Tuesday, June 26, 2012


Every year, the president gives a speech on the state of the union.  His most famous line is, "...and I come before you tonight to report the state of the union is...(insert any word-strong, robust, thriving etc) The fourth of July seems like a good time to report on the state of our independence.

     Currently on hold, because of a federal judge, is a law passed recently which would allow the President to declare any American a security threat and give the government the right to hold them for an indefinite period of time without charging them with any crime.  It goes without saying the right to habeas corpus would go out the window.  The FISA laws, (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act), have been weakened calling for less judicial oversight and allowing the government to surveil, watch, spy or keep tabs on any Americans they wish.  (Lest you protest this is only for "bad" guys, let me remind you the FBI has admitted to abusing national security letters and other parts of the Patriot Act, spying on groups because of their political affiliations, using local law enforcement to gather information for them and even the city of New York sent undercover cops into mosques in New Jersey based on the need to spy on certain Americans who might represent a threat)  The majority of Americans are in favor of the use of unmanned drones to spy on suspected terrorists, or to control the border, but are not willing to let them be used to give out speeding tickets on the nation's highways.  (tens of thousands are killed each year on our roads due to excessive speed, but no one has been killed by a terrorist since 2001...no I don't understand it either.)
     There are thousands of laws, federal laws, which can result in a sentence in federal prison, and yet you do not even need to know you had broken the law to be held accountable.  These strict liability laws give total discretion to the government to decide whether to prosecute you or not.  Federal prosecutors can use these laws to intimidate or crush dissent and the rising voices of protest.  In a fascist state, when everything is illegal, the option to prosecute or not is the ultimate power and gives the government unlimited discretion to control anyone who might be a problem, even if they never intended to break the law to begin with and didn't even know any laws had been broken.

     I once heard a very bright man, Regis McKenna, give a speech in which he contended all freedom is economic.  On the fourth of July, what is the state of our economic freedom?   The average middle class family lost 40% of its wealth between 2007 and 2011.  At the same time, the top 1% saw their wealth increase.  While Americans struggle to find jobs and obtain credit, and hold on to their homes, the government has given trillions of tax dollars to the nation's banks to prop them up.  Banks are making record profits even as they try to prevent new regulations.  (J.P. Morgan Chase bet and lost over $5 billion and maybe more, something which might have been prevented by the Volker Rule which they, and their industry still fight.)

Americans who might move to take advantage of job opportunities elsewhere in the country cannot because they owe more on their homes than the home is worth and government has utterly failed to help them out.  Students are discovering loan payments, due upon graduation, have cost them a great deal of freedom.  It becomes virtually impossible to take community-based or non-profit jobs and they are forced to seek and accept jobs which pay enough to cover their financial obligations.  Lawyers who might opt to work in local legal aid offices; doctors who might be willing to work in communal clinics; business majors who might wish to start new businesses in under-served neighborhoods; liberal arts majors who might want to teach in inner cities or provide services to the elderly or infirmed, are precluded from these and so many other options due to the mountain of debt they compiled to achieve a college education.  (except of course for the children of the 1% who have the freedom to choose any jobs they wish since they have no debt to worry about)

     Americans once believed we were a society where anyone could start poor and achieve great success.  This Horatio Alger illusion is less true in 2012 than perhaps at any time in modern history.  Numerous reports show the economic status of your parents is a direct predictor of what your economic success will achieve.  Other studies show whatever you have achieved economically by your 30th birthday, is as far as you will progress for the rest of your life.  In terms of social mobility, it is a well-known fact that people living in Europe, Scandinavia, Canada, Australia and other nations, are way ahead of us when it comes to the ability to move from lower to upper classes.

     On this 4th of July we can certainly say we are free to cast our vote as we see fit.  However, our choices are determined by the amount of money a given candidate can raise.  This year we are seeing the fruits of the Supreme Court's Citizen's United decision, and they are changing electoral politics completely.  A handful of billionaires are pouring money into campaigns and races for candidates who promise to expand the opportunities for the 1% at the expense of everyone else.  Recently, the Koch brothers held a secret meeting in San Diego.  The buy-in just to attend was $100,000.  Their goal is to raise $395 million to elect politicians who share their desire to destroy the New Deal and Great Society and return this country to the glory of the Gilded Age.  (Lest you have drunk the Kool Aid and think Citizen's United allows unions to spend as much as they wish to do the same thing, the money the Koch brothers alone will raise in San Diego is more than every union in the nation contributed to campaigns in the last four years and when you add in Karl Rove's Crossroads Super PAC, and others, they will outspend unions as much as 10-1)  Even if their is someone you would like to support, and cast your vote, the economics of politics says this person has little chance to get nominated and even less chance to get elected.

     On July 4, 2012, the state of our independence is teetering at best and in rapid retreat at worst.  Our civil liberties have been weakened to the point where they no longer protect us from an invasive and oppressive government (regressives take note).  Our economic future is cloudy at best if you are poor or in the middle class, but glorious if you are in the 1%.  The standard avenues for advancement...education; hard work; perseverance; are pricing more and more Americans out of their range or are irrelevant, and our political system is now rigged so the 1% can control and elect those candidates who will continue their hegemony over the levers of power.  (Just look at Romney's proposals to cut taxes on the rich further, increase military spending and cut entitlements and ask who will benefit the most?)

     Lest you think there is no hope, let me offer some words of encouragement on this Independence Day.  The 1% will only continue to win if voting numbers keep declining.  If all eligible voters voted, their power and money would be far less effective.  There is an alternative press chronicling everything I have written about here and you need to access it and then get involved.  There are fights to be fought and won, but you can't do it from the sidelines.  Pick a side and jump in with both feet.  If you believe you can't make a difference...they win.  If you get dispirited and give up...they win.  If you allow yourself to feel powerless...they win.  Warren Buffet says there is a class war going on in this country and his class is winning.  On this Independence Day, join the war...fight for this nation's future...never give up and find others who agree with you.  Once it's gone, our freedom will never return.  HAPPY 4TH OF JULY...I MISS YOU.

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