Freedom – Utopian Idea and Unifying Objective
An Earth Manifesto essay by Dr. Tiffany B.
1, 2008 (Updated April 22, 2011)
Freedom is our human
magnetic true north. Every individual
cherishes the freedom to act as they like, and to march to whatever drummer they
choose. The United States of America
was founded on the principle of liberty.
We have been “the
beacon of hope and freedom to all oppressed peoples,” as Ronald Reagan once
But so far in the twenty-first century, substantial inroads have been
made against domestic freedom, using the fight against terrorism as a
instructive to think about Huck Finn, who was all about freedom: freedom from “sivilizing” conformity and
freedom from routine, and even freedom from slavery when he rounded the bend in
the river and realized that his friend Jim was a human being who deserved
rights too. Yet in his 1840’s
sensibilities, Huck’s conscience was defined by the prevailing prejudices of
white culture in the slave state of Missouri.
This gave Huck a deeply perplexing confusion about whether it was right
to help the slave Jim escape from his owner Mrs. Watson. Huck struggled with his conscience over the
question of whether it was okay to regard Jim as a true friend and a benevolent
father figure. It was a revolutionary
concept back in those days for him to even consider Jim as being an equal human
A generational sea
change is now taking place in American politics. It has arisen partially as a reaction against the dishonesty and
divisiveness and power abuse by Neoconservatives in the period they dominated
the federal government from 2000 to 2008.
Today, a younger generation of ‘Millennial voters’ is beginning to make
its influence felt. They understandably
feel a sense of urgency about the times, and they want significant social
change. They were very hopeful and
optimistic about the possibilities of dramatic and positive social change when
they voted for Barack Obama. Subsequent
developments have revealed how difficult it is to alter the trajectory of the
ship of state. Young people and many
others want win-win solutions to social, environmental and geopolitical
problems. They want to address the big
picture. They want us to achieve civic
healing. They reject “gotcha” politics
and divisive strategies. And they want
an end to wars and military occupations of other nations.
It is becoming increasingly
obvious that we must leave a just legacy to our descendents. To do so, we need to use our freedoms wisely. If we seek common ground, embrace higher
purposes, and act with greater responsibility, we can help achieve goals that
benefit the common good. It is highly constructive
to strive for the clearest and fairest possible awareness of situations and issues,
and to work accordingly to try to achieve positive social and economic changes.
result when our freedom to make personal choices and control our own destinies is
subordinated to abusive control and manipulatively wrong-headed leadership. We should not allow desperate exigencies, blind
patriotism, political pandering, or dogmatic beliefs to dictate our policies. The right wing seems to be rigidly bound by ideology,
and those who are radical conservatives always seem to be ready and willing to
compel others to conform to their own narrow and controlling and moralistic
ways of being, so help us God. Their ideologies
can be most accurately seen to be motivated by greed and self-interest and the
powerful impulse to force their views on others, rather than being honestly
principled. Their compulsions in this
regard are often contrary to true concepts of freedom or democratic fairness or
the equality of opportunities or the greater moral good.
We all live in societies, so
we are implicitly obligated to abide by basic civil laws and golden-rule
regulations of conduct. To
be fair-minded, we must accept the social contract that requires us to treat
others according to Golden Rule precepts. The Golden Rule is the ethical
essence of live-and-let-live fairness, and of respectful coexistence, and of
proper role of the federal government in our lives can best be understood by
viewing it from the perspective of the three principal arenas in which government
has influence: namely, in the areas of
freedom, opportunity, and security.
Ideally, government should be minimally involved in interfering
with people’s freedoms; it should be actively
engaged in ensuring the fairness of opportunity and legal justice; and it should be strongly involved in
making people truly secure and safe from internal and external threats.
other words, the government should act steadfastly to help assure liberties and
human rights; it should NOT be an agent
that unduly infringes upon them. The government
should involve itself in fairly adjudicating between competing interests. It should act as an impartial referee. It should NOT abandon the playing field to
socially irresponsible, unscrupulous, exploitive, and short-term-oriented
interests. And government should
honestly strive to make its citizens safer and more secure, NOT to intimidate
them, oppress them, deceive them, jeopardize the fiscal stability of the
country, or erode the underpinnings of general prosperity. It should also refrain from unnecessarily
making war on neighbors for unjust, unethical and wrong-headed purposes.
characterizes politics today? It’s ‘backasswards’! Too often the government acts like ‘Big
Brother’, meddling in our freedoms and interfering with our civil liberties and
striving to socially engineer society into narrow, antiquated and puritanical
visions of propriety. It allows
lobbyists to write major provisions of all legislation, to the distinct detriment
of the greater good. It
bureaucratically bumbles by allowing vested interests to abuse their power and
exploit people in order to profit at the taxpayers’ expense. It fails to accomplish important duties like
properly regulating banks and big businesses and extractive industries. It prosecutes those involved in victimless
crimes. It spies on citizens. And it blatantly acts as a military aggressor
that mismanages international affairs.
leaders use fear and ideologically specious arguments to advance foreign policies
that make the American people less safe in many ways. It also unwisely makes people in the countries we attack less
is a colossal irony that we Americans claim to be promoting electoral democracy
abroad when we are allowing our leaders to subvert it in so many ways here at
home. We are risking our individual
political freedoms as well as our personal civil rights by accepting leadership
that works overtime to dismantle our democracy. Does this sound like a crazy contention? Read the postscript at the end of this essay
for the “Top Ten Official Ways to Subvert American Democracy”, and think about
them; and then decide for yourself!
