Why I’m Not Celebrating July 4th This Year

Anti-Americanism

I remember in 1972, I was asked to give a 4th of July speech in some church context which I’ve since forgotten. I was a 32 year old Roman Catholic priest then. And my remarks were critical of the U.S. role in Vietnam and in the Third World in general.

Before I began however, an officer from the local VFW led everyone in the Pledge of Allegiance. I remember how he prefaced his part with a long July 4th introduction. He praised the flag for being “unsullied in emblemizing mankind’s struggle for freedom, unparalleled in standing in defense of human rights and the pursuit of justice, blessed by God above all others as the flag of his New Chosen People.”

It was enough to turn my stomach.

My nausea was induced by what I knew the U.S. was doing in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. Like everyone else, I knew about Mai Lai, Agent Orange, the Phoenix Program, the Pentagon Papers and merciless illegal bombings of civilians.

My revulsion was also fired by my growing awareness of what the United States was doing in the Third World in general and especially in Latin America where the liberation theology I was studying was powerfully shaping consciousness throughout the hemisphere. Its insistence on historical and structural analysis had caused a paradigm shift in my own perception. Increasingly, I was seeing the United States as the Sandinista Anthem would later phrase it, “the enemy of mankind.”

Somehow I got through my speech without having anyone walk out. I still wonder why.

These days I’m feeling even more alienated than I did more than 40 years ago. Contemporary realities have actually turned me against July 4th celebrations.

Afghanistan, Iraq, Abu Ghraib and the use of drone technology to execute U.S. citizens and anyone in the world without due process are only part of the syndrome this time around. It’s what we’ve recently learned from Ed Snowden, Bradley Manning and Julian Assange that make flag-waving and Pledges of Allegiance so repulsive. Now when I see fireworks, I can only think of Dick Cheney and the “Shock and Awe” pyrotechnics we all saw on CNN when Our Great Country used lies and false pretenses to attack a sovereign nation that had never done us any harm. As Allen Greenspan said in effect, Iraq’s curse and crime was having huge supplies of high grade crude.

As for celebrating our Great Constitution, Snowden’s revelations coupled with a mere reading of the Fourth Amendment are enough to give anyone pause: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” Yes, the Constitution’s fine; but increasingly it’s a dead letter.

Similarly, my willingness to celebrate American democracy is tempered these days by memories of the 2000 “election” of George W. Bush through the intervention of his brother who happened to be governor of Florida with the power to deliver the White House to his dear sibling. The machinations of brother Jeb and a crony Supreme Court would have been comical in any Banana Republic scenario. Having it occur in the United States was more than embarrassing. Subsequent insistence on our privilege to monitor and invalidate elections elsewhere in the world has made us the international laughing stock we’ve hoped to make countries like Venezuela and Iran.

And then there’s Republican redistricting, voter suppression, Citizens United, and the recent SCOTUS evisceration of the Voting Rights Act. What’s that you say about free elections?

The crowning glory of all this embarrassment is our country’s willingness to end life as we know it on Planet Earth by blocking every serious attempt to reverse climate change. President Obama’s recent tepid declarations notwithstanding, the U.S. persists in catastrophic denial of what every serious scientific study reiterates: we are on the road to destruction with the “America” blazing the trail.

Our country’s willingness to end life as we know it on our marvelous planet (not to mention our wars and arms industry) is reason enough to believe that Mother Earth would be better off if the U.S. just dropped off the map. Think about it: the earth would be better off without the United States’ pollution, wars and “Way of Life.”

That’s why I’ll do no flag waving or banner display. I’ll recite no Pledges of Allegiance, nor stand for the Star Spangled Banner. Patriotic speeches and other jingoistic claptrap will draw no applause from me.

It’s all gotten so bad and such a matter of public record that it might even make my VFW friend turn over in his grave.

The Boston Marathon Bombing: Our Wake-Up Call

Pakistan Drone Victims

Last Tuesday I shocked some of my blog readers by observing that the carnage of the Boston Marathon bombing paled in comparison with the mayhem the U.S. inflicts daily on anyone who happens to be near designated enemies in places like Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Syria, Yemen, Libya and elsewhere. My observations were dismissed by some as “incredibly insensitive” and as the “garbage” comments of an armchair philosopher unacquainted with the brutality of “those Jihadists.” One former army chaplain accused me of having a screw loose somewhere.

