People walking around everyday, playing games taking score
Trying to make other people lose their minds, ah, be careful you don’t lose yours
You better think (think) think about what you’re trying to do to me
Yeah, think (think, think), let your mind go, let yourself be free – lyrics from Aretha Franklin’sThink
As many of you know, I live in the red state of Texas where there is no shortage of “freedom lovers” who insist on “taking our country back”. It’s never really clear about who or what they want to take their country back from but it usually entails something about the “socialist” in the oval office and government overreach. Not a week goes by where at least one letter to the editor in my local newspaper is claiming that Obama is a Soviet plant, despite the President’s comments to the contrary.
One of the most recent letters by these paper patriots, viewed here, is typical of the rants by those who tote a copy of Atlas Shrugged in one hand while waving their NRA membership card in the other. This particular writer contends that our current leaders are oppressing people to the point where they are unable to secure freedom. What’s always missing of course are the details to these charges. Of the twenty-seven amendments to the Constitution that guarantee our rights and thus our freedom, only one of them can actually be targeted to support their claim, so let me briefly allude to this before proceeding.
The 4th amendment that prohibits unreasonable search and seizures and sets out requirements for search warrants based on probable cause, is indeed being stretched by our security organizations in their mission to prevent terrorists from carrying out their nefarious deeds. The current exposure of one of the government’s surveillance program (known as PRISM) by a former technical contractor and CIA employee, Edward Snowden, who worked for Booz Allen Hamilton, a contractor for the National Security Agency (NSA), has raised serious concerns that some violations are occurring through the vast collection of the personal phone calls, e-mails and social media messaging of private citizens. There is likely some truth that this surveillance program contributes to the NSA’s mission to detect terrorist activity, but we should all be concerned that it may be doing so by violating the premise of the 4th amendment. I am not alone in this concern. The prestigious Brennan Center for Justice has also raised this prospect.
It is debatable whether Congress intended the sort of dragnet information collection of phone records that the FISA court has approved under Section 215. Section 215 is dangerously broad, but its plain language does not permit wide-scale surveillance on an ongoing basis.
Even if the government’s actions are consistent with Section 215, the constitutionality of the statute itself is questionable.
Like Section 215, Section 702 is remarkably broad, allowing the government to target non-U.S. persons “reasonably believed to be outside the United States.” However, the NSA has reportedly interpreted that to mean that it need only ensure “51 percent confidence of the target’s ‘foreignness.’” Even if the process works as advertised, it could be wrong nearly half the time. SEE FULL COMMENTS HERE
Now I don’t know if I would characterize surveillance methods that gather information about who we call and how often we do as evidence of an oppressive government, unless I was an apparent victim of it, god forbid. But just with what Snowden and other NSA whistleblowers have revealed to us over the last ten years I’d say this is an area that the don’t-tread-on-me types would have more credibility about claiming loss of freedoms than any other argument they have pushed since Obama took office.
I could also suggest that we need to be concerned with some issues regarding the 5th amendment where due process has suffered at the hands of some prosecutors eager to get a conviction and make a name for themselves. There is also concern, in my opinion, that the 15th amendment is being threatened by some state legislatures making it difficult for people of color to vote.
But for anyone who has kept up with the tirades of the vigilante right concerning any liberties they feel are being lost, very little attention has been given to the risk mentioned here concerning the 4th, 5th and 15th amendments. In fact you will actually see many of those people who are known to bemoan government overreach of any kind are remarkably supporting state government efforts to impose restrictions on voting rights and of course the rights of women to abort an unwanted pregnancy.
There is also a move to alter the 14th amendment by some on the extreme right to inhibit natural citizenship to those born in the U.S. from parents who immigrated here. These are rights that some don’t seem to mind trampling on because they don’t appear to impact a certain segment of society – that of predominantly white, christian Americans. The demographic that has reflected the predominant makeup of the American population from colonial times up to just after WWII.
When you hear cries to take our country back, it is this nostalgic pining for an era long past that those cries harken to. The period of time when white male christians were the ones making the rules and for nearly a hundred years after the Constitution was ratified were essentially the only ones allowed to vote and hold public office. One only need to look at the faces in a Tea Party rally to see that multiculturalism is a missing component. This isn’t something that has materialized out of thin air either.
There have been right-wing advocates for decades who have had an agenda much like Grover Norquist’s to eliminate the republican form of government conceived back in Philadelphia’s Independence Hall in 1787 and impose instead market measures and christian values on American society over democratic principles. Listen to one of them here in a YouTube video. This is Paul Weyrich, co-founder of the Heritage Foundation, the Christian Voice and the Moral Majority.
“How many … Christians have what I call the goo-goo syndrome? Good Government. They want everyone to vote. I don’t want everyone to vote. Elections are not won by a majority of people. They never have been from the beginning of our country and they are not now. As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down” SOURCE
You think Mr. Weyrich and his followers might be behind some of those state laws trying to limit the vote to those who don’t benefit his agenda’s leverage in the elections?
But here of late there is another element being interjected into mainstream thought of what America is supposed to reflect. It is the voice of people who head such far right political groups like the Americans For Prosperity (AFP). AFP is a Koch Industries funded group that espouses the libertarian views of “free markets” and unregulated businesses. The AFP and their sponsors, billionaires David and Charles Koch, are devotees of Ayn Rand’s laissez faire idealism and Milton Friedman’s free market policies. Implicit in these views are that government is inherently bad creating “unnecessary barriers to entrepreneurship” with regulations and oversight.
