The International Writers Magazine: Reality Check + Readers Responses
"Men are qualified for civil liberties in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains upon their appetites: in proportion as their love of justice is above their rapacity."
-- Edmund Burke
"You never want a serious crisis to go to waste. And what I mean by that is an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before."
-- Rahm Emanuel
Edmund Burke is an interesting cat. I like to read him when alarmists shout incessantly about how things are worse than ever. Things are not worse than ever. It is far better. Not everything, of course. Most things are far, far better. Burke understood this concept more than most. Burke was not an absolutist. He was a realist. However, despite things being generally better, we tend to repeat our mistakes, especially ones made in recent history. Like this week, when for reasons understandable to human emotions; fear, grief and hate, but not so much in the pursuit of our intellectual and legal collective known as the United States of America, we are dangerously close to trading on our civil liberties...again.
© James Campion April 26th 2013
Suddenly, as two bombs go off in Boston, we are faced, in a far less and entirely different set of circumstances as 9/11 -- let's not detach ourselves completely from reality, here -- but with an equally charged political and social dilemma. When confronted with our own (false) sense of safety, how much does protecting the freedoms that separate us from most of the planet matter?
Burke is also an interesting cat because he is simultaneously the "philosophical founder of modern conservatism" and "the font of liberalism"; both forces always at work whenever this nation feels a tinge of vulnerability. We are constantly under siege from these two damaged and discredited notions on how our liberties should be compromised. Oh, they love to throw their aphorisms around, mostly framing the other side as some kind of enemy to "the greater cause". Then, ever so slowly, almost without notice, you become indebted to their ideologies and forced to ask their permission to see if you've been a good little American.
By all this I mean to say that the discussion (some of it serious, most of it drivel) following a tragedy, for instance, Newtown or Boston, most assuredly veers into the diminishing of our rights; whether it's to curtail the purchase of a certain level of gun or its ammunition or blithely calling to wave every possible right granted to an American citizen by the amendments to the U.S. Constitution, like Miranda rights or search and seizure, etc. And what makes it all so interesting is that those who defend the rights granted by the Second Amendment in the former case are now the same clamoring about trashing Amendments 4 and 5 and a few more for good measure.
Don't be fooled. Both liberals and conservatives are always keen on limiting your freedoms, while clouding up your vision of this by arguing that the other has a monopoly on those limits. We've discussed these anomalies, or more to the point, hypocrites many, many times in this space, far too many times to fathom. But be very aware and extremely careful when it comes to this bullshit about national security. This is when freedoms always end up on the chopping block.
The disastrous response to 9/11, all of it still on display today, from airport security, the uselessness of Homeland Security, the ramp up in military action and the tragically tyrannical Patriot Act, was some of the most egregious attacks on our basic civil rights ever enacted. Don't get me wrong, there were terrible examples of this each time war reared its ugly head in this country, but these were particularly thorny in a time when the expansion of knowledge (the internet and soon to be social media and these now ubiquitous phone/camera/video recorders) was giving us a more penetrating glimpse into our government's direct role in the robbing of our rights.
The reason many over-shot the presumption that George W. Bush was "the worst president ever", the way they now deem the current president (mostly through revenge, because Obama has some way to go to be as destructive as Bush) is because we have more information. Now, being riddled with information is not always the best thing, (most of it is paranoid innuendo) but it is preferable to being completely in the dark as Americans were during the War of 1812 or the Civil War or the Spanish/American War or pretty much every war through Viet Nam. It could be said that information was what eventually doomed the criminally insane doings in Viet Nam, or as military supporters will couch it: "We were too wishy-washy about our determined mission there", which actually means that the government couldn't quietly get away with the same level of chicanery it did for entirety of the 20th century up to that point.
So that brings us to now, where we have a 19 year-old American citizen incarcerated in the state of Massachusetts, the very breeding ground of the American experiment, for the crimes of murdering and seriously injuring other American citizens. Some want him tried as a military combatant, which would obliterate any case against him, for the simple and binding reason that he is not a military combatant, anymore than Timothy McVeigh, who as an American citizen (not given the title of president), perpetrated the greatest harm to this country's citizenry ever.
This also bring us to the notion that because the FBI had once interviewed one of the Boston suspects some years ago and let him go, the government is now considering "lowering the bar" on what it means to be "a serious threat to national security".
Whoa, Jack. Hang on there.
Who decides this? What "bar" and who is deciding to "lower" it to what now?
This badly formed but wholly important previous sentence is what should have been asked in 2001, and, quite frankly, before each time the government tried to put its citizens on notice that "well, as long as you are safe (which we've already determined is a false premise to begin with) then you can endure a little less of your rights."
Look, I do not believe gun control could work, or as history shows in the recent past, has worked in this country; however , I have a better shot at making the argument that it is a far more pressing issue than terrorism. Since 1970, when terrorism began to take hold as an effective method for those not fortunate enough to have nukes and ambassadors and a CIA or KGB at their disposal to make a mark on the international violence tote board, about 3,400 people have been killed in this country in "terror-related" deaths. From 1980 to the present, nearly one million people have been killed from a gun.
