America the Oblivious?
By, Natalie K.
America is no longer the America we once knew. The United States is no longer "a free country" in the sense that it was meant to be at its conception. Yes, these are bold statements, but they ring true when looking at the facts. Over the past six years alone we have witnessed injustice after injustice, yet, it seems that the average American hasn't a clue about what is going on or simply chooses to ignore the situations at hand. As people blindly follow our government, they actually put us in danger of losing each of the freedoms that our country was founded on, and this is already well underway.
Very recently our country has dealt with, in no particular order, unconstitutional surveillance (NSA Wiretap), mixing of church and state (gay-marriage ban), war under false pretense (no W.M.D.'s), Election hijacking (Florida), widespread and severe prejudice (against Muslims and those of middle-eastern decent), threats to Habeas Corpus (Military Commissions act), threats to freedom of the press (new FCC rules), and the list goes on. How can we as a nation continue to idly sit by and allow these things to occur without a second thought as to what they mean for our country? The answer is that we can't if we want to preserve our ideal way of life. Let's analyze some of these areas more closely. To start, why don't we take a look at how our current administration came to be in power in the first place.
We all remember the fiasco of the Bush vs. Gore elections. Did we or didn't we vote for him? Were the "chads" to blame? In reality, the chads were the least of our problems! Given only minute coverage by the mass media was major scandal throughout Florida (a swing state and "coincidentally," brother Jeb's state as well).
In the state of Florida, if you have been convicted of a felony, you lose your privilege to vote. During the 2000 elections 91,000 names were deemed "potential felons" by the state and 57,700 of them were completely discarded, never to be counted at all (Hamil). After some felt that something seemed odd (and rightfully so) an independent investigation was called upon. The results found that 90% of the names that were on this list were, in fact, non or ex felons (ex meaning they had their rights restored) and the majority of the list was made up of people who were Democrats/Minorities (specifically African American) (Cusac/ Hamil )!
They had also found that the State didn't seem to mind if the name was an exact match or not. It seems that so long as they were "close enough" and seemed to fit the criteria, they were "good enough." For example, if your name is "Catharine O'Neil" or "Jon Smith," and a felon's name is "Katharine O'Neal" or "John Smithe," then you were both purged from the voting list (Hamil). Despite the investigation's findings, the damage had already been done and the elections were over with by its end anyway. We had our new president. But now, we skip over four years and come to the RE-election.
After concerns with recounts, chads, and the little situation of our felon lists, it did seem that a bit more attention was paid to the following presidential election. However, on the government's side of things, matters only became worse for many of our people. New rules were instated that included having to show more forms of ID than before, and picture ID, in states where it was technically not a necessary thing to do. People were restricted to more specific voting areas (not permitted to vote anywhere else). Think of the elderly, handicapped, and/or impoverished voters. These are the people who may not have driver's licenses and, in order to obtain any other form of ID, must pay money to get certain documents that they may no longer have in their possession (for one reason or another) such as SS cards, and Birth certificates. Not to mention the fact that they have to find the time to get to all of these places (which can mean finding transportation, taking off of needed work, and so on and so forth). These laws were reinforced by the HAVA (Help America Vote Act) which was signed by President Bush in 2002 as a way to "replace outdated voting systems," and to bring all states up to par with Florida's "wonderful" electronic system (Harris). Then there was the problem of poll watching.
"Poll watchers," reportedly very intimidating ones, were sent out, mainly by the Republican Party, to keep potential "fraudulent" votes from being submitted. Poll worker's also joined in on this task when they began asking for proof of citizenship, a wrongful question at the polling sites when someone is already on the voters list (Cucas). As Alma Gonzales put it, "They cannot ask you your citizenship at the polling place, it's unlawful. When that question is asked because of your skin color or the fact that you have an accent, it's not intended to ensure that you're complying with the law, it's intended to suppress votes." (Cucas). So, despite closer watch, 2004 still had its "kinks" that, in the end, most certainly affected many, many of voters.
Looking at the problems we have had in our past two presidential elections, it is clear that the people's votes and rights have not been on the top of the priority list of our nation. In a democratic country, the right to vote and have every vote truly count is the most important aspect. Without this, we cease to be a democratic society, in effect becoming a dictatorship. Who knows what other voting scandals there have been that we have not discovered yet (and may never). But, again, those elections are past (hopefully we will do better this next time around). Our president is George W. Bush and what a president he has been.
