The Commons is a weblog for concerned citizens of southeast Iowa and their friends around the world. It was created to encourage grassroots networking and to share information and ideas which have either been suppressed or drowned out in the mainstream media.

"But if the cause be not good, the king himself hath a heavy reckoning to make, when all those legs and arms and heads, chopped off in battle, shall join together at the latter day and cry all 'We died at such a place;' some swearing, some crying for a surgeon, some upon their wives left poor behind them, some upon the debts they owe, some upon their children rawly left. I am afeard there are few die well that die in a battle; for how can they charitably dispose of any thing, when blood is their argument? Now, if these men do not die well, it will be a black matter for the king that led them to it; whom to disobey were against all proportion of subjection." (Henry V, Act V, Scene 4)

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Stirling Newberry - This is Still America

This is still America
by Stirling Newberry

Sun Sep 4th, 2005 at 08:59:56 PDT
We in this nation, whether born here, brought here by our parents, or drawn here as adults, soon realize the uniqueness of this place in the world. Sheltered from ancient wars, distant from the quarrels that created them, a climate as close to a garden of eden as any you will find, rich in natural treasures for the spirit and the body. Even those who have been locked out of sharing in this richness have seen it - it is why America has spawned so many successful rebellions against tyranny and injustice: because almost nowhere else does a full and equal share of society mean so much.

Katrina has shaken that faith, it has done so first in its scale, but also in its aftermath in our response. It has been a century since an American city died.

We can only compare Katrina to the San Francisco Earthquake and the Galveston Hurricane of 1900. Katrina is, according to many, the greatest natural disaster to befall America since there has been an America.

Our response must be out of the yellowing pages of the New Deal: a Recovery Act, a system of expanded relief, and an agency whose purpose is to put those out of work, back to work reconstructing what has been destroyed.

But it has also done so because we believed that we had made it clear, clear countrymen and clear to our leaders, that such a disaster had to be planned against, prepared against and protected against. This was not done, in direct contravention to the will of the people, and in violation of their consent.

It was on this continent that the idea that government is for the governed began, and we raised up a revolution against a king who left our towns to the mercy of political enemies and natural calamities while he plotted to extend his empire. That King's name was George.

Across America anyone who has seen, in person or by proxy, the devastation wrought has become angry. Even many who are partisans of the ideology in power in government, have rebelled against this government. The deep welling up of Americanism, the urge to protect this place, this continent blessed by the long march of historical time, and the even longer march of geological time - has struck even those who have until recently so carelessly disregarded it.

Americans love revolution so much, that we give our selves a chance to have one every two years, and we fear tyranny so much, that we have made even revolution, subject to the law. But beyond this constitutional law, we believe in a higher natural law. A natural law that wrought its judgment on our works with Katrina. Americans believe in the power of nature, for our prosperity is the child of it.

We did not consent to be left exposed to the ravages of storms. In America, still this America as any of the Americas that have come before us - all legitimacy is through the consent of the governed. We did not consent to see our fellow citizens left as feasting for the rats and all of the birds. We did not consent to see the blood of commerce - on water and on road - sticken with arrest. We did not consent to create disaster abroad, and therefore to call down disaster at home.

The fortunes of Andrew Jackson, who revitalized the Democratic Party, began when he won the battle of New Orleans. It is clear that George Bush, and his plumed princes of petroleum, while they may swagger with command, are merely staggeringly incompetent. They have lost the battle of New Orleans, and with it the confidence of the nation.

This government has failed in its duty, but even more, it has lost its basic legitimacy, in the eyes of those whose eyes have beheld the disaster, and in the eyes of much its citizenry.

And even as people die of privation and thirst, it is there intent to extend that unAmerican idea of privileges of birth: ending the Estate Tax is their next order of business. The dead of New Orleans did not have any due.


For ten years, we have been engaged in a great Uncivil War, carried out by impeachment proceding, gerrymander and inprudent straining of our legal fabric.

It is not merely a person, any person, alone, who has failed America. Having placed at the pinnacle of power, and failed to adequeately protest and dissent from its actions - we must accept the responsibility that falls upon any employer for the inattention to duty of his employees. We have hired the Congress and the President, by our consent, to act in our interests. When they fail to do so, as they so manifestly fail to do so now, and are manifestly intent on continuing to do so, it is we who will pay the bill.

We must look at our actions, heave a heavy sigh, and admit our agents have been inattentive to their duty in no small part, because we have been inattentive to ours. We have believed their excuses, and accepted their false promises, we have left their work unchecked, and allowed the watchdogs of oversight to sleep that slumber of fat false prosperity.

In an instant that illusion has been taken away. We thought we had elected conservatives to conserve the resources and wealth of this nation. Instead, we have been awakened by the storm to find out that they are reckless, radical, reactionary and rowdy. We had thought that they were forceful, and we find out that they were merely rudely feckless. They have turned Washington DC into a vast three card monte game, with milling shills in the press who are getting a share of the take. This will not change by simply changing the dealer, nor will it change by changing the deck of cards.

For twenty five years, the Republican leadership has told us that the solution to every problem was to throw money at it, and hope someone else would take care of the problem. We have been shown that no one will take such care of a country as those who own it.

We have been told for twenty five years that credit is a bottomless well, and that America will never be broke so long as their is ink in the printing presses. We find instead that the Repbublican leadership failed to pay the flood insurance, in order to buy tickets in the oil lottery.

We have been told, for twenty five years, that the market would protect us. Where is this God now that he is needed?

We have been told that a war had to be lead by snarling dogs. Well the dogs now have run of one of our oldest and most historical cities.

