The Declaration of Independence is best remembered as a declaration of war, a war declared on the grounds that we wanted our own flag. The sheer stupidity and anachronism of the idea serves to discourage any thoughts about why Canada didn't need a bloody war, whether the U.S. war benefitted people outside the new aristocracy to whom power was transferred, what bothered Frederick Douglas so much about a day celebrating “independence,” or what the Declaration of Independence actually said.
When you read the Declaration of Independence, it turns out to be an indictment of King George III for various abuses of power. And those abuses of power look fairly similar to abuses of power we happily permit U.S. presidents to engage in today, either as regards the people of this nation or the people of territories and nations that our military occupies today in a manner uncomfortably resembling Britain's rule over the 13 colonies.
Or perhaps I should say, a large portion of us take turns being happy or outraged depending on the political party with which the current president is identified.
“We have been sliding for 70 years to a situation where Congress has nothing to do with the decision about whether to go to war or not, and the president is becoming an absolute monarch.” Thus spoke Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D., N.Y.) on the floor of the House recently, some years after having refused to back the impeachment of President George W. Bush, thus facilitating the slide toward the current situation.
Daniel Ellsberg, the whistleblower who leaked the Pentagon Papers 40 years ago, recently commented that President Nixon had finally won. Although Ellsberg was acquitted of criminal charges, the facts made public, and Nixon compelled to resign, all of the abuses of power Nixon faced possible impeachment and prosecution for have now been legalized (or made acceptable practice): warrantless spying, searches and seizures, baseless secrecy, assassination attempts, etc. By the same logic, King George III is as big a winner as Richard M. Nixon. A quick survey of the charges brought against King George III on July 4, 1776, is illuminating:
“He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.”
Our current president brushes aside inconvenient laws like the War Powers Resolution and backs retroactive immunity for the violation of laws like the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. His approach to the enforcement of laws against tyrannical abuse is one of “looking forward, not backward.”
“He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them. “
President Obama dictated the terms of a health insurance reform bill to Congress, a bill that makes it much more difficult for states like Vermont and California, that want to, to actually provide their people with healthcare, unless they get special permission from Obama. Similarly, Obama has threatened to prevent states from legalizing marijuana, supported federal law that prevents states from granting their gay citizens full marriage rights, etc. But it is when we look abroad that we truly see the resemblance to King George III, as U.S. presidents dictate to the people of Iraq, Afghanistan, etc. The people of Iraq have wanted independence since 2003. When President Bush imposed three more years of war three years ago, Senator Obama objected to the unconstitutional treaty made without the advice or consent of the Congress. Now President Obama's concern is how to stretch the occupation out beyond the end of this year. The Iraqis still can't see any dawn's early light.
“He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only. “
Those people of course include the people of Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam, the Marianas, the Virgin Islands, etc., not to mention the occupied peoples of Iraq and Afghanistan, or the people of the dozens of nations around the world occupied by U.S. military bases and dictated to by U.S.-dominated global financial institutions.
“He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their Public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures. “
No fireworks and military parades for our legislative body this year. Congress is staying in town because it's one thing to slash taxes for billionaires and corporations or to hand Wall Street hundreds of billions of dollars or to launch unauthorized wars or to spend more than most state governments need merely on air-conditioning our imperial offices in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is entirely something else to allow the government to continue borrowing money without making some unemployed, sick, homeless, and elderly Americans suffer some more. Shared sacrifice, people! A fatigued Congress is a cruel Congress.
“He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people. “
Does organizing a coup in Honduras qualify? What about the work of our puppet tyrant, Mr. Karzai, over yonder in Afghanistan, where the representative houses have effectively been dissolved?
“He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected, whereby the Legislative Powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within. “
Afghanistan, again, is the 13 colonies here.
“He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands. “
Obama has been deporting about 400,000 people per year, a record. He also briefly deported himself over to Copenhagen to single-handedly kill efforts that might have slowed the warming of the earth's atmosphere, a warming that is ruining lands long since appropriated.
“He has obstructed the Administration of Justice by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary Powers. “
Obama has built on Bush's work of eliminating judiciary and legislative powers by rewriting laws with signing statements, creating laws with executive orders (including a law eliminating the right to habeas corpus), re-interpreting laws through the White House counsel and the Department of Justice's Office of Legal Counsel whose secret and public memos are treated as law. Obama has made huge new strides in preventing courts from reviewing crimes on the grounds of “state secrets.”
“He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries. “
The relationship between Obama and the International Criminal Court resembles this situation. The ICC can be pressured by the United States to break all land speed records to indict Muammar Gadaffi, while stalling everywhere else and never indicting U.S. rulers at all. Obama has also applied great and effective pressure to block the courts of Spain from prosecuting U.S. crimes.
“He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance. “
Raids and prosecutions of peace activists come to mind.