The book and film
Charlie Wilson’s War dealt with
Congressional funding for the CIA-backed freedom-fighting mujahedeen warlords who fought against the harsh Soviet occupation
of Afghanistan from 1980 to 1988. The
enormous geopolitical and fiscal costs of the Soviet Union’s occupation contributed
to the eventual fragmentation and collapse of the Soviet empire. The realization that military occupation costs
can have calamitous consequences should have given our leaders pause when they
were making plans to invade Middle Eastern countries after 9/11.
crowed jubilantly in 1988 about the Soviet defeat. Yet, 15 years later, we threw ourselves into a similar
predicament. It is reminiscent of our
blunder into Vietnam after the French had been defeated there in 1954. We may well become the second Superpower to
crumble in reaction to the extremely high costs of a military occupation of
rugged Afghanistan, where marauding invaders have been traipsing over Khyber
Pass for millennia. Our costly Iraq
adventurism certainly compounds and exacerbates this potentiality!
If this sounds like alarmism or an exaggeration, consider the June 2010
words of Admiral Mike Mullen, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff: “Our national debt is our biggest national
security threat.” Yikes! Our militarism may be good for profiteering
by a wide subset of vested interests, but it surely is not the best plan we can
need a better master plan than occupying entire foreign nations and stationing
millions of military personnel and their families abroad to maintain the
hegemony of our superpower domination.
The film Charlie Wilson’s War ends after the
Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan. It
showed that our representatives were not willing to invest in the stability of
that country after having been so eager to spend money for military purposes
during the war. Thus politicians in the
U.S. abandoned the Afghani people and failed to help them with infrastructure
assistance and schools that would have helped prevent Muslim extremism from
taking hold. It is typical for us to
profligately support war and covert operations, but not to understand or admit
that it would be far wiser and more just to use constructive foreign aid to
help people avoid becoming citizens of failed states.
War is a destabilizing
and ineffective way of conducting foreign policy. Since our invasion of Afghanistan, there has been a powerful resurgence
of opium-poppy-growing in this mountainous country. This has made Afghanistan the source for more than 90% of the international
heroin trade. The enormous sums of
money generated by this illicit trade are funneled into extensive
money-laundering operations that finance international crime and terrorism and
other ‘evils’ in the world.
In Charlie Wilson’s War,
a protagonist talks about a Zen master’s observation concerning the
subjectivity of judgments and expected outcomes. “We’ll see,” counsels the Zen master. The United States launched the war against Iraq with bombing
operations that began on March 20, 2003.
Forty-two days later, on May 1, George W. Bush gave his infamous speech
proclaiming that “Major combat operations in Iraq have ended. In the battle of Iraq, the United States and
our allies have prevailed.” Really? We have seen that this was actually far from
true. More than four thousand ‘troops’
have been killed in Iraq, and more than 30 thousand have been injured. The monetary costs and the Iraqi citizen
deaths and injuries and infrastructure calamities are rather terrible. It is a tragedy, and one that George Bush
chose based on a ruthless strategy and hyped up fears and deceptions.
President Bush pulled the stunt of landing on the USS Abraham Lincoln
aircraft carrier in a flight suit as a passenger on a fighter jet to give this
speech in 2003. A banner proclaiming
‘Mission Accomplished’ was clearly visible in the background. At the time, many who either supported or
opposed the war thought in the back of their minds, “We’ll see”. The military occupation had officially
begun, and more than 96 percent of the casualties in the ongoing war lay
Yes, we are seeing. More than eight
years have elapsed, and Iraq is a mess.
It is beset by very high unemployment, a devastated infrastructure, and
extensive physical and economic insecurity.
Millions of refugees have fled the violent conflict to neighboring
countries. We have spent well over 700
billion dollars, and run up our national debt by using the expediency of huge
budget deficits. We have done this in
order to fight wars while implementing an accompanying regressive domestic
agenda. And still, the end of combat
operations in Iraq remains elusive.
Dick Cheney and George Bush always generally stuck defiantly to the story
that things were going well with our wars.
It is like the old conundrum joke: there is good news --- that we have not been militarily
defeated; there is bad news --- that
the war costs have been exorbitant, possibly crippling, by any realistic
assessment; there is good news --- that
Republican leaders can still claim that maybe there is hope that our actions in
the Middle East will result in “victory”;
there is bad news --- that the unintended consequences of our aggression
will likely prove to be severe, and the cost will eventually exceed $3
trillion, no matter how hard-nosed we are in cost cutting to programs that
serve injured veterans who need healthcare.
States covertly supported the mujahedeen during
the occupation of Afghanistan by the Soviets.
We did this by using CIA operatives and the secret police organization
in Pakistan, the ISI. By doing so, our
leaders facilitated the rise of the repressive Taliban and groups like al Qaeda,
which was led by Osama bin Laden. We
have seen how this is turning out.
attacks were the predictable blowback consequences of our having angered
Islamic extremists, who regard Americans as the new ‘infidels’ after the Soviet
defeat. The U.S. has been, after all,
dominating and humiliating Muslim countries economically for decades. We have used severe economic sanctions and
maintained large military forces and engaged in subversive covert operatives in
nations throughout the Middle East for decades.
blowback”!? Yes, check it out: read Chalmers Johnson foresightful book Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of
American Empire. This book was
written in the year 2000, well before the 9/11/01 attacks. The late Chalmers Johnson essentially
predicted the general nature of violent repercussions that our foreign policies
were likely to beget.
