Is America Experiencing a Looming Police State?

This is an important question; one which I think Americans should be asking themselves, seriously. While I do not believe that such a state is immediately imminent, recent events do have me wondering whether or not our police officers take the mantra, “to serve and protect,” as the solemn vow that it should be.

As many of you have surely heard, police all across the country have been going to some rather extreme measures to uphold the law as of late. In February 2010, in Columbia, Missouri, the SWAT team shot a family pet while raiding the home of man suspected of drug possession. The incident, which was just one of many to occur last year, happened as the suspect slept with his wife and young daughter in their home.  This year, numerous lemonade stands, operated by children, have been shutdown by police, which prompted a group of teenagers to put on a protest in front of the US Capitol building; they were arrested, rather aggressively, by local police.

Lemonade stands? Really? Exactly who is being harmed by them? No one, except for maybe Coca-Cola Bottling Company or some other corporation. Lemonade stands were a staple when I was a child…hell, when most of us were children. If you wanted to raise money for a new bike or maybe to help people in need, you raised some money by doing yard work for a neighbor or setting up a (you guessed it) lemonade stand. I recall one of the young girls in my old neighborhood setting up a lemonade stand, selling cups of lemonade for fifty cents a cup, because she wanted to save up for a ten-speed bike. One of our other neighbors, who happened to be a police officer, purchased several cups of lemonade from her and even gave her a couple extra dollars as a tip for making such delicious lemonade. She bought a beautiful purple ten-speed with the money she raised; it was so pretty that I wanted one just like it when I was big enough to ride it.
I do not know about most of you, but I remember police differently. When I was a child, and this was only less than 20 years ago, I trusted the police to protect me. I knew that if I needed help, they would be there to provide it. For example, when I was very little, my family and I were the victims of a drunk driver; it was rather nasty accident that totaled my Dad’s “other baby.” The police who arrived at the scene were very concerned about the well-being of my younger sister and I; they comforted us and told us they would find the man who hit us. They reassured me and made me feel safe and protected, which were very important things for a child to feel after enduring such a trauma. Yet, as the years have progressed, especially in the years since 9/11, police across the country have become excessively forceful against the people they’re supposed to be serving and protecting, which includes criminals. Many of us recall the infamous Rodney King beating. However, this is but one example of many that have been occurring all around the United States over the past few decades,  prompting both Amnesty International and the ACLU to publish reports on the various instances of police misconduct and brutality, which seem to be increasing in recent years.

Please do not get me wrong, many if not most members of the police are very good people and very helpful; they put themselves in harms way every day to protect people, and lose their lives in the line of duty. Nevertheless, we cannot excuse the recent injustices. The police are not the military and we are not enemy combatants, rather we are their fellow citizens. We often live in the same neighborhoods, we shop at the same stores, and our children go to school with their children. The people and the police would do well by everyone to remember this. After all, the police mantra is “to serve and protect,” not “to rule and oppress.”

Religious Freedom: America’s True Heritage

The idea that Christianity, namely the Puriticanical version, founded America, which is an assumption made by religious and non-religious alike, is inaccurate. This is an assumption which overlooks the religious diversity that actually existed throughout the colonies, as well as ignores the fact that a few colonies were actually founded on the principle of religious freedom. For example, Pennsylvania, which was founded by the Quaker William Penn, allowed all manners of worship from Anglicanism to Judaism to Native traditions; and Rhode Island, which was founded by Roger Williams, who gave Jefferson the idea for “a wall of separation between church and state“, and Anne Hutchinson, also promised religious freedom to all residents. As time progressed more colonies, like Maryland, which passed its Act for Religious Toleration in 1649, began to allow religious freedom; although many did so only in practice and not by law.

When America became a nation, religious freedom was among the primary concerns of the people and the legislators alike, leading to fierce debates over what relationship, if any, should exist between state and religion. These debates eventually culminated in the ratification of the First Amendment, which effectively established secularism of state as the law of the land. Ironically, most of the chief proponents of religious freedom were churches, like the Anabaptist, the Methodist, and the Quakers all of whom petitioned their colonial, then state and federal, legislatures to uphold the truth that religion exists solely between a man and his god and that no government, least of all a republican one (as in a Republic, which is what we are), should attempt to coerce any citizen to believe what his heart and his mind have not determined for himself. In fact, in both the Journal of the Virginia House of Burgess and in the Journal of the House of the Delegates of the Commonwealth of Virginia, there are a multitude of petitions from the mid-1700’s, following the height of the First Great Awakening, through to 1786 when Jefferson’s Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom was enacted as state law, all from the various religious groups demanding religious freedom. There was one petition that even went so far as to argue that religious freedom must also include the “Moslem” (Muslim), who, like the Christian, does also believe that his religion is true. Futhermore, numerous letters were published in various colonial newpapers, such as the Virginia Gazette, throughout the late colonial and early Republican periods, which were written by Americans who argued in favor of laws which protected religious freedom for all.

