as well enjoy my "golden years" now, right? Just wanted to say "Hi".....Hope you get out of there soon Bernie.

  7. With each revelation, or court decision,
    on US torture in Iraq, Afghanistan and Gitmo,
    I am reminded of the chilling story of Alyssa Peterson, who died at her own hands.
    Appalled when ordered to take part in interrogations that, no doubt,
    involved what most would call torture,
    she refused, then killed herself a few days later, on September 15, 2003.

    Of course, we now know that the "Gitmo-izing" of Iraq was happening just at the time Alyssa got swept up in it. Spc. Alyssa Peterson was one of the first female soldiers who died in Iraq. Her death under these circumstances should have drawn wide attention.
    Peterson, 27, a Flagstaff, Ariz., native, served with C Company, 311th Military Intelligence BN, 101st Airborne. She was a valuable Arabic-speaking interrogator assigned to the prison at our air base in troubled Tal Afar in northwestern Iraq. According to official records, she died on Sept. 15, 2003,
    from a "non-hostile weapons discharge."

    Peterson objected to the interrogation techniques used on prisoners. She refused to participate after only two nights working in the unit known as the cage.
    Army spokespersons for her unit have refused to describe the interrogation techniques Alyssa objected to. They say all records of those techniques have now been destroyed.

    The official probe of her death would later note that earlier she had been "reprimanded" for showing "empathy" for the prisoners.
    One of the most moving parts of the report, in fact, is this: "She said that she did not know how to be two people; she ... could not be one person in the cage and another outside the wire."
    She was then assigned to the base gate, where she monitored Iraqi guards, and sent to suicide prevention training. "But on the night of September 15th, 2003, Army investigators concluded she shot and killed herself with her service rifle," the documents disclose.
    The official report revealed that a notebook she had written in was found next to her body, but blacked out its contents.

    Of course, we now know from the torture memos and the U.S. Senate committee probe and various press reports, that the "Gitmo-izing" of Iraq was happening just at the time Alyssa, a valuable Arabic-speaking interpreter, got swept up in it. When she objected, she was reprimanded, according to the official report.
    Then she chose suicide.

    According to records of the Army probe, Peterson had protested, and asked out of, interrogations after just two days in what was known as "the cage" -- and killed herself shortly after that.

    Here's what she told Soledad O'Brien of CNN:
    "I was asked to assist. And what I saw was that individuals who were doing interrogations had slipped over a line and were really doing things that were inappropriate. There were prisoners that were

    "And it really didn't seem to make a lot of sense to me. I didn't know if this was standard. But it did not seem to work. And it really made me feel like we were losing that crucial moral higher ground, and we weren't behaving in the way that Americans are supposed to behave."
    As soon as that day ended, she told a superior she would never do it again.

    How can it be that anyone should think this is "brave, honorable service" to this country? Alyssa Peterson at least had a heart, one that she stopped before it violated further the claims of conscience. Families and loved ones usually feel embarrassed by a member's suicide. But Alyssa's should be seen as a heroic act.
    May Alyssa take her place among the steadfast ones and be honored for her decision.

    I’m adding this to all the above because we hold the theory that there is in Humanity a oneness that recognizes Itself.
    It is Not in our ‘nature’ to perpetrate all manor of violence upon each other. It is a Learned Response.

  8. Another outstanding Blog Bernie... please write more blogs... so much is going on these days.

    IMHO the main problem with the economy and jobs started under Nixon when he buddied up with China... OUTSOURCING JOBS and greedy corporations. Republicans don't want to raise taxes on the job creators? All the jobs are outsourced, that's where the jobs are being created. No jobs means nobody pays income tax and there is no money for colleges and other services. Republicans are destroying the USA

  9. Glad to have found this blog, Bernie. I miss you on the radio.

  10. We need to re-evaluate our priorities as a nation when liberty means we have a choice between a corporatist democrat and a yet to be named insane republican. My consumption is your job and your consumption is my job, so consumption is not the problem. The problem is the government is being led by a bunch of short-sighted idiots. If we don't take care of our liberty instead expecting it's our birthright as americans we our going to find ourselves living in Orwell's "1984."

  11. More likely we will be living in a Soylent Green world.