In my opinion,
we would have been wise to have heeded the incisive observations of Mark Twain,
who observed that “It is easier to stay
out than get out.”
Gosh, I wish we could find more effective ways to tame the megalomaniacal
Rambo impulses of our leaders, and to eliminate the greedy motives and systemic
allowances for unscrupulous profiteers to gain from war!
The U.S. levied ‘excess profits taxes’ on companies profiting from war
during World War I and World War II and the Korean War. Today, however, such profiteering has become
an almost invisible and unacknowledged aspect of our national economy. It seems to me that we should implement new
‘excess profits taxes’ to help pay for our wars today. This might even discourage investors from
supporting war so eagerly!
Zen masters point out that
everything is hitched together in the Universe. This would imply that any story can be accessed from any entry
point. Any portal in a storm! Let’s start another place: with the Boston Tea
Party. Because our Founding Fathers
opposed taxes without representation, activists amongst them dumped a bunch of
tea in Boston Harbor on December 16, 1773.
This helped spark war with Britain and the American Revolution. Colonists became freedom fighters to throw
off the oppressive yoke of British colonial mercantilism and economic
Our founders collected
every indignant idealistic idea they could find to create one of the most
audacious proclamations in world history, the Declaration of Independence.
“We hold these truths to be
self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their
Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and
the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are
instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the
governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these
ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute
new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its
powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety
Our Founding Fathers
continued, saying that it is the right and duty of those exposed to “a long
train of abuses and usurpations” to alter their system of government. They then adduced a long list of valid
grievances against the King of Great Britain.
All American citizens should read this Declaration of Independence again, and
think about it, and consider the grievances of the times in the context of
America today. Such a study would
surely reveal the many parallels that our federal government is currently using
to abuse its power. It would provoke a
new realization: we need to once again
revolutionarily transform our nation. The
geostrategic master plan advocated by discredited but still powerful Neoconservative
voices resembles that of imperial Britain of yore, much more so than it
resembles the idealistic Union of the original thirteen States!
Back in July 2008, I
wrote here: “We must reject a
continuation of these failed Neocon policies in the November 2008 elections by
opposing the war enthusiast, lobbyist-friendly, anti-choice candidacy of John
McCain, who would probably have been a much better president than George W.
Bush in the year 2000, but who now threatens to perpetuate the Bush idiocies
beyond this year.” I applaud the people
in having elected Barack Obama. The
intervening years, however, have proven that our political system is so powerfully
invested in war and inequality that we need to ramp up the pressure of public
opinion against these on-going follies.
British imperialism and
militarism made our Founding Fathers so angry mad that, after they won the
Revolutionary War to gain independence, they worked for a dozen years on a plan
for a new form of democratic governance of the fledgling republic. They eventually enunciated their ideas in
the forward-thinking U.S. Constitution and a Bill of Rights. These documents were not only idealistic,
but quite practical and utilitarian and flexibly forward-thinking, too. They provide a framework in which our
American institutions have been able to remain versatile in order to adapt to
changing conditions and forestall eventual decline and collapse.
In the same year that
the Declaration of Independence was
written, Adam Smith, a Scottish economist, wrote the veritable manifesto of
capitalism, An Inquiry into the Nature
and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. Both
documents emphasized freedom. Adam
Smith advocated free enterprise and unrestrained free trade, noting that the
wealth of a nation is measured by the productivity and living standards of ALL
of its people, not just by its accumulated wealth. His essential argument was that private interests and
self-interested behavior contribute to the good of the whole of society.
One of the most
significant ironies in the history of ideas is that Adam Smith’s book, which
became known simply as The Wealth of
Nations, was essentially dedicated to improving the welfare of the common
man, not just to supplementing the fortunes and augmenting the privileges of
the merchants and the wealthy. Adam
Smith’s book has ironically been used by the investor and industrialist class as
a justification for NOT seeking to remedy the scandalous social ills caused by
the industrial revolution. A figurative ‘raspberry’ for those perverse
attitudes and efforts!
year 1776 also featured the great ideas of Thomas Paine, a pamphleteer whose
simple and courageous conceptions and passionate and provocative perspectives
helped to change the world. As Victor
Hugo once noted, “There is nothing more powerful than an idea whose
time has come.”
arise when the need for them starts to become obvious. At first, new ideas always meet resistance
from entrenched interests, and from conservatives and other forces favoring
inertia and fearing change. We must overcome
these forces, and cooperate with other people to achieve better social and
environmental outcomes, even if some personal behavioral ‘sacrifices’ are
We are always in the
process of seeing anew how things are, and how they change. We must all, like latter-day Zen masters, come
together in the same spirit that our Founding Fathers achieved in order to
forge revolutionary new ways of dealing with the great economic, social,
political and environmental challenges that face us here early in the twenty-first
century, midway through the Age of Oil.
The fact that everything
is hitched together is incidentally one of the most vitally important of all ecological
understandings. Everything is
interconnected and interdependent. A
consequence of this fact is that our freedom and our prosperity and survival
are dependent upon incorporating deeper insights about our impacts on the
natural world into our activities and behaviors. The extensive observations in Comprehensive
Global Perspective – An Illuminating Worldview provide a valuable
progressive unified theory of the common good in this age of relativity. I heartily recommend it. See the link in Part One on the Home Page of
the Earth Manifesto.
Think for a moment about
the principal principles upon which the United States of America was
true principles of both republicanism and democratic governance assert that individual
liberty and rule by the people are important.
