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Another Birthday

June 23, 2013

America’s birthday is not far off. This one will be her 237th. She can’t plead the ignorance of youth as a defense any longer. Has she just settled into the malaise – read political gridlock – of middle age or is she past her prime? Have the ideals on which she was founded been abandoned as childish and unrealistic? It very nearly seems that way sometimes.

First Amendment

Extensive phone records of the Associated Press have been seized by the Justice Department. No irony there. The phone and online traffic of millions of ordinary Americans have been similarly monitored, if not mined for content by the National Security Agency. We are informed this impingement on privacy is necessary, if Americans are to remain safe from terrorism. Who will safeguard us from tyranny is a different matter.

Another of the government’s most powerful agencies, the Internal Revenue Service, admittedly delayed the processing of nonprofit applications based upon their political affiliation. While it now seems there was no express directive to this effect from the White House, the course of action was evidently undertaken without a second thought by those engaged in it.

Complicated World

No doubt about it, this is a complicated world. With credible evidence of the use of chemical weapons by President Bashar al-Assad against his own people in the Syrian civil war, America will be arming anti-government forces. Who may ultimately gain access to such weapons is uncertain. Weapons America provided to aid the Afghans in repelling their Soviet occupiers later fell into the hands of the Taliban.

Whether a political decision was made by the White House deliberately to mislead the public about the nature of the attack on the US diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya is still in dispute.

Meanwhile, drones can facilitate pinpoint strikes anywhere on earth. Drone strikes in war zones like Iraq and Afghanistan are by authority of the Defense Department. However, where covert operations are under way, the Central Intelligence Agency – operating largely without congressional scrutiny, except by a limited number of intelligence committees – is in control.

Star Chamber Proceedings

As recently as 6/14/13, a closed session of the Guantanamo war crimes court was held in such secrecy that the defendant, himself, was barred. Issues surrounding classified information were discussed. One cannot help but make comparisons with Star Chamber proceedings [1].

By contrast, the Senate’s cowardly failure to pass gun control (even the tepid version put forward), and the appalling frequency of sexual assault in the military (at last count, 26,000 cases of unwanted contact annually), appear manageable – not paltry by any means, but not as much a blade to the heart.

Not if we…

On July 4th, country songs will once again conjure up images of Mom, fried chicken, and apple pie. The flag – for which so many have proudly died – will once again be flown. Fireworks will once again light up the sky.

But the question begs an answer. Is America past her prime?

No, America is not past her prime, not by a long shot. Not if those of us who love her step up to the plate, take seriously our obligation as citizens to pay attention to what is being done in our name. Not if we speak out for what’s right, not just what’s popular or convenient; reach across party, generational, geographic, class, racial, and ethnic lines to our sisters and brothers.

Not if we fall to our knees, and thank God for the blessings He has so bountifully showered on this nation.

Happy Birthday, America!

[1] The notorious Star Chamber was an English court originally established to avoid prejudice in favor of prominent persons.  Proceedings were held in secret, without indictments or witnesses.  With time, the Star Chamber became a political tool for the monarchy.  It operated until 1641.


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