Therefore, historically speaking, religious diversity, and thus freedom, is the true foundation of this nation. We must stop perpetuating the lie that Christianity, in any single form, is the foundation of America….because it is not. As stated in the Treaty of Tripoli of 1797, it never was and never will be.

© Karen Lyn and Take Back America, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author(s) and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Karen Lyn, author post authors as listed on this blog, and Take Back America with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Overcoming Wealth Disparity in the US: Congress, the Rich, and The Growing Rate of Poverty

Whether we consider ourselves liberals or conservatives, I think it is a safe assumption that most of us agree that life in America is becoming increasingly more expensive and that the “American Dream” is becoming ever more elusive. We are being paid less while being expected to work longer and harder hours, while the costs of food, gas, housing, education, retirement plans, health care, utilities, clothing, transportation, and other items on which we have come to rely are growing ever more expensive. Meanwhile, the richest Americans continue to see their incomes and their wealth grow; for example, 10 of the highest paid CEOs earn as much in one hour as the average American worker earns in one year. Yet, it is we, the working-class (both middle and poor) who are being expected to “sacrifice” for the nation by allowing for Congress to cut our social programs, the programs for which our tax dollars pay, in order to provide tax cuts and other subsidies to the extremely rich and the corporations, most of whom pay little to no taxes at all. How is this happening?

Part of the problem is our own government. They are, for the most part, the rich and always have been. However, prior to 1855, the year in which Congress members began to receive a yearly salary, they were paid a daily rate of $6.00 and were only paid for days in which they were actually in session. Now, they make more than the average working-class American. According to the 2009 US Census Bureau report, the median household income in 2009 was about $49,000 (not much considering the cost of living), a decline of 4.2% from 2007. Meanwhile, Congress is earning $174,000 annually , with the highest ranking members earning between $193,400 and $223,500 a year, and this is in addition to their personal wealth (browse all lawmakers here).; for example, John Boehner (speaker of the House) reported a net worth of between $2 and $6 million in tax year 2010, and Senator John Kerry has a minimum net worth of nearly $200 million. Why are we paying these people so much money when they do so little  for us? Why are they, when they possess so much individual wealth, not sacrificing their own pay to help the nation? Although, this certainly explains why they refuse to raise taxes on the rich…because they are the rich.

As long as our government is comprised of people who bring in millions, and in some cases hundreds of millions,  of dollars a year, we the people will never be treated as we should be treated.  As long as the rich run the government, both as members of it and as campaign financiers who essentially own Congress, we will continue to be marginalized. As long as we the people continue to act as if we believe that we are worth less than a living wage and that the CEOs of big business are worth millions or billions, we will continue to see the poverty rate in America climb; as of 2009 it was 14.3%, the third consecutive annual increase (US Census Bureau Report, page 14). As long as we continue to fall for the lie that tax increases on the rich will prevent job creation, when in fact the rich tend to pocket it or spend it on themselves rather than invest it on job creation, we will see no change in the economy. As long as we continue to ignore the fact that the Bush tax cuts have been in effect for a decade and we have not only seen very little job growth, we have also lost millions of jobs, we will see no growth; despite the claims of John Boehner and others in the GOP, the unemployment rate has barely improved as the tax cuts for the rich have been maintained (presently the measurable rate is 9.1%).

Currently, we are experiencing disparities in wealth distribution not seen in this country since before the Great Depression. As per a study by Emmanuel Saez, Professor of Economics at UC Berkely, as of 2007 the top earners have managed to take in about 49.7% of  all wages earned in the US, capturing two-thirds of income growth from 2002-2007 while the bottom 99% of earners saw an annual increase of only 1.3% in the same period. This is not how to grow an economy, this is how you spread poverty.

If we the people are serious about reigning in the debt, we absolutely must grow the economy. This will only happen if we raise taxes on the rich and end various other subsidies and tax breaks, reduce spending in areas that do not create US jobs (such as the DOD, much of its job creation as occurred off-shore as most of its contractors use non-US labor), increase government investments in areas that do create jobs (health care, education, research, infrastructure, etc.), end NAFTA and the WTO (both of which have cost us about 5.3 million jobs) and replace them with fair trade agreements, and raise minimum wage to a living wage.  By creating jobs and paying the working classes more for their labor we will improve the over all quality of living for millions of hard-working Americans by giving them a disposable income (what remains after basic necessities have been covered). This is how you grow an economy: allow the government to invest to create jobs, increase wages for the working classes, both of which in turn leads to an increase in personal spending; this in turn increases demand, which then leads to an increase in supply, and thus more job creation; all of which leads to an increase in tax revenue, which in turn helps the nation address its debt.