They also both hold that a society should be structured so that citizens are
effectively encouraged to practice civic virtue in accordance with a
constitution and fair rules of law.
The Founding Principles
of the United States were these: the
promoting of the General Welfare; equal
rights for all citizens; fairness for
all; due process under the law; the safeguarding of citizens against
tyrannical usurpations of power; freedom from unreasonable
search and seizure of property; legal
assurances of privacy rights and the freedom
of speech and religion; the creation of a system of reasonable justice
for criminals and victims; the
protection of the freedom of individuals to pursue happiness and live their
lives in dignity; and the limitation of
abuses of power through the establishment of effective checks and balances
between the Executive and Legislative and Judicial branches of the federal
Eleven score and fifteen
years ago in the year 1776, our fathers brought forth upon the American
continent a new nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to these
‘self-evident and inalienable’ propositions.
They created a Constitution and a Bill of Rights which together form a
brilliant, visionary, strong and fair system of laws and principles. This
system has allowed many progressive advances in the years since then, including
giving freedom to black slaves, assuring them of nominally equal rights, and guaranteeing
women the same right to vote as men. Fair
labor laws and a social security safety net were established. So were vital banking and securities laws. Greater civil rights were granted to women
and minorities. Desegregation of restaurants
and schools and water fountains and such things was implemented in the 1960’s. During the same decade, vitally important environmental
protections were written into law.
The amendments to the
U.S. Constitution embodied in the Bill of Rights, together with these
progressive developments, have been intelligently designed to guarantee
everyone equal rights for two principal and very important reasons:
First, to protect the
majority from the unreasonable tyranny of the minority in power. This
recognizes the fact that most forms of government do a poor job of fairly
protecting individual citizens, particularly those with little money or power. This is especially true of monarchies,
aristocracies, dictatorships and oligarchies;
Second, to protect the rights
of minorities from the tyranny of the majority. Theocracies and fascist
governments have been especially pathetic in respecting the rights of
Powerful political forces have always tried to
erode individual freedom and rights. They
no doubt always will. They do this to
gain and protect benefits and privileges for those in power. Thomas
Jefferson once said, “The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.”
We must remain vigilant
against the authoritarian and corporatist gambits that are encroaching upon our
privacy and our freedoms in American society today. We must embrace and advance ideas and policies that are consistent
with the common good. And we must
emasculate the influence of narrow-minded and self-serving elites who already
have so many privileges and so much wealth.
We must staunchly defend
our Constitutionally-guaranteed freedoms.
“Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little
temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” This quote, which is generally attributed to the great statesman
Benjamin Franklin, has a variety of versions, some of which include the
conclusion that if we give up our freedoms for safety, we will inevitably lose
once stood regarding the reflection of some stately villas in a man-made
lake. A gentle breeze ruffled the lake
surface, causing the reflection to appear as if it were a beautiful Impressionist
painting. The reflection was just as
real as the direct visual appearance of the villas, in a sense, yet a curious
epistemological realization struck me:
sometimes things appear to be real, and sometimes they appear to be
illusion, and sometimes the way we interpret our perceptions does not
particularly accord with the true situation or the actual nature of reality. Certainty is illusive.
preponderance of evidence is sometimes so strong that we can make rather
definitive judgments, especially if we are open-minded and willing to genuinely
evaluate all points of view. It seems
quite clear, for instance, that the American people are being betrayed and exploited
by politicians. We still have a
democracy in name, for each citizen theoretically has the right to vote, but
many people are being distinctly disenfranchised. Many, including all people under the age of 18, are being
deprived of any influence in establishing sensible policies for the future. When politicians make insincere promises and
use rhetoric and deceptions that are often starkly different than the true
nature of their intentions and efforts, it deprives all people of fairer
outcomes. The real story lies deeper,
and is more complex.
An early political
compromise was the “three-fifths” rule in the U.S. Constitution. It essentially counted slaves as three-fifths
of a person for purposes of voting and taxation. After the Civil War, the Fourteenth Amendment provided that
blacks would be counted as a whole person.
Meanwhile, women still could not vote;
it took many years of suffrage struggle before they finally got the vote
in 1920; but that is a different story.
Let me explain. One of the greatest ironies in the annals of
civilization is that the Fourteenth Amendment, which was enacted to give Negro
slaves basic citizenship and human rights, has been used by giant corporations
to claim and achieve the legal status of the rights of ‘personhood’. The Fourteenth Amendment includes important
Due Process and Equal Protection clauses.
The Supreme Court long ago interpreted this Amendment as providing a
guarantee to corporations of rights that are equal to those of
individuals. This has expanded the
power and immunity of big businesses, and it has enabled corporations to
increase their abuses of power over people. Thus corporations have gained the rights of individuals while
avoiding many social responsibilities.
What kind of ‘persons’
have corporations become? In many ways,
they act almost exclusively in ways that in individuals are regarded as pathologically
insane. This point is powerfully
portrayed in the insightful book entitled The
Corporation - The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power, as well as in
the fascinating Canadian film, The
Corporation, which is based on the book. Check them out for compelling
and more extensive background information!
The influence of
corporations has become so great that it’s as if ordinary citizens have been
demoted to having a vote with an equivalent worth of only about 3/500 that of a
corporation! This is a bad idea! Business has achieved this power in three
(1) All legislation passed by Congress is
written with heavy input from corporate lobbyists, with the result that almost
every bill passed is tailored to corporate interests above all else.