This stirring but baseless sentiment is then expanded on and connotes that imposing restrictions on big business somehow carries over to a loss of personal freedom. Thus anytime there are attempts by government representing citizens’ interests wanting protection against unchecked corporate practices and policies, pro-corporate advocates like the AFP are there to obfuscate the reality that the likes of Koch Industries, Exxon-Mobil or General Electric are the real threat to individual freedoms
Suggesting that millionaires and billionaires who violate the law to protect their self-interests are just like you and me is a false equivalent since most people don’t have an army of lawyers and billion$ in profits to defend themselves. Most of us are not guilty either for selling toxic financial products to unsuspecting parties or dumping toxic waste into our rivers and our air supply. At least not on the level that would drag an entire economy down or create serious health issues for an entire community.
Too many of us “small people” don’t have jobs either because corporate America sent most of them overseas to cheaper labor markets to get a greater return for stockholder dividends and executive pay and bonuses. It is the same tactic that all organizations use who are paid by corporate interests.
For example, there was never any threat that people’s 2nd amendment rights were going to be removed or were even threatened. But when efforts were generated by concerned citizens about the use and abuse of large caches of weapons owned by less-than-desirable types, mainly military assault style weapons popular with gangs, the gun industry and their paid spokespeople at the NRA used this movement to point yet another trembling finger at that “socialist in the White House”. A meme that has been successfully employed to fight not only the efforts by the President and his Party to initiate sane gun control measures but to employ any measures that would help reduce the unemployment lines created in large part by financial malfeasance in the credit markets back in 2008.
The Koch brothers are some of the most egregious violators of regulatory policy put in place to prevent abuses. Their animus toward any government regulation comes from the upbringing of their father who after taking his method of refining oil to Russia because the existing corporate powers here in the U.S. at that time blocked him, fled Stalin’s Russia later when he fell victim to that dictator’s policies of government control. He imbued his progeny with an overwrought view about the horrors of socialism and convinced them that any government oversight of the markets was a threat to liberty.
Never mind that some of their business practices were hurting the environment, eliminating competition and concentrating the nation’s wealth into fewer and fewer hands. If preventing any harmful measures cut into corporate profits then the robber barons of this age were quick to accuse the government of depriving them of their liberties to “create jobs and reward entrepreneurship”. In reality it was inhibiting their ability to increase their profits on the backs of low and middle-income working families. For more on the efforts of the Koch brothers to buy the political influence and stack the deck in their favor, watch the documentary Park Avenue: Money, Power and the American Dream
It was the Koch brothers that funded the candidacy of Scott Walker for governor of Wisconsin with the soul purpose of undermining unions. The unions are one of the last vestiges in this country outside the government that fights for equality in the work place. With unions out of the way it would be easier for wealthy corporate interests to send jobs overseas to cheaper labor markets and reduce wages and benefits here at home.
It ‘s been the Koch brothers that have funded many climate deniers to stave off government efforts to reduce carbon emissions. Something their companies benefit from with their connections to Big Oil and unregulated toxic emissions from their businesses like Georgia-Pacific in Crosset, Arkansas. The Koch brothers are in the early stages of buying the Tribune media empire that owns among other media resources, The Los Angeles Times, The Chicago Tribune, The Baltimore Sun, The Orlando Sentinel and The Hartford Courant. Control of such a vast media empire would help them promote their self-serving message about the Friedman/Rand view of free markets while dressing down those people who hold opposing views.
So when you hear or read comments from professed anti-government types who assure us our freedoms are being undermined, know that they are either paid hacks that support the Koch brothers’ philosophy of free markets or have subscribed to this view through their connections with blogs and other media sources that claim to benefit from an unregulated free market. The writers who fill the “Letters” column in my newspapers are likely just common folks who have too easily bought into the free market mantra, not really understanding that that which they promote is planting the seed and nourishing an ideal they will likely never share in.
The blind faith belief that there is an invisible hand that will correct the markets without government oversight is a false belief which ignores the reality that fallible human beings are behind all market forces. Such a false belief holds up the notion that men of integrity and virtue are always at the helm of powerful wealthy interests. Yes, people like Carnegie over a century ago and Buffet and Gates today are generous to a fault with their vast wealth once they have made it. But they can’t escape the charges of being ruthless and undermining competition in their journey to such riches.
The myth that continues today about how every man and woman has an opportunity to become even a small imitation of a Carnegie, Buffet or Gates has been exploited by campaigns originating from Astroturf organizations like the AFP who are funded by some of the richest people on the face of the earth
Angry Americans out of work and watching their jobs disappear along with their wages and benefits aim their frustrations at a government that in actuality is slowly evolving into a plutocracy. It is the goal of people like Charles and David Koch, casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson and hedge fund manager Stephen Schwarzman to convince Americans that whenever their greed is kept in check from necessary government oversight that Big Government is getting out of control. What’s getting out of control however is the income gap between the haves and have-nots. Adelson, Schwarzman and the Koch brothers are among the 400 richest people whose income is “more than the combined net worth of 50% of the US population”.
Cries by those fearing their freedoms are being taken from them are in denial about exactly who it is that’s actually restricting their freedoms. Wrapping the flag around free markets and raising the cross to ward off “big government” has been a method employed for decades now by manipulative groups who get their talking points from rich and powerful people.
Those of us who thought that when the house of cards that Friedman’s “free markets” had built for the last thirty years came tumbling down in 2008, most if not all of the American people would finally see for themselves that we had all been taken in by the Horatio Alger stories promulgated by wild-eyed John Birchers and Ayn Rand idealist. Little did we realize that some myths are imbedded too deep to change overnight.