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Civil Rights

When the United States was forming, debate raged about what kind of country we should have. Some believed the Rousseau argument that "people were basically good" and others supported the argument by Hume and others that the "natural man" tended toward evil. The first group tended to err on the side of asking people to be "personally responsible" and the second group wanted to ensure that we had certain specific "unalienable rights." The arguments between Rights and Responsibility have continued for hundreds of years on this continent.

Our bill of rights was added to the Constitution to ensure that we could do things like speak our minds in public without fear of government interference, practice the religions we want, and many other significant things that a ruling power within a government might want to control or limit to maintain its power.

The theory behind those that advocate responsibility is that if people act responsibly on their own, we don't need to ensure rights. The more rights we give to people, they say, the less responsibly men are expected to exert. Why? Because everything is spelled out, so we, the people, have no need to think responsibly because the government is responsible for us. In fact, some say that by taking away this responsibility, men cannot grow the muscles of character to be responsible and government will fail.

This is the theory. However, noble as this may seem, the facts of history show that when people get a little authority, they begin to exercise unrighteous dominion. In order to keep this under control, our founding fathers created a system of checks and balances between three branches of government. No one person, under our intended government was or is supposed to wield complete power. The system was a work of genius. In fact in order to protect us from a power hungry government, rights were given us in our Constitution.

It's all well and good that men should act responsibly...but, what if they do not? What protects the weakest of us from the strongest or the minority from the majority? Should the least of us be protected in a free society? Or do we believe in social Darwinism? In other words is it "survival of the fittest?" Not in America. "We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights. "

Unfortunately, many in America today turn their backs on this idea. From an economic standpoint, the "free market" at times, tempts us in the other direction. The free market implies "survival of the fittest" as the way to create a better society as a whole. To do so, the weakest must be sacrificed. It seems this idea bleeds over into all social areas as well. What happens in the market place if you are less educated or born into circumstances where you are not given the same opportunities as others? According to the free market you must fall by the wayside. But is there a moral problem with this? (We discuss economic morality more fully in the section by the same name on this website).

Here are some basic civil rights questions every Republican should answer:

1. Why is there no ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) that leans Republican? In other words, why is there no Republican organization dedicated to defending the civil rights and liberties of the individual? Remember when Ronald Reagan made the ACLU a dirty word accusing his opponent of being a "card carrying member?" One may disagree with their stance on many issues, but where is the equivalent Republican organization?
2. Why is there no NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) that leans Republican? Don't Republicans believe in some form of civil rights for blacks? In fact why do such a huge percentage of blacks vote Democrat?
3. Why are people with bigotries against races and nationalities attracted to the Republican Party?
4. Why do the people that believe women don't deserve equal pay for equal work vote Republican? Why do those that believe that women should get out of the workplace and not hold positions of leadership vote Republican?
5. Why are those that see other people from other countries as less human than English speaking white Americans attracted to the Republican Party?
6. Why did the Republican Party turn their backs on blacks during the civil rights movement? Remember Barry Goldwater in the 1964 election saying openly that he was writing off the Black vote, opposing to the Civil Rights Act, and then told the Southern Republicans to ignore the black vote and "go hunting where the ducks are?"

The questions can go on. Are the answers simple? Certainly before the civil rights movement in the 60s, both political parties had problems with bigotry. But the Democrats came out in the latter half of the 20th century as the party that supported blacks, minorities, and women. It became the party known for defending civil rights and civil liberties. How do Republicans respond to this? Rush Limbaugh says it is because "blacks are out looking for handouts." Of course this isn't a good strategy for attracting the black vote.

Recently the Republicans, in spite of being in control of all three branches of government, could not come to consensus on an immigration bill. Why? Because arguments ensued between the two sides of the Republican party, the side that are isolationists and want to build a wall, and the fiscal Republicans who like to hire cheap labor so their businesses can grow. Unfortunately, both sides are racially divisive. One simply doesn't want other races and peoples to "infest" America and the other sees those from other lands as quasi slave labor. They support outsourcing for the same cheap labor so that as long as the sweat-shops are in foreign countries somehow they are not really sweat-shops.

During the immigration marches Rush Limbaugh said,
"Look at all the yard work not being done. Look at all the bathrooms in Los Angeles not being cleaned today."

