I am not very optimistic this July 4th.
It's not just that in the process of fighting Islamic extremism, we are losing the character of society that we boast about. It is also that our government is populated by buffoons in the service of big business or isolated by privilege who are the product of structural defects in our political system that are in no danger of being fixed.
For example, freedon of speech is in jeapordy if "liberal"* Dianne Feinstein has her way. Perhaps recalling the stirring, content-filled image of Bush the First in that flag factory, DiFi thinks that "conduct" is not speech:
"It all depends whether you view this [flag burning] as conduct or expression. I view it as conduct. [...] I don't see it as a constraining of the First Amendment [...] because of the meaning of the flag."**
Of course, it is exactly because of the meaning of the flag that its burning is speech. As Justice Brennen said in the Texas v. Johnson case that first struck down a Texas anit-flag desecration statute:
"To conclude that the government may permit designated symbols to be used to communicate only a limited set of messages would be to enter territory having no discernible or defensible boundaries. Could the government, on this theory, prohibit the burning of state flags? Of copies of the Presidential seal? Of the Constitution? In evaluating these choices under the First Amendment, how would we decide which symbols were sufficiently special to warrant this unique status? To do so, we would be forced to consult our own political preferences, and impose them on the citizenry, in the very way that the First Amendment forbids us to do.
"If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable. We have not recognized an exception to this principle even where our flag has been involved."
Feinstein is rich. She flies large flags in front of very large homes in San Francisco and Washington D.C. She can get on television to say almost anything that crosses her mind. She cannot imagine that someone else might need to do something shocking and dramatic to get noticed.
So this is what our representatives are doing and saying as the US celebrates its birthday. Instead of dealing with the increasing disparity of income, the lack of assistance to those in poverty, including those working at the minimum wage, our unnecessary invasion or Iraq and the increasing deserved International opprobrium of our methods in the "War on Terror," they are setting up sinecures for the powerful and sending people to prison (up to 3 years in Senator Clinton's flag burning bill).
To restore the idea of democracy, we need public funding of campaigns. The nature of our political system, which revolves more around raising money or being wealthy than having ideas, has driven people with independent intellects to other pursuits. The Congress is manipulated by the leaders so that real issues are not openly argued and voted upon. The President and Vice-President are approaching royal status.
This is not what we learned in school.
* According to Wikipedia, Feinstein supported the war in Iraq, was the original Democratic co-sponsor of a bill to extend the USA PATRIOT Act, is a supporter of capital punishment, has voted for most right-wing lawsuit reform measures and was a co-sponsor of the Class Action Fairness Act of 2005, voted for the first Bush tax cuts in 2001 and for the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act in 2003.
**This Week with G.S. transcription by me. ABC charges $20 for a transcript. In fairness, Feinstein's main, and somewhat inconsistent, position is that there are other ways to express the same idea. Here is her flag waiving explanatory statement. Long on symbolism, short on the First Amendment.
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