The Law Enforcement Legal-Judicial Correctional Complex

The Law Enforcement Legal-Judicial Correctional Complex is an interlocking and interdependent set of institutions whose avowed purpose is to 1. Protect Americans from crime.   2. Fairly punish wrong doers.  3. Provide rehabilitation for errant citizens and 4. Return them as productive members of society.  If we take these as the four main objectives of the system, in actuality, the system accomplishes very little of these objectives.  What it does accomplish, it does so at a high cost to our country.  The system is a gross miscarriage of justice whose complexity, cost, processes and outcomes cost Americans billions of dollars of year with little appreciative results for the money.  True, crime is down in the US for the past ten years but at what cost?  Furthermore, do you or any other Americans actually feel safer in your home or on the streets at night?  In what large American city would any man or women simply take a walk at 10 or 11 PM?

In this blog, I want to dissect each of the components of what I am calling our Law Enforcement Legal-Judicial Correctional Complex to demonstrate the monstrous dysfunction of the system and to show how each part feeds off of and helps to sustain dysfunction in the other parts.  Let’s start with the Correctional System.  No doubt you have heard some of the statistics that demonstrate how expensive this system is but a short review might help.

The Correctional System:

The following table shows the number of Americans in jails in the US as of 2010:

Image

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Incarceration_in_the_United_States

“The cost of the American prison system is enormous.   It is estimated that the yearly cost of over $74 billion eclipses the GDP of 133 nations. What is perhaps most unsettling about this fact is that it is the American taxpayer who foots the bill, and is increasingly padding the pockets of publicly traded corporations like Corrections Corporation of America and GEO Group. Combined both companies generated over $2.53 billion in revenue in 2012, and represent more than half of the private prison business.”   http://www.smartasset.com/blog/news/the-economics-of-the-american-prison-system/

The United States has the highest documented incarceration rate in the world (743 per 100,000 population),  Russia has the second highest rate (577 per 100,000), followed by Rwanda (561 per 100,000). The United States has less than 5% of the world’s population but 23.4% of the world’s prison and jail population.  As far as rehabilitating prisoners, a 2002 study survey showed that among nearly 275,000 prisoners released in 1994, 67.5% were rearrested within 3 years, and 51.8% were back in prison.  Most studies support a high recidivism rate.

What are you going to do in today’s recession era economy with no job skills, a felony conviction and the past four or five years out of the labor market?   If you tell me you are going to get a job, I will give you one hundred to one odds against it.

However, we are simply looking at one part of the dysfunctional system that I am labeling as the Law Enforcement Legal Judicial Correctional Complex.  The costs of the Correctional system alone are staggering both in terms of financial costs and human lives not to mention human spirits.   But the system is interlocking and like the military industrial complex, each part feeds into and off of the other institutions. Most studies do not show the true cost to the American taxpayer since few take into consideration the cost of courts, lawyers, judges, parole officers, correctional officers and police departments.

The Legal-Judicial System:

Americans are treated almost monthly if not weekly to a real life courtroom drama.  The trial of OJ Simpson and other high profile cases has catapulted crime front and center into part of the American entertainment experience.   There is hardly a day that goes by when we cannot follow a new courtroom drama.  Trials such as the Casey Anthony case, Travon Martin case or the Jodi Arias case occupied front page news and TV time for months.  Even as I write, I am sure that some new bizarre case will soon grace our TV and newspapers.  Judges, lawyers and defendants become actors and Hollywood entertainers as they sacrifice justice for ratings.  The trials may go on for months and the news is quick to pounce on the most titillating and sensationalist elements of the trial in their efforts to increase ratings and advertising revenues. Where once sex reigned supreme to sell ad space and capture viewers, real life crime (often with elements of both sex and violence) are guaranteed to keep viewers welded to their couches.  The secondary effect of this massive bombardment of crime and court time is to persuade us that we are surrounded with and inundated with crime.  Go to Amazon.com and type in Serial Killers and you will find a total of 14.460 books dealing with the subject. Go to your local supermarket and look at the paperback books on the rack. Probably a third will deal with some aspect of murder or mayhem.

