Monday, July 04, 2005

July 4th, 2005

I just drove back home from Koreatown, where I was visiting a friend. The fireworks are going absolutely insane over there. The entire trip from my car to his apartment, I felt like I was in Khe San. At one point, these kids set off an explosive in a crosswalk so powerful, I half-expected it to emit gamma radiation rather than brightly-colored lights. (Although I haven't become enraged since the explosion, so there's really no way to know...)

It's fun, and there's very little about Los Angeles that I would describe as "fun" (including Universal Studios), so that's nice for a change.

But still, I wish this year's Independence Day had less of an air of celebration and more of a sense of soul-searching. Rather than publishing lame bullshit about how this is, like, a totally super-terrific country, why not use this chance to explore what America is supposed to be all about? Why not take on a little more historical context when celebrating a historical event, rather than filling the Net with more bluster about how this is the best goddamn country on Earth.

So I figured I'd give America a little report card. Below are listed some precepts that America supposedly stands for, along with my consideration of how well we're meeting those criteria. (NOTE: Overall, we're not really doing that well). These are the things our Founding Fathers wanted so desperately, they were willing to risk everything by defying the British crown.

And don't forget, those guys did risk everything. This wasn't some academic exercize for those cats - they became traitors in their home country, a crime punishable by death. John Hancock was rumored to have signed the Declaration of Independence in large letters as an act of defiance towards the British Crown (he didn't...he was just the first to sign it, so he had the most room...) But he was already a wanted man in England, and after signing the document, regardless of the size, he committed treason.

So here goes...These were just some of their guiding principles:

No Taxation Without Representation

This was a big one. The colonists resented Britain's over-taxing them to pay for debts incurred during the French and Indian War, and felt that if they should have to pay taxes to England, they should get a significant say in how the colonies were governed.

Now, America is what's called a representative democracy. We don't all get to vote, but we elect people who represent our views who place votes for us.

But that's not really how it works any more. Corporations and political machines that collect money from corporations and the massively wealthy choose candidates who represent their industry's interests, and then spend their money "selling" these candidates to the American people.

No one in our current government is tasked with truly representing the interests of the common citizen except for the judiciary. The legislative branch has been bought and sold, as has the executive. Because they are all subject to elections, and because elections can only be won with our current communications and media structure by corporate-controlled, monied candidates, these positions have been shut out from having any influence from the public sphere.

And now, because a corrupt President will have the opportunity to place Supreme Court and other circuit judges who are ideologically and financially tied to Big Business and Christian fundamentalism, the American people are about to lose their third and final branch of government...which brings me to...

Checks and Balances

This one is super super super important. The whole reason for 3 branches of government? Checks and balances. No one group can get so massively powerful, they can do whatever they want, because two other groups are always watching them.

But what if you control so much of the media, have united so much of the nation's wealth behind your agenda, that you are able to gain legal influence over all three branches at once? You could, theoretically, game the system - create permanent rules that give your side a constant, unfair advantage. You could, essentially, cause the system of checks and balances to dismantle itself.

This would involve doing things like gerrymandering, changing the districts based on favorable demographics, so your side can always win elections. It can even involve screwing with centuries-old Senate tradition in an attempt to get rid of the fillibuster, allowing your judicial nominees to pass through without the customary debate and approval process. And then, of course, there's trying to nominate someone to the Supreme Court who will overturn a decision like Roe v. Wade, a decision that's called controversial despite the fact that it's supported by a considerable majority of Americans.

Separation of Church and State

Yes, technically, the idiot fundies are right when they say that this is not explicitly laid out in the Constitution. No article actually says "the government shouldn't fuck around with the church."

But the concept of a government uninvolved in religious affairs is all over this document. It's about individual liberty, you dig, including religious freedom. And once you consider atheism as a religion (it is, after all, a system of belief), you realize that the government's not allowed to make a law infringing on my rights as a non-believer.

Now, does this mean that you shouldn't be allowed to hang up a Ten Commandments on the wall of a public building? I'd say you shouldn't, but at least this is an issue that can be reasonably debated. After all, a Ten Commandments on the wall, while really stupid, doesn't really affect me in any way. I realize that those are silly rules from an old book, rules that have very very little to do with my daily life. (After all, who doesn't occasionally covet their neighbor's stuff? What if they have a plasma screen? Even God wants a plasma screen!)

But there is no doubt it means the government should not impose religiosity on classrooms, as morons want to do with Creationism. There is no doubt that laws centered on Biblical concepts with no basis in science or empirical support, laws such as abstinance-only education, gay marriage bans and sodomy laws, should be deemed unconstitutional. And there is no doubt that an Air Force Academy operating under the domination of closed-minded Christian bullies is un American and shameful.

Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness

Everyone always focuses on the "pursuit of happiness" part, but I'd like to look at the "life" part. I think the Declaration means more than just "the government won't kill you for no reason." I think, first off, it means the government won't kill you. And even though the Founding Fathers almost assuredly thought capital punishment was the way to go, I'd say we've outgrown it as a concept. We know it doesn't prevent crime, right? No one still thinks it acts as a strong deterrent. We know a lot of innocent people (a lot!) are executed.

Isn't that enough right there? It doesn't do any provable good, and we know it has done terrible, terrible wrongs. Why not get rid of it? Don't we want to preserve an, ahem, culture of life, as the Late Great John Paul II was fond of saying?

Also, I really think we ought to have universal health insurance (not health care, which is what they have in Canada, but universal insurance...there's a difference...) Cause, I mean, if you want Americans to have life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, you've got to be sure they can get hit by a car and afford a doctor. That's kind of key.


Konrad said...

Very interesting for me as a German citizen. There is not much of a debate about this in your media, is it? Is there still a free press? That could have been one of your chapters as well. For me this is one of the basic principles of democracy as well.

Boyd McKendrick said...

Don't know if you saw this program they played over the weekend asking Euros what they thought about Yanks. A lot of them really emphasized our lack of civil and religious separation. I realize it's a Christian country, but, as the hip kids in the French McDonald's pointed out, using religious rhetoric and imagery is pretty contradictory to the principles set forth in the Constitution. And religious language and references are used daily in American politics. But like you pointed out, I think the problem goes much deeper when you really do have a system that "sells" candidates. Being that this is a mainly (make that severely) Christian country, it's hard to make a sale without those religious concessions to your customers.

Cory said...

universal health insurance? who's going to pay for it? we can't even pay for medicare/medicaid the way it is now. besides, it's a terrible idea. look how well france's systems are working.

as for the death penalty, i understand your argument and am sympathetic to your points, but i ultimately am for the penalty as an option. bottom line - if some guy killed my dad, i'd want him dead, and it'd be nice if the judicial system took care of this so i don't have to go all "A Time to Kill" style and do it myself.

besides, the way it is now, if someone killed my dad, they'd never get the death penalty. they'd have to do the unthinkable in order to even be considered - murder one is not enough.

i say kill more. hang em high!

SallyTeller said...

What a treat reading the Fourth of July blog! The ability to express yourself (and encompass the thoughts and emotions of the reader) seems to come so easily to you. It is nice to know that somewhere out in cyberspace there is intelligent life, who is capable of acknowleging that the "Fourth" is more meaningful than a six-pack and barbecue ribs as well as a day off of work!

Cory said...

Dude..can I get some of your ribs?