Saturday, August 27, 2005

Do Unto Others: Common Sense in Action

It is often said that “variety is the spice of life”, and that phrase is particularly pertinent within the context of the United States. Perhaps one of the best examples, and worst descriptions, of the relevance is the concept of the United States as “The Great American Melting Pot”. The combination of cultures, values, and politics brought together under the concept of a representative government designed to recognize the common humanity of all people and to support the unalienable rights and freedoms of the citizens is less a uniform melting pot than a rough mix of flavors and colors, dazzling in the variety of patterns, textures and tastes that one might find on an international buffet table.

The common threads -- the ties that bind us together as a nation and as families -- center around our rights and freedoms, our capacity for participation in our governing, and our desire to make a better world for ourselves and our posterity. It is, therefore, easy to recognize that this common thread not only ties us together in the here and now, but also extends from the generations past and onward into the future of generations to come.

Our forefathers did not found this nation nor craft the Constitution and Bill of Rights in order to satisfy their current needs alone. They had an eye toward the future, keeping in mind the history that led them to the founding of this nation while they planned for its continuation and future governance and growth.

We the People must keep this in mind. We are a nation of many people and many cultures, with diverse religions, philosophies, and beliefs -- something to be proud of. We are also a nation of many generations. Regardless of our cultural background or beliefs, there are elders and babies, middle-aged citizens and youthful adolescents populating our country across a broad spectrum. Our nation caters not to any particular religion, philosophy, or culture. Neither should it cater to any one age group without regard for the impact upon the others.

Our elders are our link to history, to the founding of this nation and the forces that have changed it over time, resulting in the country we have now. They played an important role in passing the torch of liberty on to us, whether as statesmen or simply parents or teachers. Our children are our link to the future; the generations to come that will inherit all that we, and those who have come before us, have built.

Our responsibilities as True Patriots are threefold. They include not only managing the current affairs of the nation, but also recognizing and rewarding the elder generation's contributions as well as accepting the responsibility for guiding the next generations to become guardians of our nation's future freedoms.

A True US Patriot recognizes the contributions of the older generation and values the potential of the next, and that in order to promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves, our elders, and our Posterity, we must ensure that the basic rights of those we hold dear to access quality healthcare and education is steadfastly supported, uncompromisingly and without discrimination based on race, color, creed, gender, or orientation.

Current policies regarding education, childcare, welfare, health care and Social Security fail to meet the desired goals of ensuring the safety and well being of our elders and our children.

Brown v Board of Education stressed the importance of equal access to education by demonstrating that "separate but equal" schools placed minority students at a distinct disadvantage when it came to employment and educational opportunities later in life. Unfortunately, despite laws that prohibit "separate but equal" schools, they are far more common than anyone wants to admit. The only difference is that the disadvantaged students are no longer just minorities. They now include the children of America's poor and lower middle class, as well as the children of America's rural and inner city residents. These schools struggle year after year for funding and many are forced to either cut programs or downsize staff, increasing the disadvantage that graduates of these facilities will face when competing for jobs later in their lives.

Likewise, these same children -- as well as their families -- are at increased risk for illness since many of their parents cannot afford health care. Many rural and inner city areas have difficulty attracting and retaining qualified doctors and/or lack medical facilities to deal with serious illness or injury. Here, families often end up on a constantly downward spiral of financial ruin; in many aspects, it's like trying to figure out which came first: the chicken or the egg. Inadequate education is one of the major barriers to getting a good job with a decent wage. This, in turn, prevents them from living in areas of economic growth that offer better opportunities for education and health care. The poorer living conditions for these families invariably result in less educational opportunities, and the children often receive inadequate and under-funded educations. Thus the cycle continues.

Alternately, for someone who gets a job but cannot afford health care -- or in the case of working parents, has to spend all or most of their earnings paying for child care -- the situation is equally grim. If the primary breadwinner gets sick but cannot go to the doctor, s/he may end up missing work where every hour of pay makes a difference, or even losing her/his job, placing an even greater financial stress on the family. This also often makes it far less likely that s/he can get a job that pays as well or better the next time.