(2) The Republican anti-regulation ideology has
been used to increase the power of corporations and thus to allow them to externalize
social and environmental costs upon the American public. Corporations have succeeded in this by
undermining the ‘polluter-pays principle’ and by foisting clean-up costs and
worker healthcare costs upon society.
(3) Corporations have managed to get taxes
they pay reduced, so that they are paying 60% less than the share of federal
revenues they paid in 1960. Businesses have managed to achieve this by
getting a variety of special privileges enacted for themselves and their
shareholders. This includes direct
subsidies, tax loopholes, accelerated depreciation perks, favorable capital
gains taxes, and the ability to exploit offshore tax shelters. The number
of corporations paying zero taxes on enormous profits, like General Electric,
These dubious achievements
cause three primary problems:
(1) Products do not
include a fair and full allocation of all costs involved in producing them. This distorts the free-market system and
stokes wasteful consumption, transforming our democracy into a ‘corporatocracy’
and diminishing our citizen power and our personal freedoms and putting our
security and fiscal well-being in greater jeopardy. Yes, it is a clever expediency to allow costs to be externalized
onto society, but it is an insidiously nefarious one. We must CHANGE this!
(2) Corporations use
their lawyers to bend the law, to cheat the public, to gain privileges at the
expense of people, and to subvert the legal system to their ends. Exxon, for instance, is the most profitable
corporation in world history, and yet it has fought for more than 19 years to
avoid paying judgments against it for the negligence of its captain in the
environmentally calamitous Exxon Valdez oil spill. It finally won its case to significantly reduce the punitive
damages against it in June 2008. And,
(3) Corporations often
act in socially irresponsible ways, striving to fleece the public and gain
advantages at the expense of taxpayers.
This contributes to impulses for war and increased debt in substantial
ways. If a mechanism were adopted that
required big corporations and rich people to pay a sizable portion of budget
shortfalls every year, deficit spending would end, and we would stop burdening
people in the future with enormous debt.
See the Fiscal Responsibility Act proposed in Part Four of the Earth
Manifesto’s One Dozen Big Initiatives to
Positively Transform Our Societies.
Our leaders are generally
busy pandering to entrenched interests and forces that militate for special
privileges and war. They give
inadequate attention to solving serious existential problems such as the
squandering and depletion of resources, our dangerous dependence to fossil
fuels, the escalating needs for alternative energy policies, and the threats that
are posed by global warming and related disruptions of weather patterns. Furthermore, trends toward extreme
inequities and price increases for food, gasoline, healthcare and other necessities
are causing destabilizing discontent. Maintaining
the status quo is foolish, and policies that contribute to these outcomes are costly
Borrowing and spending
and causing the national debt to increase rapidly are tactics that are impelling
us toward insolvency and social turmoil.
Not only does this pose a great risk to our national security, but it
also facilitates our devoting outlandish amounts of resources to imperialistic
adventurism and foreign wars. This is truly
misguided and shortsighted!
There are valid reasons
to be deeply cynical about the directions our federal government has taken our
country in the past decade. As a
consequence of policies that encourage profligate consumption and heavy
borrowing and record trade deficits, we are losing control of our national
financial destiny. We have been forced
to rely on the financing of our deficits by Arabs and the Chinese and Japanese
and other foreigners.
As a result, the value of our dollar has
plummeted. The Euro, which not so many
years ago cost about $.90, currently costs well over $1.40. This makes it cheaper for foreigners to buy
shares of American companies at significant discounts, and to thereby gain the
profits that we have been working so hard to ensure for investors and
speculators. All of this is taking
place at an extremely high social cost.
By pursuing radical
borrow-and-spend policies and deficit spending ways, our government is putting
us at colossal risk. It is apparently
doing this to ‘stay the course’ of stimulated consumerism and deficit financing
of tax breaks for the rich and costly military occupations of foreign
It is also a concern that the public sector has
grown so significantly over the past century.
Total spending by the U.S. government represented less than 10% of the
GDP before World War I, and then about 20% from the end of that war until World
War II, and then about 30% from the mid-1950’s to 1980. It then finally reached 40% in 2010. This should be a warning flag, because the
financing of government operations must come from somewhere, and the private
sector cannot continue to shrink until there is nothing left to tax!
On top of these forms of
folly, our current national policies intensify the global exploitation of
wildlife habitats and ecosystems. These
policies have the impact of wasting resources and depleting fisheries and devastating
forests and contributing to rapid increases in the emissions of greenhouse gases
that make global warming and climate disruptions ever more urgent threats to
our long-term prosperity and security.
generally be guided by intelligent strategic objectives. Instead, the policies we have been pursuing
have been about as blockheaded as can be.
We have been making problems worse rather than solving them. And we have been deferring them to our
children and theirs and theirs, indefinitely into the future. We are living an existence characterized by
a kind of ‘apres-nous-le-deluge’ attitude.
Delaying necessary solutions to problems makes it increasingly likely that
our children and their descendants will suffer from shortages, damaged ecosystems,
heightened conflicts, and unsolved problems of toxic waste disposal and climate
Twain wrote about the frontier American West in Roughing It. In those days
(the 1860’s), the West was a region where violence was the rule, and force was
the principal authority. Rogues and
scoundrels with fearless resolve tended to prosper in these conditions -- until
their days ended in violence. Circumstances
such as these caused civilized dealings to be devalued and diminished. The ‘wild west’ has been reborn today, it
seems: and this time, it is on a global
stage, where a kind of desperado cowboy mentality has disrespected laws, and
the United States has resorted to preemptive aggression and military
occupations of other countries.
leaders are acting like Mark Twain’s legendary frontier character Slade in Roughing It. Slade assumed the role of supreme judge and jury and
executioner. How fairly deliberated are
our leaders being, for instance, when we mete out justice by using our preeminent
Air Force to bomb people abroad from on high?
