Tuesday, January 3, 2012

I Miss America

Every time I talk to Kim on Skype she asks me if it's cold here. It is- well it's in the 50s and there's no central heating. She asks me if I have electricity at the moment. Half the time I don't. she follows this up with a bit of a giggle...you have water? Yeah I usually have water. "Well it's sunny and warm in Florida, I have all the electricity I need and the even fast internet" she reminds me. Har har. But despite all this I don't really want to go back. I mean I miss my family, I'd rather that Kim was here, but I also really miss America.

This photo brings tears to my eyes

Not the physical location so much as the ideal, the idea of what America is supposed to be. Because when you really boil it down a country exists only in the minds of people that we all agree that it exists and that it binds us with certain rules. The rules of my country were some of the better conceived in man's history, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, while not flawless documents set out to do something different from those before it- not dictate to the people what rights the government had over them, but it enshrined protection of the people from the hands of the government. If the founders who wrote those documents could see what we are putting up with and allowing now they would be deeply ashamed of us.

Sure, before I was born much damage had already been done to remove us from the true ideals of a free society. At no time have we been pure, be it the acceptance of slavery, the institution of Jim crow laws, Connecticut Blue laws (some of which are almost humorously still on the books), the removal of States representation in DC by making the Senate popularly elected, the suspension of Habeas Corpus during the Civil War, the confiscation of private gold holdings under FDR, the violent crackdown of peaceful assembly in the 60s, and the rise of the public-private partnership of the military industrial complex following World War II were all tings that have at one time or another put a bit of a black mark (or continue to do so) on my country.

Since September 11th 2001, my country has become almost unrecognizable. We have become so deeply paranoid and filled with fear that we have given away all those things which actually made America what it was. Fast forward ten years from that date and we now have to be groped and photographed with X ray machines just to board a plane, and it looks like the TSA will be adding buses, trains, and large public events to that list. Recently three American citizens, including a 16 year old, were assassinated on foreign soil by executive decree. While one of them was most certainly a bad man, we are supposed to be a nation of rules, and not one driven by the whims of men. We knew Al Capone was a bad man, but we couldn't just off him without nailing him by the law. We are supposed to be able to have our day in court, our right to defend ourselves before our peers, the right to challenge the legality of the laws that have condemned us. Just last week in the passing of the NDAA (National Defense Authorization Act) language was included that allows the indefinite detention of American Citizens on American Soil without charges and allows the transfer of those people to prisons over seas such as Gitmo. The idea of military detention of citizens on American soil is to me abhorrent, but the idea that it can be done without charges and thus not allow the accused to fight the legality of their detention is so un-American as to leave my country almost unrecognizable from its founding intentions.

While it's cliche to say "the terrorists won", what other conclusion can there be? We gave up some of our most fundamental rights, we chased boogeymen all over the globe at the cost of thousands of soldiers lives and trillions (with a T) of dollars, spilled the blood of thousands of innocent people, and propagated more wars out of our growing insecurity. Sure we got some of the bad guys, and some of them certainly were more than legitimate targets, but the way we went about it was misserable. And why are we still even in places like Afghanistan? What the hell is our end game there? We keep trying to build up democracy and infrastructure in these far off lands that don't want it, while our Republic's physical and philosophical structure decay back home. We are spending billions of dollars overseas while Americans at home struggle without jobs.

More damning than 9/11 to me though was the handling of the 2008 financial crisis. No other event by my country in my lifetime left me so disillusioned and angry. It became very clear that our elected officials did not represent us, but were there at the behest of large banking interests that appear to have had not just the billions of dollars that were given out in TARP (something that I think was very wrong) but the Fed appears to have given out some 16 Trillion to both domestic and foreign banks.To give you an idea of how much money this is, it was enough to have paid off the consumer debt of every single American (credit cards, mortgages, student loans, etc.) and still give them $8,000 each just for fun. Not that I believe that's what they should have done, but it would have been better than what they did which was to essentially make our money worth less. Something seems wrong that average Americans are paying 8% on federal student loans while banks are given money at 0% interest.

At what point does the system become so broken and corrupt that our social contract is broken? Our forefathers raised up arms against Great Britain for far less transgressions than the current lot of would be kings in DC now put us under. I don't mean this in hyperbole either. Our tax rates are higher than theirs were under Britain, we have a dismally low opinion of those who "represent us" in DC mostly because we don't believe they do, our civil liberties are constantly being "redefined" and there are now pushes to limit our voices over the internet under the guise of an anti-piracy bill. I'm not some gung ho whack job calling for armed revolt, but if people want things to change there needs to be at least a realization that they didn't have the right to make these rules, and just because they write them down on paper doesn't bind us. They were never properly given the authority to take away what they took- but as long as we all play along they do have that power. I guess if the guys with the guns say it's law though now, it must be law. But that is not America.

Have you seen my country? I don't recognize it any more.


  1. Beautifully written Brian. Just happened to check out you blog and what a refreshing read. Hope all is well and good luck with the restaurant. My son Leo is planning to to go to Panama and open a restaurant/hostel with two others come late Spring. A new adventure in life.


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