In addition to immigration, the Republicans are also the ones calling for the abolition of entitlements. For example who can forget Rush Limbaugh's famous statements on the poor who are helped by the Federal Government (already quoted in the section on the poor). He said:

"There will always be poor people. The poor in this country are the biggest piglets at the mother pig and her nipples. The poor feed off the largesse of this government and they give nothing back. Nothing. They're the ones who get all the benefits in this country. They're the ones who are always pandered to...And do the poor pay anything back? Do they pay any taxes? No. They don't pay a thing. They contribute nothing to this country. They do nothing but take from it. There are people who are putting into this economy. There are people who are working hard every day, playing by the rules and contributing. They are the givers. Who are the takers? The poor." (p.40 The Way Things Ought to Be)

Unfortunately, there are more blacks in poverty as a percentage of their race than any other ethnic group, which is not a surprise considering they had for so many years been cut out of the "American dream." Slavery can do that. But what Republicans fail to realize, is that it can continue to do that for generations, even after its abolition. You can see it in the bigotry in housing and lending practicies, for example. Somehow, many conservatives believe that opportunities are suddenly available to all blacks and that bigotry is suddenly abolished as well. But if it is not, they often do not care about that either. Why? Because it interrupts the "free market" in their minds. You see, they believe that if an employer wants to be a bigot and not hire someone because of their skin color or race, that in the market place, he has that right. He is the one taking the risk, they say. But if you live in a part of the country where most people are bigots, and blacks cannot get jobs at all then what are they to do? Sell their 40 acres and a mule the government promised to give them when slavery was abolished?

In addition, how does the country deal with the psychological ramifications of centuries of slavery? Abolition didn't suddenly give blacks a healthy self-image. Teachers in the inner-cities today will tell you that students regularly tell them that they can't do things because they are black. Where did this belief come from? You often hear Republican icons say "Haven't they had 40 years (since the Civil rights act) to get over it? Don't they have the vote now?" Of course, when you go into a psychologist, the first thing they tell you is "get over it." Hardly.

Now what about women? There are women alive today who remember when they couldn't even vote. Who really supports equal pay for equal work? Many are not aware that according to the Census Bureau, the wage gap is actually getting worse. Click here for detals.

According to the Department of Labor, Women on average make 76 on the dollar to men (59 for physicians) but even more interesting is that they make even less in Republican areas and more in Democrat areas. Washington DC for example is at 95 while Utah and Wyoming are below 70. Why is this? The so-called religious right claims that women shouldn't really be in the workplace to begin with. Why? Because many believe women were created by God to make babies and stay in the home and giving them an equal wage would be an incentive for them to leave the home. There is no need to debate a woman's ability to bond with her children over men. But it is quite a different thing to treat women as a sub-class.

Here is the circular argument about women:
1. Women are made to raise children
2. Children are made up of boys and girls
3. Girls grow up to be women
4. Women are made to raise children

This argument is the reason religious fundamentalists in many religions feel that having a "man-child" is more desirable that having a girl. Why? Because the man can affect society directly. But, you may say, so can a woman who is a good mother. Yes, but only if she is mother to a boy, or mother to a girl who has a boy, or mother to a girl who has a girl who has a...and the circular reasoning continues. Families are important, but this is not strictly a family issue. This is also not about the destruction of the family. This is the issue that women for millennia have been looked at as the property of men. If a women makes a choice to go into the work place, then she needs to be paid equally rather that be told she is less valuable than a man. How is this unreasonable? Just as women alive today remember when they couldn't vote, there are men alive today who tried to keep those women from voting.

Rights for women, blacks, immigrants and other minorities have only been granted recently. People just don't "get over" their bigotry on one side or their oppression on the other. It takes time and civil rights and liberties need to be enacted, revised and adjusted to ensure freedom for all Americans until equality is a reality. Which political party welcomes into the country the poor, those on hard times, or the even the homeless? On the other hand, which one wants to build a wall or use the poor as outsourced sweat shop labor? Lady Liberty proclaims:

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

The Right to Privacy

Privacy is one of the foundations of a free society. You will not hear this from many Republicans. However, many of the rights granted to us in the Constitution are based on this right. Although Republican pundits like Rush Limbaugh trumpeted the idea that we "have no fundamental right to privacy," this didn't stop him from claiming this right to seal his medical records in Florida when the government came after him for his obtaining pharmaceuticals to maintain his drug addiction.

The country has operated on privacy from on so many levels. For example, our right to vote privately, our right to get dressed or have sexual relations privately, marriage, child rearing, conscience, our rights against illegal searches and seizures, bank account and social security numbers, census data, medical privacy, wire tapping and electronic surveillance, private property and due process. Amendments to the constitution from the Bill of Rights include many rights based on privacy. You have a right to your own private religious beliefs (I), to not have soldiers on your private property (III), The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures (IV), You don't have to testify against yourself (V), No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law (XIV)

The idea of privacy could be found in the political philosophy of John Locke, as well as that of Thomas Jefferson and others of the Founding Fathers. Federalist Papers 10 and 51 proclaim the idea of privacy, and the liberty explained by the Constitution was that of liberty from the government. To read more on this history click here. Throughout the history Supreme court decisions, privacy has been understood to be a basic Constitutional right. From a legal standpoint, this has never been in dispute, despite what some politicians will tell you so they can take usurp your freedoms.