What does all this cost Americans in dollars?  It is estimated that the high profile murder case of Jodi Arias has reportedly cost Arizona residents well over $1.5 million to finance her aggressive state-appointed legal team, as well as the continuance of her extensive trial.  Ironically, after months of witnesses in what most thought would be a “slam dunk” case, the jury deadlocked on a verdict and now there must be a retrial.  If you were running the courts and making a fortune off of the advertising, news and TV broadcasts can you think of a better outcome?  More testimony from witnesses, more nude pictures, more sex and more violence; is anybody concerned about justice or the obscene costs of such performances.

Most costs that we associate with these “Hollywood” trials primarily calculate the costs of lawyers, but to obtain “Total Judicial Costs”, we must also include the costs of the courtrooms, the bailiffs, the juries and the judges as part of the entire system.  According to the US Chamber of Commerce, America’s civil justice system is the world’s most expensive, with a direct cost in 2010 of $264.6 billion, or 1.82% of U.S. GDP.  Add to this cost, the cost of the US criminal justice system (well over 300 billion by many estimates) and you now have $76 billion dollars for prisons, $265 billion dollars for civil trials and $300 billion dollars for criminal trials for a total of $641 billion dollars.  BUT WAIT!  We have not included the cost of the US Law Enforcement System.

The Law Enforcement System:

To obtain “Total Costs” we must also include the costs of state, county, municipal police departments, security departments and also such Federal Agencies as the FBI, ATF, and ICE which perform law enforcement activities.  Let’s look at the annual budgets of the three largest Federal agencies first:

  • ICE requested an annual budget of more than $5.8 billion for FY 2012.    ICE
  • The FBI’s fiscal year (FY) 2012 budget request includes a total of $8.1 billion in direct budget authority.  FBI
  • ATF had a fiscal year budget of $1.2 billion dollars.  ATF

Now to include costs of police departments across the US: 

According to the Bureau of Justice, the operating budgets of local police departments totaled $55.4 billion for fiscal year 2007—14% more than in 2003 after adjusting for inflation (Bureau of Justice Statistics)

A more recent report by the Justice Policy Institute for 2012 notes that:

“Despite crime rates being at their lowest levels in more than 30 years, the U.S. continues to maintain large and increasingly militarized police units, spending more than $100 billion every year.  Police forces have grown from locally-funded public safety initiatives into federally subsidized jobs program, with a decreasing focus on community policing and growing concerns about racial profiling and “cuffs for cash,” with success measured not by increased safety and well-being but by more arrests.”

So to our former Total Costs of $641 billion dollars we must now add:

  • $5. 8 billion dollars for ICE
  • $8.1 billion dollars for the FBI
  • $1.2 billion for the ATF
  • $100 billion dollars for police departments across the USA

This brings our Total Costs for The Law Enforcement Legal-Judicial Correctional Complex to $756 billion dollars and I have not calculated the costs of private security systems or private security agencies which by some estimates now include more total employees than in the US Law Enforcement system.  I have also not included other government agencies or state agencies such as Natural Resources which also have a law or code enforcement function.

$756 billion dollars is admittedly a rough estimate.  I would not stake my name or reputation on this figure.  However, the point of this exercise is to demonstrate that we are looking at a huge cost to achieve the aforementioned objectives of:

1. Protect Americans from crime.

2. Fairly punish wrong doers.

3. Provide rehabilitation for errant citizens

4. Return criminals as productive members of society.

At a rough cost of $5000 dollars per every America taxpayer per year, this might not seem like such a high cost if we could actually say that we are achieving our objectives.  But by no stretch of the imagination could anyone think we are actually doing a good job on any of the four objectives I described.  I could write volumes on the unfairness of prison sentences, the injustices in the court system, the unfair rates of incarceration for minorities, the lack of effectiveness of capital punishment to deter crime and the useless war on drugs which nets billions for the Law Enforcement Legal-Judicial Correctional Complex but has been zero percent effective in decreasing drug use.  No doubt though, you have heard these statistics and facts over and over again.  So the question really is where can or should we go from here. We know the system (if not irreparably broke) is in need of major repair.  What should these repairs be and how do we go about instituting them?