Either way, no tragedy or crisis, as former Obama Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel once mused leading up to the massively unconstitutional Affordable Care Act, ever passes around here without someone concocting some new way to eliminate a portion of your rights.
READERS RESPONSES May 3rd 2013
Hilarious stuff. (SEQUESTER DIARY -- Issue: 3/2/13) How you are able to take such pathetic mismanagement of the federal government by the president and the congress and put into such personal terms? It is a talent. Not sure where you were going with it, but if I may, I interpret it as symbolism for how this affects more than just the media or the government or even agencies that say they're going to assist people but perhaps don't. It's about us, the citizens, who are once again left to trust (and by trust I mean we still vote, right? They ask us to vote, guilt us into the thing, say people died for it and it defines our national character) and those we put in power to just jack around and then this happens.
How in the world they could do this when they knew it was likely to be the outcome; whether it is disastrous or merely an inconvenience, it is an embarrassment. We cannot accomplish a thing anymore.
And these assholes are going to tackle universal background checks, immigration reform and a budget?????
Keep making us laugh, James. You do a great service. Otherwise we'd be crying.
Your "diary" was not funny. I don't think children and the elderly and our veterans being denying essential programs due to the hubris, immaturity and the general political infighting going on in Washington is a joke. It is sad. It is infuriating. And it is expected at this point. The president screwed this one up. Why he would propose and sign onto this thing being a progressive Democrat is incredible. And this do-nothing congress part two is certainly off on a predictable foot.
Bad. Very bad. Not a joke. By making it one you diminish its impact and it is wrong. Your outrage is usually placed in the right direction. This is not.
And who cares if the media is disappointed by it not being a complete horror show. It will slowly erode our way of life, like most things that are evil do. Very often it is these kinds of red-tape issues that tear down the fabric of America. Piece by piece. Little by little. So that we never notice, and argue and crack jokes and look pissed and say things, but it never amounts to anything.
There is a real sense in this country now that we are indeed a leaderless, legislative-less nation. We are on the brink here. This sequester nonsense has brought it all home. Here you have the two main branches of government agreeing on what amounts to a suicide solution -- get something done or the whole thing goes down -- and not only do they not address the issue, but they fail to even attempt to stop it.
I don't know what sequestration will do in the short term or the long term, but the plain fact that this monstrosity known as the federal government that cannot budget, cannot fight wars, cannot protect the borders, cannot create any meaningful by-partisan compromised legislation is enraging to me. I am so pissed right now reading your little goofy thing.
Thanks for that.
What you write is often amusing--at times nearly hilarious. That said, nothing you have ever typed, nor ever will, is funnier than this phrase from your most recent column:
"I rarely write this kind of overreaching hyperbole..."
Peter G. S. Blasevick II
I want to thank you for your beautifully framed and wonderfully presented recollection of the amazing 1983 NCAA Tournament run by the underdog Wolfpack. (N.C. STATE & THE BIRTH OF MARCH MADNESS -- Issue: 3/27/13) You put it so succinctly; "There has quite simply never been nor has there ever been since a college team so completely overmatched, so irrevocably poised, so damned exciting as N.C. State winning game after game in such a concentrated period of time." It brought back so many memories and made me realize just how rare something like that is, even in the world of sports where miracles can happen from time to time.
I was never a fan of college basketball before that tournament. I followed it, but it is so true, as someone who lived it as a fan, the entire story, the way it unfolded, was a thing to behold.
I saw every single game of that run and I will never forget it.
You're a good sports writer. You should do more of this. You seem to settle into this world with a more comfortable charm than your political writing, which, while insightful and often times satirical, it fails to reach the personal heights you hit with the subject of sport. I loved your pieces on Labron James and the Bucky Dent Game and Pro Football rules and all that. It is a nice change and a breath of fresh air to see you enjoy the subject matter for once.
This was about the last year I watched the NCAA somewhat religiously. The final was unbelievable. I'll admit I was pulling for the underdog, but jeez, Hakeem and Clyde were magnificent. As was NC State.
The ending was probably the most absurd I've ever seen. I, and millions of others, was expecting OT, which would have been cool enough, and then bam.
You may have mentioned this, but when Valvano was questioned about how NCS managed to beat Houston, his answer was simple: "We played behind them." His reasoning was that Houston broke the morale of their opponents by over-the-top jams, and so he had his guys stay inside, rather than try to block the pass in deep. It worked. Houston got plenty of short jumpers, but they never got the psychological edge. Brilliant coaching.
That was a talented team. 3 sharp shooting guards with Thurl Bailey and Lorenzo Charles down low.
If the 3 point rule had been in effect they'd have won by large margins.
The end of the game and ensuing celebration truly was such a special moment in sports history made all the more poignant by the illness and passing of Coach V. His legacy is one of inspiration, courage, and certainly gave new meaning to what being a champion is all about.
Elizabeth L/ Paredes
Editors note: It's been just over four months since Adam Lanza fatally shot 20 children and six adults dead in Sandy Hook on December 14th 2012. Since that day 3,700 + people in the United States have been killed by guns. Source: SLATE Magazine who are monitoring the data daily for gun deaths in the USA.
The Lessons of Boston
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Getting hyped about North Korea saber rattling in spring is tantamount to being floored about the flowers budding in the backyard.
More Reality here