While the mythology that America has the highest standard of living is beginning to die its long-overdue death, most Americans still honestly believe that their country is the most free in the world.
When Bush told us that "they hate us for our freedom" what was most stunning was that the news media, and many citizens, simply accepted it as a fact.
It's an important myth, because if you believe your country defends liberty and freedom then you can justify all sorts of horrible things done in the name of your country.
"None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free."
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
But how do you measure "freedom"? Its almost as difficult to measure as happiness. Or is it?
I'm old enough to remember the Cold War in the 1970's. People in America used to point to the Soviet Union's gulags as evidence that they weren't free. After all, someone that is imprisoned is by definition not free, right? There is logic behind this.
However, we don't hear this argument in America anymore. Not since we started taking away people's freedom at the highest level in the world.
There are other ways to measure freedom. The World Justice Project recently released a report that says Americans have less access to justice than even some developing countries. America ranks behind such countries as Estonia and the United Arab Emirates.
The report is quite clear that the justice system in America depends on the amount of it that you can purchase.
The report also touches on abuses by police.
There are other damning reports as well. Eariler this year the World Economic Forum’s annual Global Competitiveness Index was released. Granted, the index was created for the use by corporations and the wealthy, but it does measure such things as rule of law and the policing of corruption and control of organized crime.
It's an astonishing yet scarcely acknowledged fact that on no fewer than 15 out of 15, the United States now fares markedly worse than Hong Kong. In the Heritage Foundation’s Freedom Index, too, the U.S. ranks 21st in the world in terms of freedom from corruption, a considerable distance behind Hong Kong and Singapore. [Transparency International puts the U.S. at 24th.]A breakdown in rule of law and an expansion of corruption, besides being the hallmarks of banana republics, would be good reasons for companies and small businesses to hesitate before investing in a nation, and thus slowing down the economy.
Perhaps the most compelling evidence of all comes from the World Bank’s Indicators on World Governance, which suggest that, since 1996, the United States has suffered a decline in the quality of its governance in three different dimensions: government effectiveness, regulatory quality and the control of corruption.
Freedom is Slavery
America goes through cycles when it comes to freedom. After we entered WWI until the end of the first Red Scare there was an assault on civil rights. Same goes for the start of WWII until the end of the second Red Scare in the early 50's.
The first Red Scare was followed by an expansion of worker's rights in the 30's and some mild progress in civil rights.
The latter Red Scare was followed by the Civil Rights movement, various minority rights movements, and the Women's Rights movement, all of which expanded civil rights to more universal levels than had ever been seen.
Normally this would lead one to believe that the current assault is just a normal assault on civil rights that will receed some time in the future.
However, this time IS different. Never before has the assault on civil rights (which started in the late 70's or early 80's with the War on Drugs) lasted so long before there was a push-back.
Even now, at least 30 years later, there is no sign of one starting.
Even more troubling, the assault is crossing boundries rarely crossed at any time in America's history. For instance, the federal government's war on whistleblowers is now threatening to label journalists as terrorists if they report government misdeads.
The fact that the 1st Amendment is under assault shouldn't be any surprise. You knew that the moment you first heard of free speech zones.
The entire concept of zoning free speech means that free speech is no longer a right, it is a priviledge, by definition.
However, the most troubling thing of all is the anti-civil rights trend since the start of the War On some Terror and how it has become bi-partisan.
The right to indefinitely detain citizens without trial, classified kill-lists and "disposition matrices", a fast-expanding fleet of legally-unaccountable aerial drones, and the presumptive right to kill American citizens without due process - all these sweeping expansions of executive power are the legacy of four years of Barack Obama's presidency and of themselves represent a new era in the power of the American government over its citizenry.As if to prove that this isn't some exception or oversight by the Obama Administration, Eric Holder's Justice Department has given awards to the investigative teams that refused to prosecute torturers who killed their victims (while aggresively prosecuting those who talk about torture to the press), and the team that "crafted a $25 billion settlement effectively immunizing the banksters for engaging in systemic mortgage fraud."
Never before has an American president asserted their ability to act as judge, jury and executioner towards their own citizens, a power which Barack Obama claimed for the executive branch in killing the New Mexico-born fundamentalist preacher Anwar Al-Awlaki in a drone strike - followed by his 16 year-old son two weeks later.
The passage of the National Defense Authorisation Act (NDAA) provides the President with the ability to place Americans under indefinite military detention without trial or even the provision of evidence; a power which extends to citizens abroad as well as to those on US soil. Such concepts seem utterly otherworldly to most Americans, especially given their origination from a liberal president who had been elected in large part as a response to the perceived belligerence and militarism of George W Bush.
Even if you trust Obama with all your heart not to abuse these scary powers, he isn't going to president four years from now. What if the next guy isn't so nice? The legal precedents that Bush and Obama have set will carry over.
It is only a matter of time before someone becomes president that will abuse the powers in a way that you will find unacceptable, but if you don't oppose it now it will be so firmly accepted as normal government powers by then that it would take a bloody revolution to change it.
It is Orwellian that the more the government attacks our civil rights the more they talk about defending freedom.
The question is when the American people will finally say "enough"? For that to happen Americans will have to shed their fear and live up to the slogan "Home of the Brave". As for right now, there is over-supply of hubris and a shortage of real courage in the country.