Caveats:

I want to clarify a few issues before I move onto my suggestions for change.  First, I do not want to nor do I think it possible or desirable to eliminate police, FBI and even the ICE group.  We need protective services and the world will never be a perfect place with perfect people. There are too many immoral and unethical people to expect that society will self-organize into peaceful crime free communities.

Second, the workers in the system are doing their best but as Deming often said, it is the fault of the system not the employees. The police, judges, lawyers, correction officers, parole officers, administrative people and security services are all doing the best they can in systems that are basically dysfunctional.

Third, we need to change the hearts and minds of Americans who stubbornly think that more prisons, more police, more trials, stricter sentencing and more guns will lead to a safer community.  This is a fallacy that empirically has little support. Wherever it is true, the cost in human lives and spirit not to mention the costs in dollars is not worth the results.

We need to fundamentally change our attitudes about the causes and solutions of crime.  We need to take the same scientific approach to crime that we take to physics, biology, chemistry and genetics.  Too much of our criminal justice system is based on superstition, intuition and emotions.  No doubt crime is a tragedy but the solution must be as analytic as Sherlock Holmes.   Punishments and sentencing based on political and emotional appeal to the populace have no place in the system.

Changes Needed:

 There are a plethora of crimes that need to be decriminalized.  Many crimes should not be felonies and could be resolved with the use of fines or some type of community service.  Once we stamp someone with the mark of felon, we can almost guarantee that we will create someone who can no longer fit into society.  Some types of crimes that could be dealt with without resort to prisons or felony convictions include prostitution, drugs, white collar crimes, domestic and sexual abuse crimes.  In cases where the offenders pose no threat to the physical well-being of others, we should avoid prison sentences and felony convictions at all costs.  Think of a system wherein we declared “War on the Abuse of Women” and put the same amount of money into efforts to stop violence against women as we presently are spending to stop drugs.  We need a multi-national and multi-cultural offensive against the abuse of women which (while needing funding) also needs intelligent interventions to stop abuse.   We do not need most of the men involved in violence against women labeled as felons and sent to prison for long sentences.

Do away with mandatory sentencing guidelines.  These guidelines increase the incarceration rate without any real impact on long-term crime.  Drug sentencing is one example where mandatory sentencing laws have had little or no impact on drug use in this country.

Review trial and court records for evidence of adverse impact and discrimination against minorities.  Change laws and policies which show a disproportionate number of convictions or longer sentences for any income, ethnic, age, or gender groups.

Eliminate the use of past criminal records in hiring for Federal, state, county and municipal jobs.   Allow ex-felons the same voting rights as regular citizens in all states.  Once a person has served his/her time, they should be allowed the same rights that all other citizens have. Their past records should not be used against them.  The only exception I can make here would be in cases involving child abuse and jobs wherein the ex-offender would potentially be working with or around children.

 Time for Questions:

Do you feel safer today than you did ten years ago?  How much are you willing to pay for more security?  Are you willing to give up your freedom for security?  Do you know any criminals? Have you ever been convicted of a crime?  What “second” chance do you think you should have been given?  Do you think others deserve a “second” chance?  Why or why not?

Life is just beginning.