Be that as it may, I was in reality simply trying to highlight the double standard most of us have internalized concerning our own victimhood when tragedy strikes close to home. We wring our hands and ask “Why us?” Meanwhile we exhibit little compassion for those our country’s policies punish with the equivalents of Boston Marathon bombings virtually every day. Our media regularly ignore those tragedies and so insult our country’s victims with the mainstream media’s (and our) own brand of incredible insensitivity.

The implication of ignoring the suffering of the victims of U.S. policy is that “American” lives and children are more valuable than the lives and offspring of “those others.” We seem convinced that our “holy wars” are somehow different from their jihads. Any fool, we imply (and sometimes state) would see that we are good and they are evil. We are, after all, the exceptional, indispensable nation.

That conviction of American exceptionalism seems impervious to fact and memory. It allows U.S. perpetrators of human rights abuses such as wars of aggression, death squads, drone killings, torture, imprisonment-without-charge, voter suppression, and incarceration of whistle-blowers to pontificate about those same human rights violations when they occur in other countries.

Consider the following:

• The Obama administration is currently withholding its recognition of the results of last week’s election of Nicolas Maduro as president of Venezuela. Maduro was the personal choice of U.S. bête noir, Hugo Chavez. Standing alone in its refusal to recognize his electoral victory (except for the arch-conservative Spanish administration) and despite assurances of international election observers and the Venezuelan National Election Commission, the United States solemnly insists that Venezuelans deserve a complete recount of every single vote.

Apparently, the Obama folks have forgotten the 2000 election of George W. Bush when its country’s own government refused to perform a recount, even though the eventual loser had verifiably received more votes than the winner. That victor was finally selected not by popular vote but by the Supreme Court dominated by his cronies.

In the light of such irregularities, not to mention gerrymandering, legalized vote-buying sanctioned by “Citizens United,” voter suppression of minorities, and refusal to set up the paper trail the Venezuelan system has so firmly established, wouldn’t you think our government would recognize that it’s lost all moral ground to lecture others about or adjudicate “free and fair” elections? No – not when inconvenient truths can be successfully flushed down George Orwell’s memory hole. Despite evidence to the contrary, Americans are still convinced their election system is the world’s gold standard. Go figure.

• The week before last Beyonce and Jay-Z decided to celebrate their 5th wedding anniversary in Cuba. Their decision drew immediate response from Miami expatriates of Cuba who descried the couple’s implied support for such an egregious violator of human rights as Cuba.

Apparently, the objectors had forgotten that the U.S. has a higher percentage of its population in prison than Cuba or any other nation in the world for that matter. Additionally, the “Americans” maintain a world-wide system of secret jails for political prisoners. Practically all of the 166 incarcerated in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba are currently on hunger strike protesting their inhuman treatment there. The “American” torture and even murder of its political prisoners is better documented than any alleged mistreatment of prisoners in Cuba or anywhere else you might care to name.

And yet, U.S. patriots somehow feel free to lecture Cuba about respect for human rights. Can you say “denial;” can you say “1984” or “memory hole?” Once again, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, Americans are still convinced that the United States is somehow the world’s leading defender and observer of human rights.

• Last week the Obama administration’s press secretary, Jay Carney sanctimoniously justified (with a straight face) the refusal of visas to 18 Russian citizens. The banned individuals were all linked to the case of Sergei Magnitsky, a whistle-blower lawyer who had exposed widespread corruption and theft of national resources by high officials in the Russian government. Magnitsky had died in prison while awaiting trial. His death sparked congressional passage of the “Magnitsky Act” to protect whistle-blowers – in Russia.

Carney intoned,

“This administration is committed to working with the Congress to advance universally recognized human rights worldwide, and we will use the tools in the Magnitsky Act and other available legal authorities to ensure that persons responsible for the maltreatment and death of Mr. Magnitsky are barred from traveling to the United States and doing business here.”

Apparently, Carney wants us to forget the fact that untold (literally) numbers of incarcerated individuals have died in U.S. political prisons – many of them directly under torture. He wants us to forget that the Obama administration has virtually transformed whistle-blowing (i.e. the exposure of government and military crimes) from an act of virtue to a felony.

More specifically, Carney’s consigned to the memory hole the fact that the Obama administration has indicted more whistle-blowers than all previous administrations combined. In doing so he has criminalized the prophetic act of speaking truth to power. This is best illustrated in the case of Bradley Manning, the U.S. Army whistle-blower who obeyed his conscience and Army regulations by going public with the war crimes he observed. His reward? Imprisonment without charge, torture, and a possible life sentence. Here again we’re expected to believe that the United States respects “universally recognized human rights worldwide.” We really respect them universally only in places like Russia.

