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          Freedom – Utopian Idea and Unifying Objective

                                               An Earth Manifesto essay by Dr. Tiffany B. Twain  

                                                                 July 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 said.  But so far in the twenty-first century, substantial inroads have been made against domestic freedom, using the fight against terrorism as a rationalization.

It is 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 being.

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.

Undesirable outcomes 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 moral goodness. 

The 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. 

In 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.

What 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. 

Our 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 secure.

It 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. 

Americans had 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 make!  We 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 ahead. 

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.  “We’ll see.” 

The United 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. 

The 9/11 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.

“Predictable 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 exploitation. 

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.  They stated:

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 and Happiness.” 

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!

The 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.” 

Ideas 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 required!

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 founded.  The 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 government.

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 minorities.

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 both.

I 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. 

Nonetheless, the 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 primary ways:

 (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, is shocking!

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 and absurd. 

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.  Smart?

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 countries. 

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. 

Policies should 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 disruptions.

Mark 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. 

Our 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? 

George 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. 

Americans 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.

The 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. 

The 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 propaganda?

Keith 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. 

It 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!”  

Today, 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 such folly.

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. 

A 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! 

Today, 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 breaks. 

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!

Likewise, 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:

The GOP mantra is “let’s borrow and spend”,

Borrow and spend to facilitate profiteering

Borrow and spend to wage war without end

Borrow and spend as if it’s a refrain that’s sensible to sing.

Borrow and spend on foolish subsidies and pork barrel projects

Borrow and spend on interest on the spiraling national debt

Borrow and spend on entitlements and tax breaks for the rich

Borrow and spend as if this expediency is the best bet.

Borrow and spend to stimulate the economy

Borrow and spend to ramp up materialistic consumption

Borrow and spend to create a bubble of irrationally exuberant waste

Borrow and spend to perpetuate a cycle of boom and bust, wealth and destitution.

Tax and invest in infrastructure improvements --- Are you mad?

Tax and invest in mass transit and high speed rail --- I don’t think so!

Tax and invest in America? --- ‘Bah!’ on such radically progressive ideas!

Tax and invest in helping Katrina hurricane victims --- Oh, no!

Tax and invest in renewable energy sources, forget about it!

Tax and invest in peaceful coexistence? --- No, just attack ‘those terrorists’ now.

Tax and invest in equality of education and opportunity, so lame!

Tax and invest in social fairness? --- The conservatives will have a cow!

Borrow and spend, or tax and invest, who really cares?

By God, let’s deprive those immoral gays and wrongful lesbians of any rights at all

Prevent 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 sake? 

We 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. 

The 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!

By 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.

“Truthiness” 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!)

The 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. 

The singer Peter Gabriel wrote a song in honor of Steve Biko, including the following lyrics:

 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 recent years.

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.

Thanks for giving these ideas your consideration!


                                            Dr. Tiffany B. Twain       

                                               Hannibal, Missouri            

                                                   July 1, 2008 (Updated a bit in April 2011)



P.S.  As promised:

 The Top Ten Official Ways to Subvert American Democracy

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 interrogation practices.

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 Surveillance Act.

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 environmental problems.

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!



P.P.S.  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!!