Is justice served by our ruthless soldier and police tactics in
dangerous territories where we are despised occupiers?
W. Bush and Dick Cheney resembled Slade, goaded on by their convictions, disinclined
to show reasonable restraint, and acting with dangerous bravado. One result of this attitude was that the United
States, reckless of all probable consequences, wreaked a kind of vengeance on
other countries. We citizens have gone
along with the pursuit of ends and means that have been sold to us with
treacherous dishonesty. Such actions
have made everyone less safe.
deserve better than this. People in
other countries deserve better, too!
How can we regain our sanity, and alter our course? We need competition that is more fairly regulated. We need greater U.S. military restraint. We need active diplomacy that is more
respectful and mutually beneficial. We
need fairer trade policies, reasonable international cooperation, and a healthier
modicum of foreign aid to address issues of poverty and injustice and
exploitation and infrastructure shortcomings and environmental challenges.
well-being of America and the world are entwined. The global common good is seriously at odds with our panicky
post-9/11 preoccupation with American security alone. By adopting an obsessively narrow focus in “the war on terrorism”,
we have demonstrated a solipsistic obtuseness to legitimate economic, political
and security concerns of other people in the world.
Our ability to deal
intelligently with such problems is partially due to the assault on the checks
and balances within the federal government by the Executive branch. The proper functioning of our democracy has
been obstructed by developments that were implemented by the secrecy-obsessed,
signing-statement-happy, and accountability-evading President Bush and his cohorts
in his Administration. Barack Obama has
done better in this regard, but not enough.
The inimical inroads
being made against the separation of Church and State in policy-making, and in judicial
impartiality in other arenas, are other factors that make both our domestic and
international problems worse.
tall tales in books and short stories written by Mark Twain are still laugh-out-loud
funny in places. I reckon they are
vastly preferable to the gratuitous violence, scandal, commercialism, mindless
entertainment, sensationalism, sports spectacles, dogma, trivia and promoted
drivel that washes through our brains every day from sources in television,
radio, newspapers and the Internet. How
can we gain clarity when we are so continuously bombarded with shallow sound
bites, distractions, stories of violence, persuasive promotions and insidious
Olbermann and his MSN ‘Countdown’ program used to provide viewers with a
healthy dose of skepticism and counter-spin to the prevailing orthodoxies that
are transmitted to us through the media.
Rachel Maddow and Jon Stewart also provide healthy perspective to
counter the distortions that are contained in outlets like Fox News. In general, however, the big media outlets collaborate
with giant corporations to entertain people and promote products, and they often
repeat and even promulgate political rhetoric and deceptive spin. And the media often helps distort the true
nature of events and exaggerate bad news stories.
is refreshing to hear voices of clarity about the news. They are like watching the film ‘Network’,
which is a true tour de force. Released in 1976, this film features a
half mad TV news broadcaster who becomes “a latter day prophet denouncing the
hypocrisies of our times.” He
encourages the audience to throw open their windows and proclaim to the world,
“I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!”
it is surprising that outrage is so lacking in America. One reason for this is that the government
adopted the shrewd strategy of eliminating military conscription (the ‘draft’). So now we have a meagerly-paid mercenary
army of men and women who generally do not have better opportunities. This expediency makes it easy for the
children of the influential upper classes to avoid dangerous military service
in fighting what can be seen to be rich people’s wars. These means of facilitating wars make it
easier for demagogues to incite the entire populace into going along with war
ambitions and predatory war-mongering schemes -- and to ignore those who oppose
Mark Twain coined the term, the ‘Gilded Age’, in reference to the era
from the end of the Civil War until the beginning of the twentieth century. During those times America’s upper classes
achieved and displayed extravagant wealth and excesses. Today we are living in a new Gilded Age of
enormous and increasing disparities of wealth. When injustices and inequities become too extreme,
social turmoil brews and the privileged can be faced with fermenting outrage by
the oppressed and the dispossessed and the disenfranchised.
2007 film deals adroitly with this topic.
The Great Debaters, produced
by Oprah Winfrey and directed by Denzel Washington, features a 1935 team of
Negro debaters from Wiley College in Marshall, Texas. The debate team does so well that they succeed in getting a debate
scheduled with prestigious Harvard. The
culminating debate concerns the topic of whether civil disobedience can be a
moral activity. The black debaters
vanquish the white boys when one of the Wiley College team argues that
opposition to injustices is moral when it addresses inequities that result from
prevailing laws, or despite the laws.
The privileged, the speaker argues, should pray that the oppressed merely
choose civil disobedience rather than violence!
with injustices building in an increasingly inegalitarian United States, the
powers-that-be have found some pretty shrewd ways to minimize outrage and
suppress dissent and subvert opposition to established policies. But the injustice of economic and healthcare
inequities is distinctly contrary to democratic ideals, and it is likely to
cause severe social disruptions in the future.
This new Gilded Age began
with Ronald Reagan’s regressive tax policies, and it become even more extreme
under the irresponsible boon-to-the-rich fiscal policies and profiteering-oriented
initiatives of the second Bush Administration.
