American vs. unAmerican values, according to the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America

Values that run contrary to the Constitution of the United States of America are, by definition, unAmerican values. Let’s consider the rights defined by the First Amendment.

The First Amendment (image credit: Odyssey Online)

For a discussion of unAmerican values pertaining to the Declaration of Independence, click here.

Without the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States of America, the United States would not exist. As such, the values laid out in these two documents are, by definition, American values. And any values held in opposition to the values in these documents are, again by definition, unAmerican.

The First Amendment

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

The United States was not founded as a Christian nation. It is not now and has never been a Christian nation. Anyone who wants the United States to be run in strict adherence to Christian morality – or Jewish or Muslim or Hindu or Wiccan morality – is advocating for an unAmerican position. Similarly, requiring prayer in a public school is also unAmerican. Continue reading

American vs. unAmerican values, as compared to the Declaration of Independence

Values that stand in opposition to those described in the Declaration of Independence are unAmerican values.

Engraving of the Declaration of Independence (image credit: Monticello.org)

Engraving of the Declaration of Independence (image credit: Monticello.org)

Without the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States of America, there is no United States of America. That makes the values laid out in those documents American values, by definition. And any values that run contrary to the values in those documents, again by definition, unAmerican.

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,…

Equality. The concept of natural human rights. The rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness (among others). The concept that the people have a say in their government. These are the American values defined by the Declaration of Independence. Continue reading

Teddy Roosevelt vs Ammon Bundy: why white thugs should be treated with respect by police

The “Arson Rebellion”: justice and due process matters whether you’re rural and white or urban and black

ammon bundy.jpg

image courtesy of heavy.com

Let me tell you a story about Teddy Roosevelt. As a young man, he lived in the Dakota territory, hunting, ranching, watching the American bison disappear, and resolving to preserve the land and its bounty from a “class that always holds sway during the raw youth of a frontier community, and the putting down of which is the first step toward decent government.” One day, three such men stole his boat, the only one on the river, while he was hunting mountain lions. He and his two companions built another boat, pursued the thieves downriver, captured them, and then marched them three hundred miles to Dickinson and turned them over to the sheriff. During this pursuit of justice, he also managed to read Anna Karenina, musing in his 1888 book Ranch Life and the Hunting Trail that “my surroundings were quite gray enough to harmonize well with Tolstoy.”

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Power is concentrated among a minority of citizens – and it may not change

Come on America. The Mets can do it and so can we.

A new study on political ideologies in America confirms what we easily can learn by viewing cable television on any evening: We live in an era of deeply divided viewpoints.Pew Research Center Political Polarization

“Partisan polarization – the vast and growing gap between Republicans and Democrats – is a defining feature of politics today,” the Pew Research Center wrote in the study.

While that observation is hardly a new revelation, there are other elements of the report that document some interesting, and alarming, facts about the nature of democracy in America in 2014.

For example, we already know that individuals who lean heavily to the left or to the right dominate political discourse on the airwaves and the Internet. But the study also very clearly shows how those on the far ends of the political spectrum wield a disproportionately large influence on politics, government and democracy. Continue reading

Egypt, Brazil, Turkey and the revolutionary implications of a Social State

An Egyptian protester shouts ant-President Morsi slogans as anti-riot forces block the entrance to the presidential palace in Cairo, Egypt, Friday, Jan. 25, 2013. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)

An Egyptian protester shouts ant-President Morsi slogans as anti-riot forces block the entrance to the presidential palace in Cairo, Egypt, Friday, Jan. 25, 2013. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)

In August 2006, 18 months before I would choose to leave South Africa, I was invited to speak at a gathering of technology pundits.

It was still the height of the last economic boom and the room was a hubbub of young people doing well for themselves. I was surviving a disastrous business venture and had spent a year contemplating the emptiness behind that financial well-being.

“An individual is a person with a long tail. Individuals have tended to live in states full of wildly swinging doors. Cities, nations and markets are as able to serve their needs as they are of tracking every grain of sand in a three-week desert sand-storm,” I said.

I warned of revolution, that emerging social media would lead to people finding mutual interests that would permit them to express themselves in ways we had yet to understand. People who are currently alienated and isolated will make common cause with others. Continue reading

Nuclear weapons and voter ignorance are a lethal mix

Nuclear weapons are not only a threat to our survival, but to democracy itself.

Most of us keep our distance from the subject of nuclear weapons. Nor is it hard to understand why. Many think that since the end of the Cold War, nuclear war has become a minor threat. Especially when compared to an economy that seems like it’s always on the brink of imploding just as the United States and Russia seemed always on the brink of exploding into nuclear war. Nor, understandably, are most who are aware that nuclear war remains a threat capable of facing what may well be a sword of Damocles hanging over their very existence, as well as their families’.