As president, Bush has bestowed upon himself the title of a "war-time president" which he seems to wear rather proudly. After the 9/11 terror attacks (which absolutely wreaked of scandal themselves), the president used the tragedy as an excuse to get the American people all riled up for war. Thus, "The War on Terror" was born. But this, similar to the idea of the "War on Drugs," was not a real enough war. No, Bush had to find a way to link the idea to "Daddy's arch nemesis" Saddam Hussein and the country of Iraq. And he did.
We have all heard (and taken part in) the conversation(s) that follow. "Why did we go to war with Iraq again? Oh yeah, it was because Al Qaeda was hiding there and Saddam had ties with Osama Bin Laden, right? No, no, wait, it was because we "KNEW" that they were definitely building weapons of mass destruction (W.M.D.'s) for the specific purpose of attacking America! No, that wasn't it either, it was because the Iraqi people were being suppressed and we had to be the ones to liberate them (we are the "Freedom Fighters" after all)." Or, in all honesty, was it simply because war is profitable in itself, war allows the administration to get away with making its desired "changes," and very likely because of OIL? Which answer is it? The latter set of reasons certainly seems logical at this point.
Lying to the American Public about the W.M.D.'s and the war in Iraq (among other things) and then getting caught didn't seem to phase this administration one bit. There was no official apology, retraction of statements, admittance of mistake, or anything of the sort. And the war still went on, with one new excuse after another being given as to why we were there and why we are continuing to stay there now (longer than we were in all of World War II, I might add).
During these simultaneous "wars" (the "War in Iraq" and the "War on Terror") the Bush administration has used the "It's war-time" excuse to get away with removing our basic freedoms and rights to things like having a private life, free from government interference, and the right to innocence until guilt is proven. The first time this was realized by the masses was after the information leak about the Illegal NSA Wiretapping scandal.
According to an article in the New York Times, about 500 people have been spied on at a time, right here in the United States, and that is without any warrants (Lichtblau). This means that literally thousands have very likely been illegally spied on since the beginning of the program. As the USA Patriot Act worked to legitimize the spying, it came under scrutiny because of its expanding surveillance to library cards, public domain internet searches, and following peaceful war protests (Lichtblau). This is similar to the FBI files that were opened against protesters of the Vietnam War as well as people working for the Civil Rights of minorities. In the words of Benjamin Franklin, "They, who would give up an essential liberty for temporary security, deserve neither liberty nor security," (Wikiquote). This quote is more fitting now than ever.
The Patriot Act came along to legitimize the illegal spying situation, after they had already been in process for some time, mind you. This has been a repeated strategy for the Bush administration. "Do something that is technically illegal now, and then make up a new set of laws that will make it ok later!" After the Patriot Act worked so well for this, they went even further and produced "The Military Commissions Act of 2006."
During the years following the September 11th tragedy it is reported that our government caused people to "disappear," secretly detained prisoners , severely physically, emotionally, and mentally tortured said prisoners, denied Habeas Corpus rights, and engaged in "unfair trial procedures," among other atrocities, all in the name of the "War On Terror" (Amnesty International). When some of these things were brought to light, and judges began hearing cases of Habeas Corpus infringement and Torture, was when the Military Commissions Act was literally rushed through to law, putting a halt to pending cases and making all of their illegal war crimes (listed above) now "legal" as well as making legal, on a technicality, crimes that had been committed in prior times (Amnesty International). Everyone was getting off the hook. Judges were told that cases were out of their jurisdiction, and detainees have been forbidden to talk to lawyers, especially about any torture they have endured, with the feeble excuse that it is considered "classified information." The act is written in such vague terms that it seems that virtually anyone can be considered an "Enemy Combatant" if the president and his people so chooses. Once branded with this title they can be subject to the nightmares listed above with little to no hope for justice (Amnesty International).
Not surprisingly, out of the hundreds of foreigners (and legal residents) that have been arrested since September 11th, the majority of them have been Muslim. Hundreds were taken into custody without being charged for anything while thousands were brought in for "questioning" and none of these were found to be terrorists (The freedom Paradox). One could say that it seems to have become almost a crime in this country to be a Muslim. Actual congressmen have used derogatory terms such as "rag heads" (Kingslover, 606). Many of the American people sadly echo these ideologies as well.
