Saturday, August 24, 2013

A Word on a Postage Stamp. That's All.

An unintended irony popped up recently when I mailed a check.  My latest book of so-called "forever" stamps contain the image of the U.S. flag and a one-word patriotic slogan --"Freedom." "Equality," etc.  The stamp on this envelope bore the word "Justice." The check inside was a donation to the ACLU to suport its legal efforts on behalf of Edward Snowden, who gave The Guardian and others secret documents that revealed the enormous extent of U.S. government spying on its citizens. It was mailed the day Chelsea (nee Bradley) Manning, a U.S. soldier, was sentenced to 35 years in military prison for revealing the truth about U.S. war crimes.

"Justice," indeed.

Here is but a sampling of "Justice" in these United States.

MANNING: Her sentence is by far the longest ever imposed by a democratic government for leaks to the press. Manning's pretrial detention amounted to torture and her post-trial treatment has been far worse than that of soldiers who murdered civilians and tortured captives and their superiors who authorized their war crimes. When she requested appropriate medical treatment for a legitimate medical disorder involving gender, she was refused. Untreated transgender people in prison experience "a heightened level of gender policing. The clothing they wear, their hairstyles and grooming practices, their bodies, mannerisms and identities are scrutinized and controlled by the state." Any alleged deviance can lead to violence at the hands of corrections officers or other people who are incarcerated, studies have found.

SNOWDEN:   David Miranda, the partner of Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, was detained by British authorities under an unprecedented interpretation of a terrorism statute while passing through Heathrow Airport, almost certainly at the behest of the American government. Miranda has threatened legal action over his nine-hour detention and the confiscation of his electronic equipment.  Subsequent actions by British authorities suggest that they might be in league with the CIA to manufacture a "conspiracy" among Snowden, Greenwald, Miranda and others to commit "crimes" against the U.S.

POLICE STATE SURVEILLANCE: The U.S. Government seizes and searches all internet and text communications which enter or leave the country. It created and maintains secret backdoor access into all  electronic databases, searching for information on US citizens. It operates its own vast database which allows it to sift through millions of records on the internet,  learning nearly everything a citizen does. It has set up a special court which meets in secret to authorize access for the FBI and other investigators to millions and millions of US phone, text, email and business records. The actiions of this (FISA) court are Top Secret. An important (to civil liberties) 2011 decision of the FISA court remains Top Secret although the court itself said it can be made public.

BIG BROTHER: The FISA court routinely issues so-called NSL letters, which enable the FBI to demand financial records from any institution -- banks, insurance companies, casinos, stock brokers -- plus telephone records, subscriber information, credit reports, employment information, and all email records of the target as well as the email addresses and screen names for anyone who has contacted that account. Tens of thousands of these letters have been used. James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, told the U.S. Senate on March 12, 2013 that the NSA did not wittingly collect information on millions of Americans. The Snowden documents prove this to be a blatant lie. No action has been taken against Clapper.

 CANCELLATION OF THE CONSTITUTION: Amendments and sections of the Constituion violated by Obama's extension and broadening of Bush's usurpation of Executive authority beyond the Constitution: First amendment (prosecution and jailing of whistle-blowers; silencing, beatings by police, and imprisonment of lawfully-assembled dissenters; many other examples); Fourth (probable cause, prohibitions against unreasonable search and seizure); Fifth (ignoring due process, allowing for indefinite incarceration without a trial); Sixth (the right to prompt and public trial); Eighth (protection against against cruel and unusual punishment); cancellation of Habeus Corpus which (Article 1, Section 9) is allowed only in times of "Rebellion and Invasion);  war powers (Article 1, Section 11); Article II (defines Executive powers and limitations).

ECONOMIC INJUSTICE: Tax money in the trillions  used to bail out big banks whose unregulated craziness caused the worst recession in 80 years, while those criminally responsible for those policies not only escaped accountability but had their incomes increased. Four years after the official end of the Great Recession, the United States had recovered only 6.6 million jobs, less than three-quarters of the 9 million jobs lost. While: 21% of the jobs lost  were low wage (paid $13.83 an hour or less) almost 60%  the jobs regained fell into that category. The lower 70% of the American people on the wealth/income scale  have no influence on government policy whatsoever. As they move up the wealth/income scale, they gain minuscule influence on policy.  The richest one-tenth of one per cent virtually dictates all policy. Since the recession "ended," the richest Americans have been getting  a lot richer. The top one percent of  of richest Americans have taken 121 percent of all income gains between 2009 and 2011. Their average income  ranges between $5.2 million and $7.5 million annually. Inside the top 1 percent, those with the highest incomes pay the lowest tax rates. The number of households living in poverty is rising. Millions of full-time workers have had their hours cut, reducing them to part-time status, which costs them all of their employee befits including pensions and company-paid health insurance.

