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That America is in deep moral and legal trouble was pretty much obvious to everyone before Edward Snowden released official documents showing the extent to which the U.S. government has been playing fast and loose with the Fourth Amendment rights of Americans to be protected against unreasonable searches and seizures.
Snowden's revelations -- as explosive as they are -- were, in one sense, merely the latest challenge to those of us who took a solemn oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic. That has been a commitment tested repeatedly in recent years, especially since the 9/11 attacks.
This is our summer of discontent. The question we need to ask ourselves is whether that discontent will move us to action. Never in my lifetime have there been such serious challenges to whether the Republic established by the Founders will survive. Immediately after the Constitutional Convention, Ben Franklin told a questioner that the new structure created "a Republic, if you can keep it."
He was right, of course; it is up to us. After all the many troubling disclosures -- from torture to "extraordinary renditions" to aggressive war under false pretenses to warrantless wiretaps to lethal drone strikes to whistleblowers prosecutions to the expanded "surveillance state" -- it might be time to take a moment for what the Germans call "eine Denkpause," a "thinking break." And it is high time to heed and honor the Noah Principle: "No more awards for predicting rain; awards only for building arks."
So let's face it. The Obama White House and its co-conspirators in Congress and the Judiciary have thrown the gauntlet down at our feet. It turned out that we are the ones we've been waiting for. As Annie Dillard, one of my favorite theologians, has put it, "There is only us; there never has been any other." And as one of my favorite activists/prophets continued to insist, "Do not say there are not enough of us. There ARE enough of us!"
Besides threats to basic constitutional rights and gross violations of international law, there are other pressing issues for Americans, especially the obscene, growing chasm between the very rich and the jobless (and often homeless) poor. There is widespread reluctance, even so, to ask the key questions?
Is it right to fire teachers, police and firefighters; to close libraries; leave students in permanent debt; gut safety-net programs -- all by feigning lack of money? Yet, simultaneously, is it moral to squander on the Pentagon and military contractors half of the country's discretionary income from taxes -- an outlay equivalent to what the whole rest of the world put together spends for defense?
It seems we are guided far more by profits than by prophets. And without prophetic vision, the people perish.
America's lucrative war-making industry operates within a fiendishly self-perpetuating business model: U.S. military interventions around the world (including security arrangements to prop up unpopular allies and thus to thwart the will of large segments of national populations) guarantee an inexhaustible supply of "militants, insurgents, terrorists or simply "bad guys'" -- a list that sometimes comes to include American citizens.
These troublemakers must be hunted down and vaporized by our remote killing machines, which inflict enough destruction and stir up enough outrage to generate even more "militants, insurgents, terrorists or simply "bad guys.'"
And, in turn, the blowback toward the United States -- the occasional terrorist attack -- creates enough fear at home to "justify" the introduction of draconian Third Reich-style "Enabling Act" legislation not very different from the unconstitutional laws ushering in the abuses in Germany 80 years ago.
With only muted murmur from "progressive" supporters, the Obama administration has continued much of the post-9/11 assault on constitutional rights begun by George W. Bush -- and in regard to Barack Obama's aggressive prosecutorial campaign against "leakers," Obama has taken these transgressions even further.
Are we to look on, like the proverbial "obedient Germans," as Establishment Washington validates the truth of James Madison's warning: "If Tyranny and Oppression come to this land, it will be in the guise of fighting a foreign enemy."
Yet, while countless billions of dollars are spent on "security" against "terrorism," little attention is devoted to the truly existential threat from global warming. Can we adults in good conscience continue to shun the dire implications of climate change?
This question was again brought home to me personally on Aug. 6, as our ninth grandchild pushed her way out into a world with challenges undreamed of just decades ago. When she is my age, will she rue joining us last Tuesday? I can only hope she will forgive me and my generation for not having the guts to face down those whose unconscionable greed continues to rape what seemed to be a rather pure and pleasant planet when I made my appearance seven short decades ago.