During a routine radio broadcast, host Jerry Klein decided to conduct an experiment of sorts. He dedicated that day's show to discussing the "Muslim problem." He threw out idea's of having Muslims wear mandatory markers (crescent moons to be exact) so that they could be easily identified (Debusmann). While some callers did call in to tell him he was "off his rocker," others called to congratulate him on his great ideas and add a few of their own. Some thought tattooing the symbol would be appropriate, others felt that designated living quarters, such as those like the camps used in World War II for holding Japanese and Germans right here in the US, would be a better idea, while others simply said that Muslims should be "shipped out of the country." In the end Klein revealed that his proposals were not serious and scolded his audience by saying "Basically what you just did was show me how the German people allowed what happened to the Jews to happen ... We need to separate them, we need to tattoo their arms, we need to make them wear the yellow Star of David, we need to put them in concentration camps, we basically just need to kill them all because they are dangerous "(Debusmann). Not only do our ordinary citizens have these feelings against Muslims, but apparently entire corporations do as well.
U.S. Airways had six Muslim leaders removed from one of their flights for praying in the lobby of the air port prior to boarding. The men were questioned by the FBI who then found them to be innocent and immediately released them. But after the release they were still not permitted to re-enter the plane nor were they allowed to board a different flight home. When the men requested that the company assist them in booking a flight with another agency, they were denied that request as well. Apparently this was not the first time that US Airways had pulled something like this either ( High-Flying,). Our nation now "fears the Muslims," an idea that, let's face it, has been greatly influenced (at least in-part) by our own government. But we have also been told to fear those who would speak against the Bush administration or the war at all.
Barbara Kingslover explains it perfectly when she states, "It's a fact of our culture that the loudest mouths get the most airplay, and the loudmouths are saying that in times of crisis it's treasonous to question our leaders" (Kingsolver, 606). If you speak out against Bush and the war, to many, you are considered unpatriotic and are even told that you are "aiding the terrorists with this sort of talk." A perfect counter quote to this is one by former president Theodore Roosevelt that goes as follows, "To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American Public," (Roosevelt). Not only is it all of the things that good old Teddy Roosevelt stated but it is, most importantly, dangerous (as can be seen when looking at examples such as with Nazi Germany). Yet, in the over-all scheme of things, it is plain to see that one will, many times, be shut out as soon as they begin talk of anti-Bush agendas. This is common in the mainstream news outlets. Speaking of these, media itself is another area that has been threatened recently.
A vote that may greatly affect one of our country's founding freedoms is one in the FCC. If passed, this new FCC ruling would greatly relax broadcast ownership rules making it easier for one corporation to own the majority of media outlets. In an interview, Mark Cooper (of Consumer Federation of America) gave some facts and percentages about the situations at hand, stating that "[Only] one or two percent of stations [are] owned by representatives of minority groups and women. Second of all, the concentration of these media markets makes it more difficult for minority owners to have access and gain control of stations." Cooper goes on to say that, "A lot of the stations that were sold in the last ten years were sold because [the FCC] relaxed the rules once, so it makes it harder for us to achieve our goal of a more representative media space" (Latino, Monitor Group). It is obvious that having a monopoly of media that is owned by rich, older, white men (which we already pretty much have now), is not going to help the suppressed people of the country let their voices be heard. But it also would greatly hinder the ability of our nation to exercise its rights to "freedom of the press."
Despite what one may say, if you are being paid by the big man behind the curtain, and he doesn't want you to cover a certain story, than you are most likely going to obey him, rather than lose your job and check. So only things that they feel will have no true effect on them, or are in their best interest, will be let through the gate keeper's grasps. Meaning that everything else will be left to smaller, weaker, and lesser known underground media sources (as it pretty much is now as well).
So let's recap. All at once in this day and age, we are faced with the idea of voting scandals that weaken our democracy, acts and bills that destroy our basic rights (to things like privacy, humane treatment, and Habeas Corpus), pending FCC rulings that could further suppress all of our voices, increasing ideas of prejudice that technically damage many people's "freedom of religion," along with a number of other problems (some of which were also mentioned in the beginning of this piece) to numerous to list. It is quite overwhelming, to say the least. One more quote that is particularly fitting to the present situations is this "It is the response to terrorism, rather than the terror itself, that does democracy the most harm" (The Freedom Paradox). We are a people that seem consumed by a rampant and life altering fear. Were we always this afraid or is this a new phenomenon caused by 9/11? Either way, it certainly isn't healthy. When mentioning these issues to the average American, it seems you will many times receive nothing more than a blank stare as a response (hence, "America the Oblivious").
Something obviously needs to change and we need to change it. Feeling this way does not make one "less American" than those who continue to call our country "the greatest of all" despite any circumstances. Contrary to seemingly popular belief; blind, unconditional devotion does not equal "true patriotism!"
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