Many who find themselves in these situations end up going on welfare, which is like stepping into a pit of quicksand. Once in the system, the income restrictions placed on earnings in order to guarantee health care and food stamps for the children often force the parent -- especially in a single parent household -- to choose between remaining on welfare (and in poverty) or risking the health and well-being of the entire family by taking a job that may pay more but offers no benefits. In order to maintain welfare benefits, a person must keep a job but cannot work full time. This “feature” of the system provides a cheap and easily exploitable labor force for many companies that hire mostly part time employees. Often, companies are not required to offer health benefits to part-timers, so the cost and overhead of employing part-time workers is very attractive. Businesses scale back their need for costly full-time workers, and the effect of this pattern on the economic environment is both profound and far-reaching. A recent survey of a hospital in North Carolina, for example, found that 31% of the patients were employees of Wal-Mart. ("The World is Flat", Thomas Friedman, referenced in the Pensacola News Journal)

The elderly populations face similar problems, since many of them depend solely on their Social Security to provide them with income in what should be their "golden years". Far too many of our senior citizens have to choose between basic utilities, important medication, or enough food to live. The adult children of the elderly often have to either quit working to take care of their elderly family members, or put them in nursing homes that often cost upwards of $5000 a month. Since most families cannot afford this, the elderly are forced to sell everything they own and be declared indigent to receive state assistance.

These issues do not confine themselves to our elderly and our youth. Similar problems also affect our population due to disparities of wealth. Throughout our nation's history, from its very founding to the present day, there has been an oft-ignored struggle taking place between the haves and the have-nots. The issue was first addressed in earnest starting around the time of the Civil War when a concerted national effort was begun to include all people under the mantle of protection of the US Constitution. The Emancipation Proclamation declared that slavery was no longer an acceptable policy in this nation, granting African Americans their freedom (at least on paper). The women's suffrage movement and the civil rights movement -- which started as grassroots efforts of citizens around the nation -- forced Congress to introduce legislation that recognized the inherent rights of women and African Americans. However, it is not enough to give lip service to equality for all citizens. Since it was first proposed 82 years ago, the ERA has yet to be ratified, and in today’s world of female space shuttle commanders, most women in the workplace earn considerably less salary than their male counterparts doing the same work.

Other movements, like the gay rights movement that began at Stonewall and the Alliance for Native American Indian Rights, are still striving to gain recognition of rights being unjustly denied American citizens. While these are important steps on the path to equal treatment under the law, they unfortunately fall far short of closing the gap between the haves and the have-nots because not all injustices occur through violation of the law. In fact, the very laws that were meant to prevent those injustices cause some of them. To properly address this, we must turn to the lawmakers for assistance, but we must be the catalyst for change. We are the ones who should let them know when a law isn’t working, or when a new one is required to help redress the problems in our system.

Politicians would have us believe that the solution to all these problems is complicated, requiring thousands of pages of legislation. That they know the current system doesn't work as it was intended is obvious given that they have established their own retirement plan, which is not tied to Social Security, Medicare/Medicaid or to the welfare system in any way. After serving only one term in Congress, a politician is set for life, contrary to the average citizen who must work for many years to receive an ever-decreasing set of benefits

In reality, we need only look to the Golden Rule, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you". This simple concept is found in some form in virtually every faith known to man. Its first recorded appearance was in Vedic scriptures more than 5000 years ago and it has appeared in almost every sacred text since then. In the Christian tradition, Jesus of Nazareth restated this rule as "Love one another as you Love yourself", and calls it one of the two greatest commandments, upon which all other laws are based (Matthew 22:39-40). It is perhaps even more evident in Matthew 7:12, “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets”.

Another saying, often quoted to counter the reasoning for improving health care, education, and providing Social Security and welfare benefits, is this one:. “God helps those who help themselves”. The use of that quote, however, belies a simple and basic, fundamental truth. By providing those programs, we ~are~ helping ourselves. This assistance is more direct than people may realize. You may recall the riddle of the Sphinx. To paraphrase:
“What animal has one voice, is born four-footed, afterward becomes two-footed, then three-footed, then four-footed again, is weakest when it is four-footed, and slowest when it is three-footed?”
Oedipus, a tragic Greek hero, provided the answer to this riddle. He recognized the animal being described as “man”. This riddle not only serves as an allegory for the life cycle of a human being, but it can also represent mankind in general, or even the US in particular. The key to the riddle, however, is that a single human being progresses through all those stages. When we care for our young and old, we are also taking care of ourselves; we were all young once, in need of education, and hopefully still learning as we age. With luck, we will all live to a peaceful old age, able to share our wisdom and observe as our posterity takes up the reins and continues to drive and guide our nation. In a very real sense, when viewed this way, we help ourselves by “doing unto others”.