Let us then dedicate, not to start a civil war, but to end the uncivil war, launched by reactionaries who seized Congress and then the White House, intent only on personal gain. But let us not think a change of government will succeed without a change in goverment. We can no more solve our problems with rounds of tax cuts, than we can repaire a bridge by dumping a truckload of twenty dollar bills on it. We can no more expect the rich to look out after the national interest than we can expect the fox to guard the chicken coop. We cannot have a strong America, while we are on a starvation diet.

We will be met by objections that there is no money, that we are broke, that it cannot be done. But this is still America, and credit will be extended to those who are doing credit to their nation. We will be told that we cannot lay down the burden of empire, because of the loss of prestige. But only a fool polishes his medals while the house is being robbed.


Having remembered that this is still America, and having realized that we have both the power and the duty to make right what is wrong, it remains to ask what should be done.

We look at the gulf coast of the south, of rich earth, rich ocean and rich treasures, and see millions without home, or employment. Milling in vast waves unseen in two generations since the great depression. We stare at the signs and find that our currency is not as sound as it once was. We check the coffers and find that they have been picked clean by the locusts of the privileged pretending to be the wealthy. We scan the organization of the arms of government, and find them scattered over the globe pursuing a war without end, and a policy without profit. We look at those who have been entrusted with the maitenance of these precious American assets, and find that they have been partisans first, and Americans second.

Let us mince no words, and make no excuses: the Republican leadership has failed the Republic. And history will convict us as much as they should we fail to act.

We must act to rebuild the lost cities, both great and small. And not merely throw money at the problem, or bringing in to save New Orleans the same people who lost Baghdad.

We must demand accountability for those who are manifestly unfit for command.

We must decide to restore balance - to our body politic and our budgets. And resolve that we will leave to the future a nation that is in reality what its constitution and declaration promise on paper.

To do this we must make America a fortress against misfortune, and we must never allow millions to be huddled outside of its walls. If we do not protect our neighbor, we are not protected. The hurricane, the terrorist - the recession, the oil shock - does not distinguish between rich and poor in sharing its ruin.

The list of what must be done is very old, in fact, our greatest president spoke the necessities in Nineteen fourty one. He proclaimed four great freedoms, two of which in particular we have neglected because it was inconvenient to remember them. The first was the freedom from fear, and the second was the freedom from want. Fear and want now stalk us from without and within. We fear the extremist with his bombs, and want stalks millions of our fellow citizens, ebbing in like a seeping flood. Katrina has merely focused our gaze on the cold that has crawled in at the edges of our nation.

The law to do it is older still. After the great conflict between the states, which left more than half a million dead on the battlefield, or in the hospital, or by the side of a forgotten road - America resolved that we would have the rights of a national citizenship. And we ratified three amendments to constitution to proclaim it. These reconstruction amendments are now what we must turn to in this our hour of reconstruction.

The mightiest of these is the Fourteenth Amendment, whose first section declares:

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

This amendment's promise is plainly violated by what has come to pass after Katrina. There has been loss of life, liberty and property - deprived by government inaction, malfeasance and incompetence. If citizens do not have the right to be protected by the forces of law and order, then they have no other rights at all that cannot be taken from them. If being secure in ones person, papers and effects means anything, it must mean a security that ones house and home will not be swept away by a failure of public action.


But rhetoric is not enough. There must be reasoned action.

We must, before anything all else, remake three great government departments. The Department of Defense must cease to be the Department of War and Profiteering, the Department of Homeland Security must become a Department of Civil Protection, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development turned into a Department of Domestic Affairs. The first to defend us against military threat, the second to protect against disruption from attack or disaster, and the third to be the great arm of reconstruction and repair. As they are, they have failed to act as instruments of our consent, and so must be reforged to those which will respond to our will.

We must end this terrible war, bearing what inconveniences it causes, and bring in a broad alliance to establish peace, peace in its usual haunts, in that troubled region of the world.

We must end the policies of borrow and squander, consuming on credit what is not ours to take. Let us undertake an overhaul of how revenue is collected, and the burden of society is apportioned. It now falls on the poorest, and on those who work from week to week - on the ordinary citizen who now pays at the pump for the tax breaks given to the privileged.

We must restructure the third largest entitlement program in our government, the one that has grown by leaps and bounds, and will soon consume all of our national surplus. I speak of the interest on the national debt, which is an entitlement that will in time become larger than either Social Security or Medicare.

We must re├ęstablish the compact of work, restructuring our pensions and medical plans, to both secure those who have earned them, and extend them to all.

We must rebuild our trust in government, by making such changes to our process of election, so that there will be few, if any, incumbents who feel themselves beyond the reach of the voters.

In 1961 a young president declared that we would bear any burden, pay any price to secure the blessings of liberty. The disaster of Katrina, piled on the failure and folly of Iraq, and the response to the economic turmoils of the turn of the millenium - are the burden we must bear. And the promise made by John Fitzgerald Kennedy must now be honored in full to the homeless and displaced of this disaster, and to those striken by the economic waves that ripple through our economy.

We must do this, or we will find that the very basis of American strength and credibilty is eroding like the silt of the delta, consumed by the shifting sands of Iraq, the swirling eddies of our currency and the uncertain worth of our protection. Because if America cannot protect its own, who will protect us to stabilize the world order, and be the bulwark of freedom.

We must reach out to our ancient allies, and to our new friends, and affirm to them that the infirmities and infamies of this last decade will not, cannot and shall not be repeated. That that was not America, and that this new America will not fall from grace.

Let us then affirm that it is time to end the great American Uncivil War, and renew our faith in this one America. We must show the world, show our country men, and show ourselves, that this is still America, anchored by old traditions, and renewed by successive pilgrimages to its ideals.

Let us resolve now to awaken, to rise, to seek, and never to slumber again.


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