As usual, the 4th of July holiday is one we seem to enjoy more than others. Of course, we will have our family barbeques, fireworks displays, parades with marching bands, some chest thumping too, I suspect.
But all is not well in the land of the free.
According to Reporters without Borders, a research and advocacy organization, which defends journalists and media, and keeps tabs on press abuses around the world, the United States tumbled 27 places in the latest edition of the 2012 annual Press Freedom Index, thanks in large part to the rough treatment of journalists covering the Occupy Wall Street protests that took place around the country this past year.
Freedom House, another organization concerned with freedom and democracy around the world since it's founding in 1941 -- not having a numerical rating system -- also expressed concern about US actions and policies regarding freedom in general.
Specifically, they reported:
"Over the past decade, a series of controversies have emerged over efforts by federal prosecutors to obtain testimony from journalists in high-profile cases, including some in which government workers have been charged with leaking information to the media or lobbyists. Until recently, judges have tended to side with prosecutors and have on occasion held journalists in contempt of court for refusing to identify sources. While many of the cases were initiated by the Justice Department under President George W. Bush, the administration of President Barack Obama has proven equally zealous in pursuing government secrecy cases and issuing demands for information from reporters. "
What both organizations, and other critics seem to saying is that US practices are abhorrent, not only of reporters but of the unequal treatment of Blacks and Hispanics, prison overcrowding, and, inequality for minorities in economic life and popular culture.
According to the International Centre for Prison Studies at King's College London, the U.S. currently has the largest documented prison population in the world, both in absolute and proportional terms.
Nine percent of all black adults are under some form of correctional supervision (in jail or prison, on probation or parole), compared to two percent of white adults. One in three black men between the ages of 20 and 29 were either in jail or prison, or on parole or probation. More recently, they reported, "the number of women incarcerated in state or federal prisons rose by 21.6 percent compared to a 15.6 percent increase for men." The 2013 study looked at data from 2000 to 2010 and found that the "rate of incarceration for Hispanic women rose by 23.3 percent, and white women's by 47.1 percent."
They also found it unsettling, as did Reporters Without Borders and Freedom House, how many federal prosecutors were compelling journalists to divulge the names of confidential sources; the number of reporters threatened with contempt of court citations; and the sheer number of others who have been jailed for refusing to provide tapes and notes of stories the government was investigating.
Based on a study by the conservative Heritage House, the Economist Magazine, reported that in its Index for this year: "The United States, with an economic freedom score of 76, has lost ground again... Its score is 0.3 point lower than last year, with declines in monetary freedom, business freedom, labor freedom, and fiscal freedom."
Pew Research Center, which does a comprehensive annual survey -- taking the pulse of 47 nations around the world about their attitudes toward major powers, said "The latest national survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, conducted Jan. 9-13 among 1,502 adults, finds that 53% think that the (US) government threatens their own personal rights and freedoms while 43% disagree."
According to an earlier Pew study, there is a feeling that the "American Dream," the almost sacred right of all Americans including recent immigrants to move up the economic ladder is also proving elusive. "What is most disturbing to people everywhere, is whether we can reverse the tide of anti-Americanism and once again become the beacon of hope of people around the world."
I love America and ardently believe our democratic system is better than all the alternatives. But America is, it seems, always a work in progress, and perhaps that's as it should be. But clearly we are going in the wrong direction, nothing can ever get done in Washington, and the electorate has all but given up hope of changing the system.
Worse, the wealth is concentrated in a very small percentage of the population and the poor are getting poorer; and the American Dream is not just "elusive," as Pew reported, it has disappeared.
Now is the time we should ask ourselves the tough questions about our wonderful nation and do what we must to change public perceptions worldwide, but more, to right the ship of state and once again be the greatest experiment in democracy the world has ever seen.