Recently, the rights of privacy have been under attack, especially since 9/11 and the passing of the Patriot Act (passed without having been read by the majority of Congress). The reasoning behind this act has been explained to us by Republican leadership by telling us that we need to "give up some of our rights in order to maintain freedom." Unfortunately they have forgotten the words often attributed to Benjamin Franklin "The man who trades freedom for security does not deserve nor will he ever receive either" or the words known to be from Franklin, "Sell not virtue to purchase wealth, nor Liberty to purchase power."

What has happened is that many practices have ensued that are deeply disturbing to any freedom loving American. One example is telephone and email surveillance. The argument goes out that if the only way that we can find a terrorist is to monitor all telephone and email conversations in America, then why can't we give up this small bit of privacy? The answers are simple. We can't spy on American phone calls and emails for many reasons. This is how we conduct commerce, it is how the press protects their sources, it how political parties maneuver to win elections, it is how lawyers maintain privelege with their clients. The monitoring of private communication by phone, internet, or mail compromises all these things. Suddenly the government engaged in this has information to stay in power, has inside information that can kill corporations opposed to its political agenda, can blackmail citizens, can subvert trials, can impose guilt by association (as during the Red Scare) and can utterly destroy freedom of the press by jeopardizing its private communications. This has a chilling effect on political dissent. These are just a few examples. Up to this point, all government intrusion into the communication of its citizens required approval of at least the FISA court (the court of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act). Some claim there was not time to file with the FISA court in some cases, but even the FISA court made allowances to the White House to file two weeks after the so-called emergencies. But filings simply stopped in many cases. Why? Because, in the words of many Republicans on the hill, the President doesn't have to answer to anyone when it comes to "terrorism."

That's right, some are putting the power to make these decision in the hands of one man alone, the President of the United States. Never has so much power been given to one man in the history of America. It was never the intention of the framers of this government to do this. Because of the ideas of David Hume and others (discussed above), we created a system of checks and balances so no one person could wield that much power. We do not believe in having a king.

But recently, we have been asked to sacrifice freedoms for security, we have allowed our President to declare war without the consent of Congress (because "terrorism knows no state"), and we have allowed the Executive to compile great stores of data on each citizen that can be use nefariously with no checks on its usage. The debate as to whether the information will be used nefariously is irrelevant. Everyone wants to believe in their guy. What is in question is whether anyone should have that much power. You cannot say, let us give it to this one because "he's a good guy" and not to this one, because he's not. Laws are laws. What is allowable to one leader is also to one with less scruples in the future. For this reason and others, some states have courageously stood in defiance against the Patriot Act and refused to honor many of its provisions.

When you hear a politician say that we have no rights to privacy, pay close attention to what political party they belong to. You will see a pattern. That is why there is no ACLU-like organization that leans to the right. There is simply little interest on the right to preserve these rights as opposed to the rights of corporations, the rights of a few religions, and the rights of commerce. Our framers intended a much more diverse dialogue and a nation committed to maintaining freedoms for the individuals over the state.

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Links and Further Reading

See the PBS documentary For Your Eyes Only online by clicking here.

The program reports on new evidence suggesting the existence of a secret government program that intercepts millions of private e-mails each day in the name of terrorist surveillance. News about the alleged program came to light when a former AT&T employee, Mark Klein, blew the whistle on what he believes to be a large-scale installation of secret Internet monitoring equipment deep inside AT&T's San Francisco office. The equipment, he contends, was created at the request of the U.S. government to spy on e-mail traffic across the entire Internet. Though the government and AT&T refuse to address the issue directly, Klein backs up his charges with internal company documents and personal photos. reports on new evidence suggesting the existence of a secret government program that intercepts millions of private e-mails each day in the name of terrorist surveillance. News about the alleged program came to light when a former AT&T employee, Mark Klein, blew the whistle on what he believes to be a large-scale installation of secret Internet monitoring equipment deep inside AT&T's San Francisco office. The equipment, he contends, was created at the request of the U.S. government to spy on e-mail traffic across the entire Internet. Though the government and AT&T refuse to address the issue directly, Klein backs up his charges with internal company documents and personal photos.

Criminal Defense Lawyer Nancy Hollander, who represents several Muslim-Americans, feels her confidential e-mails are anything but secure. "I've personally never been afraid of my government until now. And now I feel personally afraid that I could be locked up tomorrow," she told NOW.

Who might be eyeing the hundreds of millions of e-mails Americans send out each day, and to what end?

George W. Bush Versus the U.S. Constitution:
The Downing Street Memos and Deception, Manipulation, Torture, Retribution, Coverups in the Iraq War and Illegal Domestic Spying

by John Conyers Jr. (Compiler), Anita Miller (Editor), Joseph C. Wilson (Introduction)

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