The “little guy’ in America is average Joe citizen. It has not been a good year for him. What this year in American history has seen is a number of significant events which have arrived, like comets hurtling through space on a collision course, at this same moment in time to significantly change the basic concept underlying the entire framework of living in America, the ‘land of the free’. The reference to the latter phrase has become at this moment the constitutional equivalent of a bad joke. First, we earlier this year discovered that our government has us under surveillance. I don’t mean under surveillance like a traffic cop hiding behind a bill board in a speed trap, I mean surveillance as in hard core monitoring of our phone calls, text messages, e-mails, and internet activity of every person in these United States. The National Security Agency’s indiscriminate surveillance of American citizens contradicts the Constitution’s moral cornerstone. The right to be left alone is the most cherished right among civilized peoples. On paper, at least, the Fourth Amendment exists to create and protect this basic right, but the actions of our government has effectively nullified this right in its very essence. And in 2013 we found this out due to the heroic actions of a man named Ed Snowden who has had to flee the country to avoid prosecution for revealing this information to America. Think about it. Are we to be a society where our government secretly monitors every damn thing we do and say and punishes anyone who tells us about it?
While we talking and thinking about this abrogation of one of our cherished rights, let’s talk about the Citizens United Supreme Court decision which, for the first time in history, declared that corporations are persons within the meaning of the First Amendment and can secretly spend as much money as they want to control and determine outcomes of elections of critically important issues and people. Yes, I know this decision was a couple of years ago, but its practical effect of overwhelming the rights of the ‘small guy’ were felt for the first time this year as untold millions of dollars secretly appeared in the coffers of politicians whose only mission appears to be the dismantling of our system of government. We wonder from afar how assholes like Ted Cruz can hold center stage in an effort to cripple the basic good faith and credit of the United States until we realize that what is backing him and others of his ilk is big money, real big money submitted by a virtual handful of fat cats whose only loyalty is the acquisition of wealth and power.
Now we find that another basic fabric of our society, the social contract, is gone. Section 24 of the Michigan Constitution contains the following provision. “The accrued financial benefits of each pension plan and retirement system of the state and its political subdivisions shall be a contractual obligation thereof which shall not be diminished or impaired thereby.” A bankruptcy judge, Steven W. Rhodes, casually threw aside that constitutional protection this week, ruling that pension benefits could be reduced in a bankruptcy proceeding. This decision involves only the pensions of the retired public workers of Detroit but has significant impact on the rest of the country as a pattern for giving distressed cities leverage to backtrack on their promises. This action must be taken in the context that most public employees have undertaken public employment often at the cost of receiving a lower wage than in the private sector. However, they did have the constitutionally protected guarantee from their employer (i.e., the state and its subsidiary units) that their pensions were inviolate. All that has changed. Another important aspect of this decision is that these pensioners are thrown in with a group of fat cat monied interests, i.e., banks and other lending institutions who made financial decisions and undertook to loan the city of Detroit money over the years. From my view, it probably goes without saying that any lending institution always assumes the risk of lending anything to anybody. To equate constitutionally guaranteed pensions with risky lending practices is unfair and destructive of the social contract of our society on its face.
When these cornerstones are flouted, liberty withers and dies. We’ve had a sad year in this regard.
Just saying . . .