Reflecting on Music, Variety and Risk-taking

I love music and I love the numerous varieties of music in the world from hip hop to classical, from Norwegian music to Chinese music, from Blue Grass to opera.  Like food, I have never met a music I did not like.  Of course, that does not mean, I have never heard a particular piece of music that I did not like.  Music is like anything else, there is good music and there is music one does not care for.  Karen plays music and is always more fond of learning a new instrument or taking part in a music jam, choir or sing-along.  She is a participant while I am an observer.  Alas, I have no talent in the musical arena and so I content myself with listening.

However, I think my listening style may be somewhat unique.  While others sip deeply from a fine piece of music, I enjoy listening to the same piece played by many different musicians and in many different styles.  I can sit for hours listening to the same piece played by an assortment of artists with a myriad of instruments, vocals and rhythms.

I find the creativity in how a piece can be played and the many different ways that a piece can be played to be fascinating.  I have sat and listened to the Ave Maria played by fifteen different artists and each one brings something different to the song.  I have listened to more versions of Carmen than I can think about.  From Bizet’s traditional Carmen, to the American Carmen Jones to Beyoncé’s Carmen, each version has its own virtues and vices.  Music makes the comment that “Variety is the spice of life” to be an absolute truth.  Today, I would like to illustrate this aspect of music with a song that I fell in love with called Malagueña Salerosa.   A short background on the song courtesy of Wikipedia:

Malagueña Salerosa also known as La Malagueña is a well- known Huasteco or Huapango song from Mexico, which has been covered more than 200 times by many performers.

The song is that of a man telling a woman (from Málaga, Spain) how beautiful she is, and how he would love to be her man, but that he understands her rejecting him for being too poor.

If, like me, you enjoy the lyrics to a song as you listen to it, the following is the English translation:

Graceful Malaguenan

What beautiful eyes you have,
beneath those two eyebrows
beneath those two eyebrows
what beautiful eyes you have!

They love to watch me
but if you don’t let them,
but if you don’t let them,
not even to blink.
Graceful  Malagueñan.

I long to kiss your lips,
I long to kiss your lips,
Graceful Malagueñan.
And to tell you, beautiful girl,

that you are stunning and bewitching,
that you are stunning and bewitching,
like the pureness of a rose,
like the pureness of a rose.

If, for being poor, you look down on me,
I agree you are right,
I agree you are right,
If, for being poor, you look down on me.

I don’t offer you riches.
I offer you my heart,
I offer you my heart,
in exchange for what I lack.

Thus, to illustrate my observation about variety and the endless ways that one can find variety in the world (for that is the real message of my blog), I have selected three versions of Malagueña Salerosa.  The important point which I see over and over again is that there is an endless variety in the world.  There is no limit to imagination, innovation and creativity.  Even the same song, can be performed endlessly and never be boring.  People often wonder why they should write on a subject when it seems that there are a thousand books written on any topic you can think of and perhaps now an additional million blogs.

My answer is that every one of us has a different and unique way of looking at the world. Your biography, your story, your view on ethics, your views on management or your views on child raising will be unique.  Just like your DNA is unlike any other DNA in the world, it is impossible for you to be a carbon copy of anyone else.  Even if you wanted to, you could not exactly copy anyone else.  So why bother to try?  The excitement we all bring to the world lies in learning to be ourselves.  It is a job I have been working on for over sixty years.  I sometimes think that there is a conspiracy out there to deny us the originality that we all possess.  We must struggle against the chains of conformity which are everywhere we turn.  Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery or the path to millions of dollars but it surely is not the path to creativity and innovation.

My three versions of Malagueña Salerosa include what I might say vocally is a “perfect” version sung by noted opera tenor Placido Domingo.  His delivery is masterful, his ability to hit high notes and low notes beyond mortality.  I have listened to Domingo and Pavrotti many times and while I enjoy both, I think Placido’s voice achieves a clarity unlike any other tenor alive today.  So please listen to a least a little of his version of Malagueña Salerosa before you continue reading:

Can you imagine a performance more hauntingly beautiful than that you have just heard by Placido?  If you wanted to copy or surpass his style and delivery, I would say it would be impossible.  That is why, our only choice in life is to be ourselves and enjoy our own uniqueness.  We must do what we have a passion for and do it as well as we can.  We can always improve ourselves but we can never be another Placido.