Chelsea (nee Bradley) Manning writes: "When I chose to disclose classified information, I did so out of a love for my country and a sense of duty to others. I will serve my time knowing that sometimes you have to pay a heavy price to live in a free society.  I will gladly pay that price if it means we could have country that is truly conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all women and men are created equal."

It takes more than the word "Justice" on a postage stamp to achieve that goal.

It's a Free Country (They Told Us,and Back Then We Had Reason to Believe Them)

Good morning, America, my old friend, land that saved me and my family from Old World fires! What's become of our "free country," anyway, and doesn't anyone care? What in God's name is going on in Washington? Is there anybody left who answers to the name "American," as in the meanings "American" and "America" used to have?

Or is it all over for freedom of the press and all kinds of dissent, just like in Mao's China and the present China, which our apparently unembarrassed government continues to rebuke unself-consciously for behaving the same way we ourselves have apparently learned to behave, perhaps from the Chinese. Did we really like their model?

And if not, why don't we behave as if we notice we've made the change and who we now resemble? Why can't we see how we look in our self-ignorance as we arrest and/or intimidate people as the Chinese do, exactly the people we need to wake us up and point that out? Because it's high time we began turning back from wherever we've strayed, and suppression of free speech is the worst possible place to start, but we're already there.

Yes, of course the way we're treating Manning, Snowden, Assange and now Greenwald is exactly what we've always reproached totalitarian countries for doing. We've succeeded far too well in turning these rareties -- four people willing to take huge risks to tell us what's wrong -- into criminals in the public mind, just as the countries we rebuke did and still do, while we annoy them by lionizing their Snowdens. 

Good Lord, is this real? Has anybody looked at our "logo" lately, the flag of this once-great nation, great because it didn't do such things, or which once upon a time didn't appear to do them knowingly? And even our diaphanous excuses then were a noticeable improvement over what we've worked out for ourselves during our most recent presidencies.

What's up, Washington? Where's the country our Founding Fathers took the trouble of setting rules for in a document called the U.S. Constitution, the same rules that one of our political parties is even now cancelling out line by line, according to its own wishes? We still call it our rulebook (even in its ominous absence), the one that almost made it to age 200 in reasonably presentable condition, but for those nagging and oft-ignored complaints from citizens of a different color or sexual preference -- complaints from which a big segment of the citzenry apparently learned that not all rules must be followed, those based on fairness to be regarded as particularly onerous. Those based on shooting people to be most lightly and tenderly enforced.

And now breaking the Constitution's rules on the nation's highest court has become a political sport and pastime played by uncaring "justices" in black robes, enough of them with no consciences to speak of and no thought of imposing real justice, but unequivocally devoted to obliterating one step at a time the document on which they claim all their decisions rest.

Can we cure this self-destructive, self-aggrandizing gamesmanship while also doing the opposite of curing anything, harassing those whose careers require them to tell us the whole truth in their  media, though they currently don't. And there's government aid to bolster their shirking! We've still got the Constitution, but like the flag, it's treated like a dead or obsolesced symbol with only a few downgraded humans to speak out for it loudly enough to be heard. This turns out to be their problem and ours, though most forcefully claimed as a problem by the harassers and jailers. And some of us actually expect the poor beset few to awaken their country to what's become of it.

No wonder we ask ourselves if we can have any effect on our government beyond the votes we cast, making our choices with full confidence as if we had no clue that our political parties, particularly the Republican one but the Democratic one not excepted, were lying to them. So one might call it sheer luck that those who make an art of lying and fact-distortion keep pulling the least educated voters to their polls, provided they are also white. Thus professional legislators and office-holders have become an aristocracy of know-nothings, the persons least able to recognize the truth were it to pour down on them from the skies. As for voters who know the truth, whose TV commercials do they like this year?

And in this mendaciousness and inability to recognize truth when it shows its face lies the truest essence of our downfall, more than in our self-spying programs, our phony, thoughtless (and undeclared) wars in foreign countries, our idiot love of "better" weapons programs, and our war on dissent here at home.

"Dare we open our mouths?" hints at an un-Americanness so deep that no "Un-American Activities" investigators ever considered the question. And it cries out to be asked harder, more often & right now, remaining a bad bet to be uttered by non-risk-takers.

Alas, the question of opening our mouths was no total stranger even in the much better America, the one I don't have to break a sweat to remember. That America must be caught by the tail and hoisted onto dry land before it becomes a memory -- keeping the question ask-able, not accepted fact about the USA, version 21.0.