These policies have been facilitated by our national enthusiasm for
deficit financing. This is a reprehensibly
shortsighted gambit which is having the effect of saddling future generations
with enormous debt and interest expense obligations. It is a strategy that has been directed by politicians to buy
support of wealthy people by giving them astonishingly generous tax
Another purpose of these
policies has been to facilitate war and the narrowly profitable conditions that
accompany it. If each American was
required to ‘pay as we go’ for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan -- through
gasoline taxes, for instance -- the enthusiasm for these wars would decline
drastically --- AND SO IT SHOULD!
in tax policy, conservatives want to permanently eliminate taxes on the
inheritances of rich kids. In doing so,
others less able to pay must shoulder the shifted burden of taxes. This change in taxation is regressive. It is also socially detrimental and highly
unfair. People with both ‘conservative’
and ‘liberal’ bents have become collaborators with deficit spending policies
that are politically palatable only because they shift the burden of taxation
to younger people who have no voice in the matter, and to future generations
who cannot even be aware of the perfidious nature of this expediency.
These absurd conditions almost inspire me to wax
poetic. But when I did this back in
2008 when George Bush was still in office, it was bizarre, like some Ode in an
arcane and antiquated Soliloquy:
GOP mantra is “let’s borrow and spend”,
and spend to facilitate profiteering
and spend to wage war without end
Borrow and spend as if it’s
a refrain that’s sensible to sing.
and spend on foolish subsidies and pork barrel projects
and spend on interest on the spiraling national debt
and spend on entitlements and tax breaks for the rich
Borrow and spend as if
this expediency is the best bet.
and spend to stimulate the economy
and spend to ramp up materialistic consumption
and spend to create a bubble of irrationally exuberant waste
Borrow and spend to
perpetuate a cycle of boom and bust, wealth and destitution.
and invest in infrastructure improvements --- Are you mad?
and invest in mass transit and high speed rail --- I don’t think so!
and invest in America? --- ‘Bah!’ on such radically progressive ideas!
Tax and invest in
helping Katrina hurricane victims --- Oh, no!
and invest in renewable energy sources, forget about it!
and invest in peaceful coexistence? --- No, just attack ‘those terrorists’ now.
and invest in equality of education and opportunity, so lame!
Tax and invest in social
fairness? --- The conservatives will have a cow!
and spend, or tax and invest, who really cares?
God, let’s deprive those immoral gays and wrongful lesbians of any rights at
those uppity women who want contraceptives and the freedom of choice
And defend the rights of
every nut case who wants to get a gun at the mall.
Ha! This odd and cynical Ode about misguided
priorities was partially pirated from some lost source, and suddenly a forceful
realization confronted me: How can it
be that we have gotten into these endless and divisive wars in the Middle East,
and this corroded neo-Gilded Age, and this freedom-eroding, insecurity-breeding
state of affairs? How, for Christ’s
have been acting arrogantly and self-righteously on the international stage, as
if might is truly right.
We are ruthlessly lording it over others, as if ANY means is justified
to achieve our selfish and ignoble ends.
We are betraying our humanity by perpetrating severe injustices on
others for questionable purposes.
Instead of sowing justice to harvest peace, we are acting with hubris
and sowing violence and aggression.
Instead of ethical free-market competition, we are allowing our basest
motives of selfishness and pugnaciousness and greed and overweening pride to
dictate our national courses of action.
Our democratic republic is being seriously harmed
by these wrong-headed domestic and foreign policies. People are being manipulated by power-obsessed politicians who
embrace militarism, aggression, secrecy, the suppression of dissent, distorted
intelligence, domestic spying, and sometimes nefarious clandestine covert
operations. We are allowing parochial
influences and religious fundamentalism to harm our societies.
It has apparently been “standard operating
procedure” for our government to humiliate prisoners in Abu Ghraib prison and to
hold hundreds of them in Guantanamo Bay without basic rights. The CIA has used ‘extraordinary renditions’
of suspects to other nations where torture is practiced. Domestic and international laws and human
rights have been violated by our government in its use of aggressive forms of
‘enhanced interrogations techniques’ without truly admitting that, yes, some of
these methods are indeed kinds of torture.
scandal in which the CIA destroyed tapes of suspects being subjected to waterboarding
is disgusting. What confessions, one
wonders, were discovered? Torture
rarely elicits reliable information. It
is highly probable that if every American citizen were to see the video of this
procedure and its results, very few would conclude that it is anything other
than cruel, punitive, torturous and unjustifiable treatment. Is it smart to hide the truth from
people? Perhaps our government should
not do so many things that it needs to lie about and hide!
suppressing and denying the truth, and by equivocating about whether or not
waterboarding is torture, and by using specious rationalizations about our
tactics and purposes, our leaders are misleading us and making us all complicit
in these repugnant acts. Worse yet, our
leaders are provoking religious Islamic extremists and creating conditions in
which insurgent opposition and blowback retaliation are strengthening. This makes us all less safe.
was Merriam-Webster’s #1 Word of the Year for 2006. Truthiness is defined as “The quality of preferring concepts or
facts one wishes to be true, rather than concepts or facts known to be
true.” Some say that when politicians
and pundits indulge in ‘truthiness’ they are actually lying, but just by
another name. We barely survived the George
Bush’s truthiness! Other words in the
running that year were “decider” and “corruption”. (The top Word of the Year for 2008 was “bailout”, and for 2009
“admonish”, and for 2010 “austerity”. Revealing!)
time has come to day to look to a new hero who can help guide us in sensible
directions. Think about Steve Biko, an
anti-apartheid activist in South Africa.
