We now have less than one year until the 2016 presidential election.
Despite the dire state of our nation, however, you can rest assured that none of the problems that continue to undermine our freedoms will be addressed in any credible way by the presidential candidates--certainly not if doing so might jeopardize their standing with the unions, corporations or the moneyed elite bankrolling their campaigns.
The following are just a few of the issues that should be front and center in every presidential debate. That they are not is a reflection of our willingness as citizens to have our political elections reduced to little more than popularity contests that are, in the words of Shakespeare, "full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."
The national debt. Why aren't politicians talking about the whopping $18.1 trillion and rising that our government owes to foreign countries, private corporations and its retirement programs? According to Forbes, "the amount of interest on the national debt is estimated to be accumulating at a rate of over one million dollars per minute."
Black budget spending. It costs the American taxpayer $52.6 billion every year to be spied on by the sixteen or so intelligence agencies tasked with surveillance, data collection, counterintelligence and covert activities. The agencies operating with black budget (top secret) funds include the CIA, NSA and Justice Department.
Cost of war. The U.S. Department of Defense is the world's largest employer, with more than 3.2 million employees. Since 9/11, we've spent more than $1.6 trillion to wage wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. When you add in our military efforts in Pakistan, as well as the lifetime price of health care for disabled veterans and interest on the national debt, that cost rises to $4.4 trillion.
Education. Despite the fact that the U.S. spends more on education than any other developed nation, our students continue to lag significantly behind other advanced industrial nations. Incredibly, teenagers in the U.S. ranked 36th in the world in math, reading and science.
Civics knowledge. Americans know little to nothing about their rights or how the government is supposed to operate. This includes educators and politicians. For example, 27 percent of elected officials cannot name even one right or freedom guaranteed by the First Amendment, while 54 percent do not know the Constitution gives Congress the power to declare war. A citizenry that does not know its rights will certainly not rebel while they are being systematically indoctrinated into compliance.
Asset forfeiture. Under the guise of fighting the war on drugs, government agents (usually the police) have been given broad leeway to seize billions of dollars' worth of private property (money, cars, TVs, etc.) they "suspect" may be connected to criminal activity. Then--and here's the kicker--whether or not any crime is actually proven to have taken place, the government keeps the citizen's property, often divvying it up with the local police who did the initial seizure.
Surveillance. Not only is the government spying on Americans' phone calls and emails, but police are also being equipped with technology such as Stingray devices that can track your cell phone, as well as record the content of your calls and the phone numbers dialed. That doesn't even touch on what the government's various aerial surveillance devices are tracking, or the dangers posed to the privacy and safety of those on the ground.
Police misconduct. Americans have no protection against police abuse. It is no longer unusual to hear about incidents in which police shoot unarmed individuals first and ask questions later. What is increasingly common, however, is the news that the officers involved in these incidents get off with little more than a slap on the hands.
Prison population. With more than 2 million Americans in prison, and close to 7 million adults in correctional care, the United States has the largest prison population in the world. Many of the nation's privately run prisons--a $5 billion industry--require the state to keep the prisons at least 90 percent full at all times, "regardless of whether crime was rising or falling." All the while, the prisoners are being forced to provide cheap labor for private corporations.
SWAT team raids. Over 80,000 SWAT team raids are conducted on American homes and businesses each year. Police agencies, already empowered to crash through your door if they suspect you're up to no good, now have radars that allow them to "see" through the walls of your home.
Private property. Private property means little at a time when SWAT teams and other government agents can invade your home, break down your doors, kill your dog, wound or kill you, damage your furnishings and terrorize your family. Likewise, if government officials can fine and arrest you for growing vegetables in your front yard, praying with friends in your living room, installing solar panels on your roof, and raising chickens in your backyard, you're no longer the owner of your property.
Strip searches. Court rulings undermining the Fourth Amendment and justifying invasive strip searches have left us powerless against police empowered to forcefully draw our blood, forcibly take our DNA, strip search us, and probe us intimately. Accounts are on the rise of individuals--men and women alike--being subjected to what is essentially government-sanctioned rape by police in the course of "routine" traffic stops.
Fiscal corruption. If there is any absolute maxim by which the federal government seems to operate, it is that the American taxpayer always gets ripped off. This is true, whether you're talking about taxpayers being forced to fund high-priced weaponry that will be used against us, endless wars that do little for our safety or our freedoms, or bloated government agencies such as the National Security Agency with its secret budgets, covert agendas and clandestine activities. Rubbing salt in the wound, even monetary awards in lawsuits against government officials who are found guilty of wrongdoing are paid by the taxpayer.
Militarized police. Americans are powerless in the face of militarized police. As police forces across the country continue to be transformed into extensions of the military, Americans are finding their once-peaceful communities transformed into military outposts, complete with tanks, weaponry, and other equipment designed for the battlefield.
These are not problems that can be glibly dismissed with a few well-chosen words, as most politicians are inclined to do. Nor will the 2016 elections do much to alter our present course towards a police state.
Indeed, as I point out in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, these problems will continue to plague our nation unless and until Americans wake up to the fact that we're the only ones who can change things for the better and then do something about it.
This was a recurring theme for Martin Luther King Jr., who urged Americans to engage in militant nonviolent resistance in response to government corruption. In a speech delivered just a few months before his assassination, King called on Americans to take a stand against the growing problems facing the nation--problems that were being ignored by those in office because they were unpopular, not profitable or risky.
"Cowardice asks the question, 'Is it safe?' Expediency asks the question, 'Is it politic?' And Vanity comes along and asks the question, 'Is it popular?' But Conscience asks the question 'Is it right?' And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must do it because Conscience tells him it is right."