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The dis-united State of our Democratic Republic

September 3
by Rob Lafferty

"The US once had the capability to engineer the clandestine overthrow of governments. I wish we could get it back." – John Bolton, former US ambassador to the United Nations

"We're not going to win the war on terrorism. Terrorism is not an enemy – it's a tactic. Acts of terror have never brought down liberal democracies. Acts of parliament have closed a few." – Gen. William Odom, U.S. Army, Ret

The two quotes above are examples of the principle of cause and effect. They also represent a polar opposite of world viewpoints. But most of all, they are two simple statements of truth regarding America as a nation in today’s world.

You're not truly responsible for the mistakes you make in life until someone holds you accountable for them. Without consequences, there can be no accountability, no justice. As a nation, as a society and as a people, America is responsible for violating international law and for the indecent treatment of other people, acts that were done in our name over the past century and across the globe. We're also responsible for living well beyond our means at the expense of others. In a variety of ways, we're now being called to account for some of that history.

Because today the world no longer fears us when flex our military, political or economic muscles. Every religious fanatic in the Middle East with grievances against America is "emboldened" by the anarchy arising from our occupation of Iraq and our military operations in Afghanistan. Russia can act with impunity against its neighbors and ignore all protests by the US as lacking any moral authority. The dollar is no longer the preferred currency in most of the world – it's usually a third choice after euros or yen – because we are $9 trillion in debt.

The economic state of the union is poor for 95 percent of the population. For every dollar we spent in 2000, we now must spend $1.25. We need a 25 percent increase in income just to maintain our 2000 standard of living, yet during the past eight years the median income in America has dropped one percent. According to the Census Bureau, last year 37 million people were living in an official state of poverty.

Even those who make a decent living are way out of disparity with their bosses' income. If you work in a large corporation, chances are that for every dollar you take home, your CEO takes home $100. You'll work at least four months to earn what your CEO is paid for one day's work, but it’s likely that you'll both pay the same rate of income tax.

We appear to be a nation divided by two competing political ideologies, yet the partisan positions of Democrat and Republican are two sides of the same coin. They are the political yin and yang of a capitalist society that has provided us with a high standard of comfort, but the true cost of that lifestyle now stands revealed in the face of heavy weather, empty wallets and our generally lousy state of health.

Such is the true State of our Union as we approach the seventh anniversary of the Twin Towers tragedy. We have not yet risen fully from the aftermath of that unforgettable day.

Indeed, we've strayed even further away from the principles of self-government that were written into the Declaration of Independence and the Federalist Papers; we no longer fully honor the Constitution and the Bill of Rights as the ultimate law of the land.

An 1866 Supreme Court decision states clearly that the founding principles of the Republic cannot be set aside for any reason: "The Constitution of the United States is a law for rulers and people, equally in war and in peace, and covers with the shield of its protection all classes of men, at all times, and under all circumstances."

That decision challenged the abuse of presidential power that Abraham Lincoln openly committed in order to deal with widespread rebellion against the federal government. The Court noted that during times of war a president's powers are expanded but still limited: "He is controlled by law, and has his appropriate sphere of duty, which is to execute, not to make, the laws."

That's still true today just as it was in 1866, although recent Court decisions have loosened those constraints a bit through some creative interpretation of what the Constitution allows. But none of that matters to those who believe in a "unitary executive" form of government where the President can ignore existing laws and act contrary to the will of Congress or the people.

As a phrase, "unitary executive" is a tidy euphemism that masks a belief in the Rule of Man instead of the principle of Rule by Law this country was founded upon. It's a belief that echoes back to a time when strong feudal barons were supported by kings who could declare any law they wanted and never be challenged. It's a belief that gave rise to the Military Commissions Act, which allows the president to label anyone as an "unlawful enemy combatant" and detain them for years without charging them with any crimes.

Corporations that transcend nationality are the modern version of those ancient baronial families that ruled the daily lives of the people. They have a strong influence over whoever the king – or nowadays the president – happens to be, so it's good for corporations when presidents grab more power for their Presidency. Like kings, presidents come and go; like those powerful families of old, corporations continue on through every election and play a strong role in deciding who will be the next Occupant of the Throne.

It's difficult to be the power behind the throne unless there's only one person sitting in it. It's much easier to buy or bedazzle a president than is to buy Congress, and it's a more reliable way of getting results. A globe-straddling corporation will always support the unitary executive theory over any true form of democratic government, even though it has no basis in the laws of the land. When just one voice can speak on behalf of an entire country, it becomes easier for corporate entities to control how they do business in that country.

There will always be politicians who see themselves as Leaders and people who prefer to be Led. Leaders instinctively want more power in order to Lead some more. They usually succeed, and they can usually be bought for a reasonable fee if you get to them early. Such is the state of American politics at this time in our history; after the November popularity contests are over, Washington will be a fresh market for special interests with large sums of money.

There are a few independent politicians who speak clearly about what they see going on around them. Dennis Kucinich and Ron Paul each sustained an honest dialog about the problems we face throughout their presidential primary campaigns. But each of them could draw only a small minority of votes from a populace who may have liked the new ideas each man proposed, but lacked faith in their ability to make the necessary changes happen.

Because we Americans don't really like change that runs deep. We like a constantly changing surface – hence our addiction to videoscreens – but at the core we want the comfort of a foundation that allows us to pursue our habits until the end of Time. Our passion for automobiles is a prime example. We could build the finest free public transportation system in the world but most of us want to drive our own car. It's simply the American Way.

So the theme of Change that resonates throughout both election campaigns will probably fade away by March or April. At the 2009 anniversary of 9/11 our nation will still be in the same dire straits we face today because the changes we need won't come through a partisan political structure that is infested with corrupt influences at the national level.

It's at the local level where change is beginning to happen as counties and states struggle to find new ways to meet their obligations. As individual Americans reassess their priorities, they will emerge in school boards and town halls, at county seats and state capitols. Change may be coming on a slow train, but it's already beginning to spread from the bottom up, from rural America into the streets of our towns then up through the political system. Eventually it will find its way into the boardrooms and executive suites of Corporate America.

But that process will take years to fully develop. For almost every working American, it means living with less than we're accustomed to. It also means there's not much help on the horizon for the millions of poor folks among us. For corporations and the wealthy few, it means business as usual for a while longer before the system collapses under its top-heavy burden – or before enough people decide that a 21st Century American Revolution is the answer to their troubles.

The coming years will be interesting to watch. Those who can afford it will be watching from Dubai or Qatar or somewhere else on the globe where they feel comfortable and secure. Those of us who live in everyday America will be left to solve our problems one way or another. So it has always been, and so it remains today. May God have mercy on us all…