We need to insist on welfare reform, education reform, health care reform, Social Security reform and child care reform. We need to place the needs of the People ahead of the needs of corporations. We need to ask ourselves, "Is this how I want to be treated when I'm older?" We need to ask ourselves, "Is this how I want my children and grandchildren to live when they grow up? Do I want them to face the same hardships and struggles to provide for their children and for me?" We need to insist that the politicians -- who work for the People -- address the needs of the People, regardless of age, race, color, creed, gender, or orientation.

We don’t need another Oedipus, or a hero -- tragic or not -- to step out of the legends of the ages. It is our right and responsibility as True US Patriots to take an active part in the shaping of our nation. We are the heroes in this play, in this act, and it is our role to play for better or worse. It is time to accept our roles, and to play the part of the hero for generations current, past, and future.

By these signs shall a hero be known: an eye to see the truth, a heart to feel the truth, an arm to defend the truth. To that I would add: wisdom that strives to teach the truth, courage that dares speak the truth, love by which the truth shall live forever.
-- Patricia Kenneally Morrison

Monday, August 22, 2005

The Right to Dissent and to Demand Accountability

It has been more than two weeks since we last published an essay. Even with so many of us working together, real life has a tendency to get in the way. We apologize for our tardiness. Our newest essay discussing Point #5, of the "Ten Characteristics of A True US Patriot", and entitled "Do Unto Others: Common Sense in Action" will be ready for publishing later this week, and we are already working on Point #6.

In the meantime we would like to present the following piece, which relates directly to the ongoing episode in Crawford. This article was originally posted at TPM Cafe.

___________________________

This week, we as a nation watch as one citizen travels to see the President and demand an audience. Many are angered, even outraged, at the avoidance of this woman by the man currently holding what is, arguably, the most powerful office in the world. Many more citizens fly to her aid, both physically and spiritually, as she is blatantly ignored for demanding an explanation.

If one looks at this from a distant perspective, it would appear that the citizen is attempting to engage the leader in an accounting of his decisions and actions that have led to the loss of her son. This is, of course, both her right and duty. And his responsibility, as a leader, is to address her.

Our latest essay, "Holding America to Her Principles", specifically addresses the issue of accountability, and the role that citizens play by enforcing their right to demand it. It is one of the cornerstones upon which our nation has been built. True US Patriots have a right and a duty to dissent, holding their leaders accountable for the actions and decisions occurring under their watch. It is one of the unofficial checks and balances, and it is solely in the hands of the people to employ in order to preserve freedom.
"Dissent is the mark of freedom." - Jacob Bronowski
We have heard that, as of Thursday [August 9], when the Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense both appear to meet with the President, Cindy Sheehan will be arrested as a threat to national security.

We have yet to see any indication of a threat to national security by this woman. Many others appear to agree. So, what legal right does anyone have to deny this woman her freedom?

"Stripped of ethical rationalizations and philosophical pretensions, a crime is anything that a group in power chooses to prohibit." – Freda Adler

Simply having the power to make the laws does not empower one to abuse the founding tenets of freedom. Misuse and misapplication of the laws in order to shield a political figure – however powerful – from a citizen who is adhering to her Constitutional right to demand accountability by her President is nothing short of criminal. It is most certainly unconstitutional. One would expect that if a person shall be intentionally, unconstitutionally jailed then the writ of habeas corpus would be suspended. Have we engaged in another Civil War somewhere, and have all our Civil Courts have been forcibly closed down to permit such a measure?

Or does something darker still loom ahead of us? Have we lost our liberties, or our rights to exercise them?

"It is not the fact of liberty but the way in which liberty is exercised that ultimately determines whether liberty itself survives. " – Dorothy Thompson
The past few years have shown a very disturbing trend, where “free speech zones” have been designated to keep dissent out of the public eye. We have watched the gradual erosion and marginalization of our right, our role, as the ones to whom the leaders must be ultimately accountable. And for the most part, we have not noticed or been moved to reject attempts to minimize the importance of accountability to the public.