You see, it’s not just that official hand-wringing over the Boston Marathon Bombing highlights U.S. hypocrisy concerning the injuries and deaths of the innocent people it’s responsible for killing; it’s that such hypocrisy has become a way of life. It has blinded U.S. citizens to the fact that their country is not at all exceptional except in its disregard for universal human rights and international law.

It’s time for “Americans” to realize that their country long ago lost any moral ground they once believed it occupied. It’s time for politicians to observe humble and repentant silence about human rights, election validity, and whistle-blowers.

As it turns out, the Marathon Bombing is only a faint “retail” reflection of the wholesale mayhem the United States routinely wreaks in every corner of the planet. Cuba is a paragon of virtue compared to the U.S. Nicolas Maduro owns far more legitimacy than did George Bush who committed those war crimes Bradley Manning has been punished for exposing.

The Marathon Bombing was a wake-up call.

Name and Shame Republican Attempts at Voter Suppression

Gerrymander[1]

It is interesting to watch the Republicans floundering about wondering how to deal with the rebuke of the last General Election and with the country’s changing demographics largely responsible for that rejection. Some in the party recognize the mistake of having surrendered so completely to the Tea Party faction and to the “Christianist” extremists who like their “Islamist” counterparts live in the distant past and refuse to address the post-modern world on its own terms.

For one, Bobby Jindal, the Republican governor of Louisiana, has urged his party affiliates to stop being the Party of Stupid. He expressed dismay at candidates, for instance, who in the last election adopted the position that women using contraceptives are “whores,” and that female bodies automatically prevent pregnancies resulting from rape. He might have added that denying climate change and evolution is also part of the Republican image of Know-Nothing ignorance.

However, others Republicans want to double down on their party’s extremism, shift even further to the right, and seek election victories by changing the rules of the electoral game rather than responding to the game changes that are represented by the post-modern spirit of the 21st century. These others now want the battleground states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida, Wisconsin, and Virginia to allocate Electoral College votes not on the traditional winner-take-all system, but according to victories in the congressional districts Republicans have so successfully gerrymandered in recent years.

Such reallocation would mean that Mitt Romney would have won the election last November despite being decisively beaten by more than 5 million votes. The changed way of apportioning electoral votes would allow the Christianist-dominated party to win elections the way they’ve won control of the House of Representatives – on procedural technicalities rather than by winning voter approval.

This choice of procedure over necessary political change mirrors and carries to even further extreme Republican attempts at voter suppression that backfired so disastrously last fall. There they chose misinformation, crooked machines, long waiting lines, and voter intimidation over meaningful response to the legitimate concerns of women, minorities, the unemployed, gays and immigrants. Such procedural choices culminating now in this Electoral College gambit project an image of elderly, out-of-touch, bitter and desperate white people who no longer believe in democracy.

Apart from being a sad display of cynicism, the Republican’s is a strategy that small “d” democrats cannot allow to succeed whatever their party tendencies might be.
Recently John Nichols has advanced three suggestions for thwarting the Christianist extreme’s clear assault on democracy (http://www.opednews.com/articles/2/Three-Strategies-to-Block-by-John-Nichols-130126-217.html).

The first is to “Name and Shame,” i.e. to bring this issue out of the shadows and publicize its cynicism. The blog posting you are now reading is an attempt to lend my small voice to this process. The hope is that it may stimulate thought and debate among the readers of this blog and their friends and acquaintances.

According to Nichols, the second way to combat this latest form of voter suppression is to join the campaign to eliminate the Electoral College. This should have happened following the fiasco of the 2000 election. But inexplicably, Democrats did not push the issue. Of course, setting aside the Electoral College would require a Constitutional amendment. However the campaign is already underway and is advanced by FairVote: The Center for Voting and Democracy.

The third approach to Republican anti-democracy strategies is to make the gerrymandering of congressional districts a public issue. For a long time the courts have frowned upon the practice of drawing district lines to strengthen the hand of the majority party in Congress. However the judicial branch has been lax in giving legal implementation to its disapproval.

Granted, Congressional districts need to be redrawn on a regular basis. But redrawing should be accomplished with the goal of securing representation more reflective of the electorate’s make-up, and not in order to win elections for the majority party. To this end, the legal criterion of “compact and contiguous” should be reasserted as the fundamental guiding principle. All of this should be brought to the fore in public debate.

Now is the time to act on Nichols’ suggestions – while the memory of Republican voter-suppression tactics is still fresh in the minds of scandalized Americans. The electoral system needs reforming. There is no time like the present for beginning that process.