According to just about everyone in Congress, we are all in this together. However, if they truly believe that, and if they expect we the people to believe that, then it is time for Congress to stop favoring themselves and their even wealthier backers, and start working for the people of, by, and for whom this country was founded. If not, then it is up to us to reclaim our country from the rich by turning our backs on the present members of the government (Congress and the White House), abandon the two-party system for a more egalitarian multi-party PR system, and vote in people who will work for us rather than against us. Ultimately it is up to we the people to make certain that government works for us because if left to their own devices they will only continue to pass legislation that benefits their own.

© Karen Lyn and Take Back America, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author(s) and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Karen Lyn, author post authors as listed on this blog, and Take Back America with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Plague of Fear

It seems to be common concept today, that the world has become a place of greed, selfishness, and violence; that racism and biggotry are alive and well, and that the people have become far too complacent to make a difference.

I certainly agree that complacency is a very real and very prevalent problem. However, as for the rest, I cannot help but think that, for the most part, they are not as pervasive as we are lead to believe. I think “they” (the status quo, the powers that be, the “man behind the curtain”) want us to think this way because it divides us. When we are divided, we are weak and isolated and, as such, we are more easily prone to fear. And fear, to the corporatists and the religious right, is the most valuable of all emotions because it is the most easily manipulated; just look at our post 9/11 world for evidence of that: two wars, the Patriot Act, and a religious revivalism calling for a theocratic state. I think, that if we looked closer, we would see that much of what is coming across as selfishness, racism, and classism, is really more the manifestations of the fear that the corporatists and religious right have spent the better part of the past few decades cultivating and manipulating.

Now, this is not to say that there are not some truly selfish, racist, and/or classist people out there, because there are, I just think that they are the exception rather than the rule. When you look at the political rhetoric of the extreme and religious right (not always one in the same), you see how this is. Religious leaders, like Pat Robertson are clamoring about the impending doom of Sharia Law, while right-wing political leaders insist that illegal immigrants are stealing our jobs, raping our women, and getting our kids hooked on drugs. Everywhere you turn someone on the extreme right is telling us there is something to fear: the gays want to destroy marriage, the terrorist could be hiding anywhere and everywhere, Muslims want to undermine our Christian heritage, there’s a war on Christmas and Easter, the liberals want to take your guns!

Let us look at some of these thing for what they really are:
1) Immigrants, illegal or legal, are not stealing our jobs, the corporations are. Thanks to free trade agreements, such as NAFTA and the WTO, the US has lost 5.3 million jobs.

2) Illegal immigrants are not increasing crime; in fact, several studies have shown that, aside from the act of being here illigally, these immigrants do not engage in violent or other criminal behavior.
3) Sharia Law is not coming to America. Nowhere in America, not in one place in this country, is Sharia Law being introduced let alone enforced. Ironically, though, the Christian right is attempting to impose their interpretations of Biblical law on the nation; for evidence of this all we need to look to is their adament stance against women’s reproductive health and LGTB rights.

4) There is no war on Christmas or Easter. We live a secular society, populated by people of many faiths; therefore, in an attempt to be fair, the media, the government, and the public in general avoid making blatantly religious statements that alienate large numbers of people.  We have religious freedom in this country and, as I wrote in a previous post, it is not just for Christians.  We are all free to practice what we believe and celebrate whatever holidays we choose.  There is no war on Christmas, Easter, or any other holiday the religious right hold dear.

5) Liberals are not trying to take away your guns. Firstly, some of the most stringent gun laws have been proposed by right-wing members of congress. Secondly, gun regulations, which aim to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and those deemed mentally unstable, help keep the rest of us safe, they do not prevent law abiding, sane citizens from owning guns; something President Obama recognizes and respects.  I am a liberal, and I respect the Constitutional right for law-abiding and mentally stable citizens to own guns; and I know lots of liberals who think so as well.  

The status quo can only survive if we the people are too busy looking upon our neighbors with suspicion to notice that our freedoms, our livelihoods, and our dreams are turning to smoke and fading away. The status quo can only survive, or rather thrive, if we the people are too afraid of the allegedly impending doom to stand up and demand living wages, quality education, affordable and quality health care, a clean safe environment, an end to unjust wars, and social and economic justice for all. As long as we are afraid, the rich maintain their positions of power and continue to reap the benefits of it.

The solution? Well, it’s far easier than you think…the solution is us. If the people start working together, stop seeing each other as enemies and begin to recognize that we are all victims of the same corrupt system, we can begin to affect the change we all want….A government that is truly of, by, and for the people.

© Karen Lyn and Take Back America, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Karen Lyn and Take Back America with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.