The next version is a more traditional version of Malagueña Salerosa played by three Mariachis.  This version has an authenticity that somehow I find lacking in Placido.  I can see this as being the “real” version that was song by the love-struck young man as he tried to win her love.  While Placido excels on the vocals, this version gives us a stronger set of instruments and more of the true Latino flavor that I find missing in the Placido version.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y_1qHNc-vNk

The third and final version of Malagueña Salerosa is by the Mexican rock band Chingon.  They contributed the song “Malagueña Salerosa” to Quentin Tarantino’s movie Kill Bill Volume 2 and a live performance by the band was included on the film’s DVD release.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iM0JVDqLYnE

You of course, will have noticed after listening to Chingon that they had no intention of imitating Domingo or any strolling Mariachis.  Their style is a blend of Rock, Mariachi and Ranchera, but they put their own stamp on it with their singing, tempo and beat.

I am not an expert musician and I could not begin to tell you why or exactly how each of these three versions differs from each other.  But while I may not be able to explain it, I can feel it as I am sure you can as well.  Like a good wine or a good meal, I may not know how to explain what I taste but I certainly know what I like.

I dread the thought of doing anything over and over and over again, unless it is for the sake of practice and to develop technique and ability.  Why continue experiencing the same thing, when I can savor and experience so much variety in the world?  Variety is one of the things I value most in life.  It has taken me years to be able to see how unique the world is.  No same old, same old, unless we are trapped in our minds and routines.  The world offers a smorgasbord of treats and excitement to those who are open to challenge, change and risk.

I leave you with one last short (1.5 minute) video which you must see.   If you have ever been afraid to experience something different, to go somewhere foreign or to listen to a new style of music, this video will help you to reflect on a life lived with no risk.  It is very effective at portraying the fear of risk but also the upside joy that risk can bring.  It is called Always Dare:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CJ2WbDahaaM

“No pleasure endures unseasoned by variety”– Publilius Syrus, 1st Century BCE

Time for Questions:

What variety do you experience in your life? Do you live a life open to variety?  How do you find “new” things in your life? What are your thoughts about going someplace new?  Listening to some new music?  Would you be willing to try raw oysters, truffles or pickled pigs feet?  Have you ever tried any of these?  Why not?

Life is just beginning.

 

 

 

True Confessions: Riches, Honors and Fame

Today I make my “true confession.”   I suppose the thought to do this comes from just having attended my 30th Jesuit retreat.  In the Catholic tradition, before you can take Holy Communion, you must make an honest recital of any sins, grievous or otherwise that you have committed since your last communion.  Since, I have not been to communion in more years than I can remember; I decided to think about a question raised at the retreat as to what Riches, Honors and Fame meant to me.  This led to my realization that I want Riches, Honors and Fame more than anything in the world.  Thus my confession:  I want to be rich so that I can buy everything I have always dreamed of – exotic cars, luxury boats, vacations at places where only the glamorous go – emeralds – diamonds – rubies – gold watches – Rolexes – several Ferraris and a few Lamborghinis would do nicely.   Did I mention the five houses overlooking the ocean, bay, lake, mountain and Hollywood Hills?     

If I were a rich man,
Ya ha deedle deedle, bubba bubba deedle deedle dum.
All day long I’d biddy biddy bum.
If I were a wealthy man.
I wouldn’t have to work hard.
Ya ha deedle deedle, bubba bubba deedle deedle dum.
If I were a biddy biddy rich,
Yidle-diddle-didle-didle man. — Fiddler on the Roof

I also want Honors galore – Best novel, Best writer, the Nobel Prize for Literature, Pulitzer Prize for Blogging, Most Influential Author, Number 1 on the Amazon, Times and Wall Street Journal Best Seller lists.  I want to be the Man, the recognized expert.  The one the talk shows all call up to pontificate on the latest subjects.  I want to receive honorary Doctorates from Harvard, Yale, Oxford, Cambridge and the Sorbonne.  I want to be “Time Man of the Year” and get the President’s Award for Lifetime American Achievements. 