Another, less apparent, reason why most of us avert our attention from the prospect of war waged with nuclear weapons is that we believe that national-security policy, as well as warfighting strategy, not to mention the daunting technology of nuclear weapons, are above our pay grade. After all, deterrence seems to be working, doesn’t it? Perhaps, but, when it comes to weapons with the destructive power of nuclear weapons, keeping the world waiting with bated breath to make sure that war doesn’t break out is not a long-term solution.

In an oped at the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists titled Democracy and the bomb, Kennette Benedict, its executive editor, points to the lack of attention paid to nuclear weapons and disarmament in the recent election as evidence that most of us feel overwhelmed by the whole subject. “Too often,” writes Ms. Benedict

… many of us lucky enough to live in democracies view elections as the only responsibility we have as citizens and leave the policy discussions to the elected and to the experts. … Political leaders and policy experts don’t always encourage a lot of participation, either; perhaps they believe that citizens are badly informed about issues and that their participation will result in poor decisions.

But

Allowing policy leaders and officials to make decisions for us, however, is at odds with the principle of equality, as Robert Dahl notes in his often overlooked essay “Controlling Nuclear Weapons: Democracy versus Guardianship.” …  The principle of guardianship … holds that only a small minority of citizens is sufficiently qualified and therefore capable of making binding decisions for the nation. As Dahl observes, the political system of a modern democratic country is usually a combination of democracy and meritocracy, but, when it comes to nuclear weapons, “We have in fact turned over to a small group of people decisions of incalculable importance to ourselves and mankind, and it is very far from clear how, if at all, we could recapture a control that in fact we have never had.” We are living in a democracy based on guardianship, not equality, when it comes to nuclear weapons.

Since it combines two of our favorite subjects — nuclear weapons and voter ignorance and/or apathy — we were only too happy to go straight to the horse’s mouth and read Controlling Nuclear Weapons (Syracuse University Press, 1985), which, though Benedict refers to it as an essay, was published as a short book. Dahl, who taught at Yale University and was known as the “dean” of American political scientists, writes that the idea that only a minority of persons are competent to rule, per Plato’s The Republic, has enjoyed new life (at least as of the eighties) in democratic countries because

… the complexity of public issues challenges the assumption that ordinary people are competent to make decisions about these matters. in order to make wise decisions, decision makers need specialized knowledge that most citizens do not possess.

Furthermore

One might respond by saying that even in a democracy, after all, complex decisions like these can be delegated to experts. But suppose that most of us do not even possess enough knowledge to understand the terms on which we can safely delegate authority over these decisions to those more expert than we? Then we have not simply delegated authority. Instead, we have alienated [or given away — RW] control over our lives to others: that is, for practical purposes we simply lose control over crucial decisions, and lose control over our lives. The more we alienate authority … the more we lose our freedom, and the more hollow the democratic process becomes. Or to put it another way, the more that we alienate authority the more the external forms of democracy clothe a de facto regime of guardianship.

Thus, the subject of nuclear weapons not only overwhelms us, but may strain democracy itself to the breaking point. As Dahl asks:

Are the institutions of contemporary democracy adequate to cope satisfactorily with the enormous complexity of public matters?

The reservation we have with Dahl’s otherwise valuable book is that he seems to think that nuclear weapons are a problem to which society needs to adjust. Dahl provides ideas for solutions for citizen participation in nuclear-weapons decisions, many of them more or less implemented in the meantime via information technology. But they seem like so much tweaking.

The case can be made that nuclear weapons are the ultimate test of democracy. But the stakes are too high if we lose. In fact, the existence of nuclear weapons needs to adjust to the needs of society by eliminating them.

We find ourselves in reluctant accord with libertarians, though while many of them believe that government is too large and complex for the average voter (as best explained by Ilya Somin for the Cato Institute in 2004) to understand, we’ll just stick with “too complex.” Nuclear weapons, with the existential questions they force us to face and their daunting strategy and technology, exponentially compound the problem. They discourage participation in democracy, at exactly the point democracy is most needed. As Benedict writes:

Once citizens no longer feel qualified to participate in decisions about their very survival, the connection between the governing and the governed is severed. It is hard to see where the democracy is in this.

Cross-posted from the Foreign Policy in Focus blog Focal Points.