He represented a visionary voice of reason, integrity, racial fairness,
community self-reliance, psychological liberation, non-violent resistance, and
opposition to dehumanization. Unfortunately,
he was killed in police custody, as many people ‘ahead of the times’ have been
when they oppose rulers who act with smug superiority and racial supremacism,
and when they ruthless defend the status quo.
singer Peter Gabriel wrote a song in honor of Steve Biko, including the
You can blow out a candle
But you can't blow out a fire
Once the flames begin to catch
The wind will
blow it higher.
The winds of change are blowing,
and the American people are beginning to hunger for leaders who are more
honest, who they can trust, and who act for the general good. They want leaders who are committed to more
fair-minded goals, and to policies that are consistent with the ideals upon
which our country was founded.
Former Secretary of State
Madeleine Albright wrote a book in 2008 entitled Memo to the President Elect
- How We Can Restore
America’s Reputation and Leadership. She is a
highly intelligent woman, and I hope that both political parties will give
consideration to her thoughts on how to restore America’s reputation and to
find ways to more effectively avoid the dangers and pitfalls of the actions of
We are in great need
today of a rational, far-sighted, humorous, and powerful new voice to caution
us about the risks that our ship of state faces. The overwhelming risk is that we will figuratively run aground in
increasingly treacherous waters. Using
Mark Twain’s ideas, and the metaphor of close attention to true soundings, I
aspire to provide this voice in the writings of the Earth Manifesto.
This manifesto is not one merely of diagnosis, but also of
prescription. Competent assessment is
needed to understand the shortcomings of established ways, and it is also vital
to figure out what is possible, and what is necessary.
Readers are encouraged to check out the ideas in Part Four of the Earth
Manifesto for insights into better means that we could be using to achieve sensible
national goals. Back in 2008, I was
recommending that readers check out the provocative ideas in essays like Optimizing Change through Clarity of
Awareness and Right Action, and Crystal
Clear Conceptions, and the opus, Comprehensive
Global Perspective - An Illuminating Worldview” for elaborations of competently-summarized
insights. Since those days, the Earth
Manifesto has evolved in many significant directions, and I suggest starting
from the beginning before Part One. Or
go to Part Four for specific ideas about how we really could be making the
world a better place.
for giving these ideas your consideration!
Dr. Tiffany B. Twain
July 1, 2008 (Updated a
bit in April 2011)
P.S. As promised:
The Top Ten Official Ways to Subvert American
1. Use fiscally imprudent expediencies such as
cutting taxes for rich people and increasing spending for wars, and use imprudent
deficit financing to advance these narrow goals.
2. Strengthen the federal government by
involving the United States in wars of aggression to exploit nationalistic
sentiments and divert the people from serious domestic problems. Use fear and anger and prejudice to
accomplish this, and to divide the people to prevent them from effectively
uniting to address common-good solutions to the growing challenges associated
with such problems as inequalities, injustices, resource shortages, climate
change, species extinctions and population growth.
3. Expand the powers of the President and
weaken the influence of Congress and the courts and the people. Do this by thwarting the
Constitutionally-established balance of powers and undermining the powers of
Congress through the use of ‘signing statements’ to abrogate the intentions of
the Legislature. This allows the
Executive branch the prerogative of ignoring the expressed will of the people’s
representatives. The McCain torture ban
bill that was passed in December 2005 is a prime example of this; George W. Bush strongly opposed this law, but
when faced with overwhelming support for the law, he signed it into law but
used a signing statement to circumvent the law’s intention, contending that it
would otherwise limit the ability of the CIA to use what most people see as abusive
4. Centralize power and use authoritarian
gambits to prevent the people from exercising their rights. Pander to rich people and giant corporations
and the right wing of religious faiths to gain influence, and then use the
power thus gained to preserve the status quo and advance narrow-minded
ideological ends and oppress workers and artists and intellectuals.
5. Control the media by concentrating the
corporate ownership of television and radio stations. Use marketing stratagems and embedded “propaganda pundits”. Erode free speech by intimidating
whistleblowers and dissenters. Use
secrecy and the classification of documents, and obstruct initiatives like the Freedom
of Information Act. Enact aggressive
executive privilege laws that allow the government to deprive citizens of their
rights, like the so-called ‘Patriot Act’, and reduce public protection laws
that limit the government power through laws like the Foreign Intelligence
6. Undermine federal government agencies by
working contrary to the purposes for which the agencies were established, and satisfy
the narrow goals of powerful interests by appointing political operatives to
agencies like the Food and Drug Administration, the Environmental Protection
Agency, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Justice
and others. Or just slash the budgets
for these agencies to reduce their effectiveness.
7. Cut funding to States and local governments
for federally mandated programs, thereby undermining the solvency of regional
governments and reducing their abilities and options in addressing social and
8. Appoint federal judges and Supreme Court
Justices who are extremely clever but strongly biased toward ideological
philosophies that allow the concentration of power in the Executive branch, or
that give giant corporations expanded privileges.
9. Spy on citizens to marginalize dissent, and
harshly punish those who commit even victimless crimes.
10. Violate domestic and international laws and
abrogate treaties that are contrary to the imperial goals of the president.
Having given close consideration to
the top 10 ways to subvert democracy, it should help us to find the top 10 ways
to strengthen our democracy!
Help free the Tibetan people!
Watch the film Tibet: Cry of the Snow Lion and lend your voice to this cause!
Oppose oppression at home AND abroad!!