The most important men in town would come to fawn on me!
They would ask me to advise them,
Like a Solomon the Wise.
“If you please, Dr. Persico…”
“Pardon me,  Dr. Persico…”
Posing problems that would cross a rabbi’s eyes!
And it won’t make one bit of difference if i answer right or wrong.
When you’re rich, they think you really know!  — Fiddler on the Roof

Finally, wealth and honors are not enough for me.  I want to be famous.  I want to have six million people every day read my blogs.  I want my writings translated into 179 languages.  I want my books sold on every continent including the South Pole.  I want to be a guest lecturer at Carnegie Hall and introduce the President at the Journalists Awards Dinner each year.  I want to have the public clamoring to attend my lectures at the Kennedy Center and exhibition halls around the world.  I want women standing in line with their children for me to kiss and men willing to stand in line for hours simply to get my autograph. 

If I were rich, I’d have the time that I lack
To sit in the synagogue and pray.
And maybe have a seat by the Eastern wall.
And I’d discuss the holy books with the learned men, several hours every day.
That would be the sweetest thing of all. — Fiddler on the Roof

Finally, I cry out in Frustration like Faust at being neglected and unnoticed –  “Some get 5 million readers each week while I am lucky to get even five who read my blog.”  Faust who was the smartest and most learned man in the world but wanted more.  So he sold his soul to the Devil for youth and fame. 

But Lo! What is this?  Who is this strange creature who suddenly appears and with a hideous laugh asks me “What do you want?” 

Have I not just made my confession?  I believe he knows the answer but he must affront me.  So I reply “What I have always wanted, more than anything in the world – Riches –Honors and Fame.” 

“And what would you give up for these?” the creature replies. 

Somewhat hesitantly I answer “Anything” for I know what the Devil really wants.  The bargain will be for my immortal soul, but he continues to provoke me “Be specific man, what are you willing to give up?” 

“OK”, I answer, “I will give you my soul for Riches, Honors and Fame.”

“Ha” he laughs, “I have more souls than I need. Souls are a commodity these days.  I have enough souls to last for an eternity.” 

“Well, than, what do you want from me?”

“Love” replies Satan.  “I want the love of your friends, your family and your wife. In exchange, I will give you Riches, Honors and Fame beyond your wildest imaginations.  No one in history will have ever had more than you of these treasures.” 

I am somewhat taken aback by this request and admit that I do not fully understand it.  I think about this bargain for a minute and then request clarification.  “Do you mean, I will be unloved and no one will care about me?  No one to worry about my well-being and whether I am sick or not?  No one who cares whether I live or die?  No one to shed a tear at my funeral?”

“Come, come” says Satan, “Love is fickle, your wife may leave you tomorrow for another man, friends come and go and relatives are never much of a bargain.  What I am offering you is the adoration of millions, public acclaim, riches and recognition.  You can find dozens of willing women with all the money you will have.” 

“Yes, that’s true, but more likely they will only love me for my money.  Money can’t buy true friendship.  My friends today like me because of who I am and not because of money or fame.  And my relatives, while I might willingly trade some and others are a pain, they would be the first to stand by me when I am in need.  As for my wife being fickle, she is my strongest supporter through my many ups and downs.  I have no reason to doubt she loves me today just the way I am and as Jesus said “Sufficient the day until itself.” 

At the mention of Jesus’s name, the creature reacted as if struck by a hot poker. 

“Enough,” he cried out “Give me your answer now or the offer is forever terminated.  You will in all probability die poor, ignored and unknown.  Buried in a pauper’s field somewhere!  Your vaunted loved ones will soon forget you ever existed and in less time than a fly’s lifespan, weeds will replace flowers at your grave site.”