“He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures. “
Northern Command, Homeland Security, and the integration of the military and police in “fusion” centers, are compounded by the proliferation of for-profit mercenary firms. An oil spill was guarded by the military in the Gulf of Mexico in a way in which the gulf itself is never protected from oil corporations, foreign or otherwise, and in which our homes and jobs and communities are never guarded against Wall Street. But, of course, it is abroad that the parallels are strongest. The United States maintains 1,000 bases in other people's countries, many of those countries run by absolute monarchs. If the Pentagon decides to launch a “humanitarian intervention” into Saudi Arabia or Bahrain, it will be no more an intervention than Libya was: it will be switching sides. The United States is already permanently intervened almost everywhere.
“He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power. “
This is how the late Richard Holbrooke and the current Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have both described the “civilian” portion of U.S. operations in Afghanistan — as subservient to the military. Wikileaks cables reveal the State Department to be dedicating much of its resources to marketing U.S.-made weapons to foreign governments. The U.S. military is increasingly being privatized and hidden within alliances like NATO and funded through secret unaccountable budgets, thus placing it beyond the control of Congress. The President openly defers to the military's generals on how much and whether to escalate or de-escalate wars, as well as to the CIA on whether to prosecute war crimes. And the current president has intentionally and unnecessarily launched a new war in Libya without any declaration of war or lesser facsimile thereof from Congress.
“He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation: “
Our finances are dictated by the Federal Reserve, in secret. Corporations write our laws and fund our misrepresentatives' campaigns. NAFTA, the WTO, and other unelected bodies dictate to our domestic law makers. The United Nations and NATO are used to place war powers in the hands of the president and the military. Even our educational system is being privatized, as our incarceration system has been — while profits from both contribute to the shaping of future laws and policies. Struggling states are handing the governance of struggling cities over to private corporations and tinpot dictators as well.
“For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us: “
Some 6,000 bases spread throughout the United States render the Third Amendment to the U.S. Constitution the only piece of the Bill of Rights not grossly violated because there is no party with any interest in violating it.
“For protecting them, by a mock Trial from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States: “
President Obama has issued a royal decree granting himself the power to assassinate American citizens, which he has attempted to do, working from a list he has developed of the Americans who are to be murdered.
“For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world: “
This the United States does to other nations, such as Iran, through economic sanctions. Since the United States and Persia and most of the rest of the world adopted the Kellogg-Briand Pact, abolishing war, in 1928, Iran has not violated it by attacking another nation. The United States, for which, under Article VI of the Constitution, that Pact is still the Supreme Law of the Land, has hardly let a year go by without violating it. Yet we choose to cut off trade with all parts of the world to them, not vice versa.
“For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent: “
The United States strips foreign nations of their resources, and domestically indeed imposes taxes that U.S. citizens would never agree to if given the opportunity to vote. We want billionaires and corporations taxed, we want carbon taxed, we want the military cut and the banksters cut off. But we do not want to be carrying the burden ourselves. We have 400 royals possessing more wealth than half the country. They are listed and described openly, and honored, as the Forbes 400. This disparity of wealth shames kingdoms of the past. When Eduardo Galeano exposed the exploitation of Latin America in his 1973 masterpiece “Open Veins of Latin America,” he complained that 6 million Latin Americans had as much as 140 million. Would that things were merely that bad in the United States today!
“For depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury: “
Only a tiny percentage of U.S. cases go to trial at all now, while of course others go to military “courts” or simply lawless imprisonment without end.
“For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences: “
The word for this now is “rendition,” only we tend to skip the part about providing people with a trial.
“For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies”
Interestingly, the abuses imposed on scary non-white non-English-speaking non-Christians in Guantanamo are rapidly being introduced into the United States for all of us to enjoy, beginning with people like Bradley Manning. Meanwhile, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya are intended to serve as U.S. military bases in dozens of other nations serve: as jumping off places to neighboring Provinces.
“For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments: “
The two most fundamental alterations of our most valuable laws and forms of government are coming fast on top of each other. First was Obama's executive order tossing out habeas corpus. Second will be the 2012 “Defense Authorization Act” — specifically Section 1034 — which will formally transfer war making powers in most cases to the president and every future president.
“For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever. “
Again, this is true in occupied nations abroad, and domestically as regards states' rights to provide health coverage, drug legalization, or same sex marriage.
“He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us. “
This is most blatantly so in places Obama is drone-bombing: Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia. It is also so at home where banks and corporations are protected with massive bailouts, but people are not, while huge investments ARE made in incarceration and military recruitment.
“He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people. “
Our president is pushing nuclear power, “clean” coal, and abandonment of the earth to climate chaos. The largest environmental disaster yet, the BP oil spill, has not been clean up, nor anyone punished. Los Alamos and Nebraska face the imminent risk of fires and floods causing nuclear catastrophe. Storms and more storms and worse storms are a-brewing, while Washington obsesses over weiners, dicks, and debt ceilings.
“He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation, and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & Perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation. “
One word: Afghanistan.
“He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands. “
Afghans and Iraqis view collaborators in these terms. Observers of the torture of Bradley Manning also view that action as an effort to compel testimony against others and to intimidate other Americans.
“He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions. “
Of course, the United States military long since destroyed the nations of “Indian Savages,” but much of this rings true today in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury.”