"None are so hopelessly enslaved as those who falsely believe they are free."
– Goethe
Our system of government has been described as one "of the People, by the People, and for the People". The current trend toward the unprecedented expansion of powers concentrated in the hands of the Executive Branch threatens to tear the very fabric of that basic belief asunder.

"Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men
are almost always bad men.
" – Lord Acton
Our current leader won his path to power on the claim of “moral values”. The unspoken assumption made when this term is used is the presumption of accountability, sprinkled with a touch of wisdom. Wouldn’t it be prudent, then, for such a leader to show compassion and speak with a citizen who has made the extraordinary effort to speak with him? Or have the words of Lord Acton begun to ring true?

To all our fellow citizens, we ask you to support this True US Patriot, and help her in her effort to exercise that which is both her right and duty: ask the President for real answers, and hold him accountable for his actions.

UPDATE: As we all know, Ms. Sheehan was not arrested on charges of being a threat to national security or for any other reason, and while she has temporarily left her vigil to be with her mother, who suffered a stroke, she will be returning to Camp Casey soon. Meanwhile, the number of supporters continues to grow...

Monday, August 08, 2005

Holding America to Her Principles

As we continue to explore the basis underlying our original essay, 'Ten Characteristics of A True US Patriot', it is imperative that we understand not only the principles supporting each individual Characteristic, but also how the Characteristics relate to each other. The first Characteristic touches upon the nature of rights and freedoms, while the second delves into the equality of all. The third Characteristic explores the structure and reasoning behind the representative form of government and the importance of checks and balances to prevent the abuse of power. All of these lead up to the formation of the fourth Characteristic, which focuses on accountability. Specifically, it reads:

A True US Patriot exercises the right to openly challenge and hold accountable at all times, even and most particularly in times of war, those who do not honor their oaths of office, who purposely mislead the nation, who abdicate responsibility when those in their employ are caught engaging in criminal and unethical activities, and who fail to serve the nation with integrity.
Although not directly stated, this Characteristic strongly implies a key responsibility of A True US Patriot: participation. Without the participation and vigilance of the citizenry, liberty cannot long survive. It is the nature of liberty and freedom to require the constant attention of those who claim to partake of them, or they can slip away under the gradual erosion of rights and imposition of unsound laws.

While our founding fathers designed a government based on the separation of powers and provided a formal set of checks and balances to help preserve the underlying structure of government, it is the duty of the citizens to ensure that these checks and balances are upheld. Part and parcel with such responsibility is the duty to hold leaders accountable for their decisions and actions, particularly where those actions could undermine the balance of powers or restrict or obstruct our liberties, rights, and freedoms. General Douglas MacArthur made it plain in his words to the Japanese people in 1948, upon the first anniversary of their Constitution:

"No man is entitled to the blessings of freedom unless he be vigilant in its preservation."
The average citizen, then, has a direct role in the protection of the nation and the preservation of founding principles upon which it was founded. By exercising the right to free speech, the right to vote, the right to peacefully assemble, and petition for redress of grievances, the citizens are able to make their wishes known. A key element of the success of these methods revolves around two core precepts: first, that the public is properly informed through a free press and independent media; and second, that the leaders are held accountable for their words and actions by their peers, the People, and the media.

The principles of free speech, and the importance of a free and independent media, constitute an additional set of checks and balances outside of those expressly outlined within the Constitution as part of the government’s function. They lay squarely upon the People to enforce. Our Founding Fathers included them as part of the First Amendment, to ensure the preservation of both freedom of speech and of the Press. Freedom of the press is not only another form of free speech, but it is extended to include members of news-gathering organizations and the processes involved in obtaining information for public distribution. Former President Teddy Roosevelt once said:

"Free speech, exercised both individually and through a free press, is a necessity in any country where people are themselves free."
Even former President Richard Nixon, during the height of the Watergate scandal, recognized this when he stated:
"It was the system that brought to light the facts and that will bring those guilty to justice - a system that in this case included a determined grand jury, a courageous judge and a vigorous free press."
Recent laws like the Freedom of Information Act and state Sunshine Laws allow access to governmental proceedings and minutes of meetings to help the press keep the government accountable to the People. The Press has an inherent responsibility to provide accurate, timely, and unbiased information to the People so that they may make informed decisions, and to shed the light of day on the actions of our public servants.