Nota Bene #124: I'm a Doctor, Not an Engineer

“I don’t believe in this fairy tale of staying together for ever. Ten years with somebody is enough.” Who said it? Continue reading

Nota Bene #122: OWStanding

“When I lie on the beach there naked, which I do sometimes, and I feel the wind coming over me and I see the stars up above and I am looking into this very deep, indescribable night, it is something that escapes my vocabulary to describe. Then I think: ‘God, I have no importance. Whatever I do or don’t do, or what anybody does, is not more important than the grains of sand that I am lying on, or the coconut that I am using for my pillow.'” Who said it? Continue reading

Stop the Machine wins Freedom Plaza

On Sunday at midnight, October2011’s Stop the Machine permit for occupying Freedom Plaza expired. While some, like our group from the Tulane School of Social Work, had to return to our respective cities, many held strong on the Plaza. Instead of leaving the grounds at midnight, remaining demonstrators threw a dance party. They announced that 99 percent of the U.S. population were invited to join. In return, park police proposed extending Stop the Machine’s permit for four additional months. The dance party won us the Plaza.

Dr. Margaret Flowers, Stop the Machine Organizer, speaks in low lighting at Sunday’s dance party on the Freedom Plaza permit extension and Smithsonian Air and Space Museum protest


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Occupy and unite

It’s a beautiful Saturday morning on Freedom Plaza. Colorful signs, banners and tents fill the square as dedicated campers emerge from sleeping bags and prepare for another day advocating for change. I sit at our “base camp” with a group of social workers from Tulane University. Many have come to know us as the “Mardi Gras crowd.”

This is my first protest, but that’s not the case for many participating in October2011. We have met activists from places like Florida, Wisconsin, California Arizona, and New York. As more activist groups form in cities nationwide, we begin uniting through one single word: Occupy. Continue reading

Nota Bene #121: Birds of an Ancient Feather

“Television is an invention whereby you can be entertained in your living room by people you wouldn’t have in your house.” Who said it? The answer is at the end of this post. Now on to the links! Continue reading

Nota Bene #119: Think! It Ain't Illegal Yet

“My wife and I were happy for twenty years. Then we met.” Who said it? Continue reading

The wrong side of history

So what about Egypt, eh? Is there anything more amazing than the relatively spontaneous gathering of humanity to peacefully declare freedom for itself? This following Tunisia must bring up comparisons to Eastern Europe in the late 80’s and early 90’s. Unlike the “color revolutions” of the 00’s which looked like foreign policy set plays to elevate friendly leaders and haven’t amounted to much beyond the adoption of neo-liberal economics. As Kissinger said, the US doesn’t have friends, it has interests. Consequently, we have a long history of supporting “friendly” dictatorships and one-party states. The equipment used by the Egyptian military and police that proudly proclaims “Made in U.S.A” proves the point. Mubarak’s Egypt is a cruel police state, but that’s ok because he serves our interests. He’ll take our terror suspects who need to disappear. He’ll do what he can to enforce the blockade of Gaza. And he’ll keep his own people in line, quiet about any feelings the 40,000,000 of them might have about US behavior in their neighborhood. All while preaching ceaselessly about freedom and democracy.

We’re standing on the wrong side of history.
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Nota Bene #113: Seth's Near-Death

“Ordinary life is pretty complex stuff.” Who said it? Continue reading

Jefferson: Self-governance and "the field of knowledge"

Final part in a series

“The field of knowledge,” said Thomas Jefferson, “is the common prosperity of all mankind.”

Jefferson’s words are inscribed in big bold letters in the entryway of Monticello’s visitor center. They’re written in architectural perpetuity in Jefferson’s “academical village,” the University of Virginia. They’re enshrined in the very concept of democracy.

“Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government,” Jefferson said. Knowledge enables self-determination.

It’s one of our most fundamental beliefs here at S&R: A properly functioning democracy depends on a well-informed electorate. Continue reading

Nota Bene #110: WEHT SWK?

“In times like the present, men should utter nothing for which they would not willingly be responsible through time and eternity.” Who said it? Continue reading

John, Elizabeth, Rielle and the dumpster fire at the end of the world

There’s a train rolling to a stop just outside of town. It’s a long train, and each flatbed carries 20 dumpsters. Each dumpster is filled to overflowing with nuclear waste and flaming grease. As the copter shot pulls away the final credits roll over the first few bars of Tears for Fears’ “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.” We can all breathe a sigh of relief – all is well now, but just a few moments ago this train was hurtling at top speed toward the city center, its murdered conductor’s body holding the throttle in full-steam position.

This isn’t some wholesome, Focus on the Family-friendly Thomas the Train, folks. No, sir. This is the toxic, Viagra-addled nuclear dumpster grease fire Johnny the Train from Hell, and it came that close to plowing headlong into the unshielded nards of American democracy. Continue reading

Nota Bene #103: Betelgeuse, Betelgeuse, Betelgeuse

“To take people from the music world and give them the same kind of credibility that you give me, Morgan Freeman, Laurence Fishburne, Forest Whitaker—that’s like an aberration. I know there’s some young actor sitting in New York or L.A. who’s spent half of his life learning how to act and sacrificing to learn his craft but isn’t going to get his opportunity because of some ‘actor’ who’s been created.” Who said it? Continue reading