“Nevertheless”, say I “I would not give up the love of my wife, friends and family for all the gold, diamonds, fame and medals in the world.  If only one tear is shed at my passing, only one tear that remembers who I was and what I tried to do in the world – that will be enough reward for the life that I have tried to live.” 

At these words, the creature went back to Hell and I went back home to wash the dishes. 

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.

— The First Letter of St. John

Time for Questions:

What would you sell your soul for?  What are the most important things in your life?  What are the things that give you the most joy?  How do we raise children to recognize the truly important things in life?  How do we keep ourselves on track and not get seduced by the riches and allures that the world offers for our soul? 

Life is just beginning. 

The 4th of July: What does it mean?

Happy 4th of July! The 1st of July is the 182nd day of the year. As you watch the fireworks tonight, consider that today is now the 185th day of the year. This probably will make little or no difference to your enjoyment of the display you go to see. Each year, the displays seem to get more spectacular. I am rather surprised since the economy has been in a recession and everyone is cutting back on spending. Nevertheless, the fireworks displays seem to be longer and more unique each year. This weekend we could go to a display on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights.  The loud explosions, dazzling sparkles and bright flashes of color contrasting with the grey smoke really bring home to me the vision that drove Francis Scott Key to write the “Star Spangled Banner.” 

O! Say can you see by the dawn’s early light,
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight,
O’er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?
And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there;
O! say does that star-spangled banner yet wave,
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

The American Flag, the 4th of July, The Declaration of Independence and the “Bombs” we know are still bursting somewhere around our soldiers tonight are more than just images of a unique US Brand. They are more than just symbols of our heritage. They are down payments on a legacy that is part of our fundamental American beliefs. Our Forefathers created a system of government that was based on the idea that all men and eventually this included women (and truly all men) were entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. This was the most positive, uplifting and life affirming message the world had even witnessed. It became the great American experiment. The only other country to ever come close to America in creating an entirely new life affirming belief system for its citizens was Greece. Sadly, the Greek experiment failed to continue but its message has helped to form a foundation for every other experiment in democracy the world over. 

There are those who argue that the “ascendency” of the American experiment is now over. It is opined that just like Rome, France, Great Britain and many other empires, America is on the downside of its greatness. China, India, Japan and Brazil are noted as possible successors. Perhaps from a military or economic view this will be true. But taken from the perspective of the belief system that undergirds America, there are no countries that are even close. We do not always practice what we preach. Moreover, in many areas of life, we seem to have lost our way. Our politicians are often guided more by party politics than by the good of the American people.The Power of the American Brand is not our rugged independence nor our vast economic resources. Our Power remains what it was 237 years ago.  An ideology that recognizes the hopes and dreams of all people for a better life based on merit and respect.

As you enjoy your barbecue, your picnics and your fireworks, rest assured, the core of the American experiment, the ideology that has brought and continues to bring millions to the shores of America will ring forever through the halls of history. The world will never forget that someday and in some place, there were a people who lived, worked, fought and died for the belief that “we”, the people, including the rich, the poor and all minorities have a set of inalienable rights. As long as we practice and believe in this message for all people, we will remain a great nation. We will remain a nation that is great in spirit and great in heart. As long as we care more about others than we do ourselves, our Nation will be a spiritual and moral beacon to the oppressed and downtrodden of the world. Greatness cannot be measured in economic and monetary measures. Measure the greatness of a people by the greatness of their message. By that standard, America is the greatest nation that has ever existed. 

Time for Questions:

Do you believe in the American Vision? Do you believe it is for all people or just for Americans? When was the last time you actually read the Declaration of Independence? Do you know the difference between Patriotism and Jingoism? Do you vote on strict party lines or do you vote what is best for your country?

Life is just beginning.

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