Recently my daughter, Cayman, in the eighth grade, asked about the shutdown and the massive spying operation on Americans by their own government.
“Dad, why don’t people protest?”
As I was trying to think of an intelligent answer, or even any answer, I began reading Mark Twain’s “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court,” a novel in which a man from Twain’s time ends up in King Arthur’s rule in the fifth century. And then my friend Dave Lambert asked me to co-host and help with an event he was planning, “Stop Spying on Us,” about the NSA’s little eavesdropping program. Around 30 people attended.
Why don’t people protest? Why did not one of the dozen local lawyers Dave invited to speak on the legality of the spying operation show up? Lawyers, after all, make the laws that make crimes like spying, pollution, torture, drones, wars and foreclosures legal — and acts of patriotism like speaking out against tyranny illegal. Make no mistake, the NSA is not after terrorists from other countries; they are after you, and me.
So, are the lawyers afraid? Are you? Is that why so few protest? Or is it you think, “I’m not doing anything wrong, so why should I care?” Or is it something even worse: “People believe their country is great,” a friend said when I posed the question to her, and therefore their leaders are at least most of the time acting in their best interests. So when they say spying is in the interest of national security, they believe them.
If that’s the case what would it take for you to change your mind? This? More children live in poverty in America than any country in the world except Romania (now there’s something to brag about, by golly we’re not as bad as Romania), and the leaders’ reaction is to cut food stamps and thereby guarantee we will eventually pass Romania. Is it any wonder a country that cares so little about the most helpless and needy among us sees nothing wrong with murdering children in foreign lands with drones that rain death from the sky?
“I no longer love blue skies. In fact, I now prefer gray skies. Drones don’t fly when sky is gray,” said Zubair Rehman, 13, whose leg was injured by shrapnel during a drone strike in Pakistan that killed his grandmother and injured his younger sister. He and his sister and father testified at a historic congressional hearing, attended by (drum roll please) five members of Congress. Five.
Now the chorus is singing the song of “entitlement reform.”
“Democrats are going to have to give on entitlement reform,” says Democratic Sen. Mark Warner. Entitlement being the leaders’ word for Social Security, which you pay into, Medicare and Medicaid. Reform, implying they don’t work and therefore the rulers are working for us by “reforming” them, when in fact, of course, they work great. (The entitlements. The leaders, not so much.)
And that, my friend, is the real reason they want Social Security, to line their obscene pockets and to make sure we have even less. But it’s not entitlement when the bankers pay themselves, at our expense, outrageous bonuses.
Or when fast food CEOs make, according to a group called Fast Food Forward, $25,000 a day while the average worker flippin’ your burger makes $11,000 a year. No, the entitlement screamers benefit from that system while robbing us of our sense of self-worth. The members of Congress exempt themselves from Social Security and Medicare, and we allow them to do it. One you might know voted to cut food stamps while he collects welfare handouts in the form of something called “farm subsidies” to the tune of double what a family of four gets for food stamps. He’s one of 13 lawmakers who did the same. They probably were too busy collecting their handouts to attend the drone hearing.
Which brings me back to Twain. Reading the novel, I realize human nature has not changed one bit since Arthur’s time. We are still a race of the haves doing everything they can to turn the rest of us into have-nots. Back then they went by titles like king and queen, duke, prince, princess, the nobles, and lived in castles while many of their subjects lived in squalor. Now they go by names like Congress and president and CEO and live in mansions while the rest of us are dangling in the net of bills and cutbacks and being spied on, and instead of fighting against our tormentors, we fight against each other, arguing over who is worse, Obomber or Bush.
When you’re looked down on, the most important thing becomes finding someone you can look down on. Leaders have utter contempt for those of us dangling in the net. Superiority breeds not compassion, but contempt.
The last word to Mark Twain, speaking through his character Hank Morgan: “The most of King Arthur’s British nation were slaves, pure and simple ... the nation as a body was in the world for one object, and one only: to grovel before king and church and noble; to slave for them, sweat blood for them, starve that they might be fed, work that they might play ... And for all this, the thanks they got were cuffs and contempt; and so poor spirited were they that they took even this sort of attention as an honor ... In fact, he was not merely contented with this strange condition of things, he was even able to persuade himself that he was proud of it.”
Well, Cayman, that’s the best I can do.