But the People must care to look at and review this information, and speak out when wrongdoing is suspected or discovered, in order for those in positions of leadership to be held accountable. Montesquieu noted the responsibilities of the People when he wrote:
"The tyranny of a principal in an oligarchy is not so dangerous to the public welfare as the apathy of a citizen in a democracy."
And Michael Cloud put it even more simply:
"Personal responsibility is the price of liberty."
"We the People" are powerful words, used to start off one of our most important national documents. It depicts the People acting as one body in a declaration. Yet those people are also individuals, and without making an individual effort to be part of the voice of the People, there can be no united and strong voice to help us maintain our freedom. Our Constitutional rights to dissent, to free speech, and to a fair and free press gives us the ability to fulfill our role as part of the unofficial system of checks and balances. The "law of the land" has established that no person is above that law, and holds that government officials are accountable for their decisions and actions. It is our duty to remind those who serve us that they - alone or in groups - are never "above the law." We, as individuals, must each make the effort to undertake this responsibility so that, together, we can require the same of our elected and appointed officials.

A True US Patriot "exercises the right to openly challenge and hold accountable" the leaders of the nation. This isn’t a right that awaits the opportunity for use once an election cycle – it is a right and a responsibility existing "at all times, even and most particularly in times of war". It is the expectation to hold leaders accountable, and to censure or expel "those who do not honor their oaths of office, who purposely mislead the nation, who abdicate responsibility when those in their employ are caught engaging in criminal and unethical activities, and who fail to serve the nation with integrity".

Such vigilance cannot occur in a vacuum. An important reason that freedom of speech and the freedom of the press are explicitly protected in our Constitution is to ensure that a medium exists by which our citizens can remain informed, and share their thoughts with others as well as with our representatives.

There are inherent dangers in restricting these two crucial elements of our representative democracy. Through the use of "media manipulation", government and other sources can impose restrictions and control the free flow of information through a variety of methods. Some are outwardly obvious, such as censorship. Some are insidiously hidden, such as the gradual and growing monopolization of the media outlets under the auspices of a very few corporations and individuals. The former leads to a dearth of information and the silencing of dissent. The latter leads to the propagation of propaganda. Media manipulation and the strangulation of the flow of information impedes the ability of A True US Patriot from his or her Constitutional duties of vigilance and dissent. This only leads to frustration and increased apathy.

We have, of late, experienced both within our great nation – much to our detriment and dismay. Journalist Hedrick Smith warned of this many years ago when he noted:

"...this is precisely the purpose of censorship - not only to block unwanted views, but to keep people who are unhappy from knowing how many millions of others share their unhappiness; to keep the dormant opposition from awakening to its own developing strength."

It is through these methods that restrictions are also placed on the capacity to hold the government and its principals accountable for their decisions. The constant "buzz" and redirection of information away from matters of significance to the public effectively serve to hide wrongdoing. Larry Burkett mentions this in his book Business by the Book:

"Perhaps nothing in our society is more needed for those in positions of authority than accountability. Too often those with authority are able (and willing) to surround themselves with people who support their decisions without question."

Fortunately, the advent and virtual explosion of the internet has led to the rise of a new type of information sharing – blogging. The “Voice of the People” continually rises to be heard. Here, too, are those who would seek to control and influence the flow of information, but amidst the competing and often contradictory blogs, it is still possible for citizens to find the truth. By reading blogs, then checking outside of our own media sphere to the rest of the world, it is possible to recognize the spin, who spun it, and what information was left out or misrepresented.

The People can still remain vigilant, and hold those who represent us in government responsible. We can, for example, assemble and speak out to demand any leaders who have been less than forthright in their dealings or their addresses to the People step down or address (and redress) such grievances. We can, if we suspect our vote is being marginalized, demand accountability and a voter-verifiable paper trail.

We can, and should, demand that our media learn to exercise the process of due diligence in the role of information dissemination.

Most important of all, we have the right and responsibility to hold our leaders accountable for their actions. We must, we can, and we shall hold them responsible for their decisions, and demand action where instances of abuse or misuse of powers have led to the weakening of our national resolve and integrity.