It's A Free Country...So What?

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

The Free Country Manifesto

Read | Argue | Listen | Act

Every schoolyard argument seems to devolve to the exclamation that “It’s a free country.” This, of course, is never a political statement. It’s just every kid’s assertion that she or he can do whatever the hell they please, like change the rules of dodge ball so they win. But as a future wonk of a ten year old, I did sometimes wonder: Do kids in North Korea not change the rules because it’s not a free country? My guess is that they do, but they hang it up on some other cultural narrative. This one is ours. It’s active rather than passive, individually liberating and a little in your face. And I like it.

But of course, with freedom comes responsibilities. I wouldn’t recommend that to my son as a retort on the schoolyard. The rule changers will think he’s a nerd and immediately act on their free country right to pummel him.

But for us grownups concerned with the state of the union, the freedom/responsibility continuum seems to be at the heart of our current troubles and polarization. Sometimes it feels like our whole nation has become a schoolyard, with politicians, businesses, the media, and a lot of regular folk shouting right past each other.

That’s where we come in. “It’s a free country” usually ends a conversation. What do you really say after that? It’s like saying “everything is relative” or “we’re all gonna die eventually.” Yeah, so? But here, it’s a conversation starter.

Our mission here is twofold: to provide you lively political content and to partner with you to build a unique interactive community. That doesn’t mean glossing over our differences. But it does mean airing them with the idea that we don’t have to become Babel in the process. We can do it in pursuit of building that shining city on a hill. Together.

Don’t just say something, do something.

If this experiment succeeds, there will always be something to learn here and there will always be something to do. We hope to make this not just another news and opinion site, but a diverse political community to come hang out in. Get to know each other through social media. Mix it up with people you disagree with. Maybe even find some common ground or come to see things in a whole new way. Challenge yourself with our news and politics quizzes. Join a crowdsourcing team and help with an investigation, or help us invent a new tool. Tweet us a link for others to follow. Nominate and vote for your favorite posts. Or just take in some strong narrative writing from our guest bloggers, visit our Politics Bites soundbite roll, or gaze at some beautiful and illuminating infographics. I’ll say it again: There will always be something to learn here and there will always be something to do. So get ready to participate. Get ready to act and to interact.

Maybe we’ll change the world, or at least the way we talk politics. Or maybe it’ll suck and we’ll all go home early – storm off the dodge ball court because we didn’t get our way. But one thing’s for sure. This ain’t North Korea. It’s a free country. So let’s give it a try.


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Comments [42]


so where is the manifesto?

Mar. 03 2011 11:50 AM
saul moskowitz from Woodbury, NY.

"SHARED SACRIFICE" is forgotten in this whole fiscal crises!In my opinion,the biggest problem is lack of government funds which was a result of "no taxes" agenda by the Republican Party no matter what the nation's problems.They got the public to believe that they could get all services without paying.None of these Republican Governers have proposed increasing the taxes on the wealthiest 1-2%!Isn't it fair to ask for the rich to shared sacrifice since they control 40% of the wealth of the nation and benefitted the most from the Bush tax cuts?Where's the fairness?Will the people accept the ever increasing divide between rich and poor forever?Can't anyone see this calculated move to destroy the "middle class" in the US?This is their opportunity to make government dysfunctional,destroy unions collective bargaining rights,and diminish any regulations.has any of the culprits in the banking and wall street been fined or incicted for causing the financial crises?Wouldn't that help diminish the deficits?Two unfunded wars and a unfunded presription Medicare bill contributed to our huge deficit!What does the new Republican House majority propose to diminish the deficit besides Tax cuts for the rich,laying off of teachers,police,firefighters and other municipal workers?
I could go on and on but I can only wish that the Media ask the right questions and inform the public to what is happenning in our society!Why do the Republicans want to cut funding for NPR and PBS?Why is "NET NEUTRALITY" STILL UNDER ATTACK? I think I know why do you?

Feb. 21 2011 11:16 AM
james D'Addio from hastings on hudson

Brian: Very interesting individual commenting on the use of social media in the middle east and N Africa. I couldn't help but hint about the idea that he worked for the CIA especially when he denied being paid by the federal government and knew strategic approaches to keeping the revolution in Egypt his original country moving forward. It's good to see that we are hiring Arab speaking folks rather than the Hills and Fellows of the world

Feb. 17 2011 11:39 AM
Nick_A from Manhattan

Brian advises us to: "Don’t just say something, do something."

In that spirit, here is my letter to Rep Issa

Dear Rep. Issa

Traditionally American citizens were considered as "We the People." Over time they have devolved in the minds of politicians into "We the Great Unwashed."

This is why they are considered unworthy of the essential information necessary to cast an educated vote.

The first bit of information necessary to cast an educated vote is proof that a candidate meets the constitutional requirements for the office. This has not happened in Obama's case.

The courts don't argue the merits of the case but instead claim that the people are too stupid to have legal standing since they are incapable of an educated vote so cannot be affected by lack of information.

Instead they pass the buck to congress to certify if Obama is either eligible or ineligible to be president much less run again in 2012. The question is if the new Republican congress will have the character and courage to defend the Constitution as it is sworn to do by declaring Obama as either eligible or ineligable while providing the evidence for its decision?

I know it is tempting and politically correct to avoid it. That is why I do hope that if Republicans wimp out, it will force the creation of the "Birther Party" that will have as its platform the promise to support and defend the Constitution including revealing the facts of the eligibility issue.

Of course it would make Republicans look foolish and cowardly while splitting the conservative vote assuring Obama's victory.

The question for Republicans will be if it is better to show character and strength tackling a difficult issue and win or wimp out and lose? Hopefully Republicans will have the good sense to not only make the patriotic decison but also the politically wise decison and settle the eligibility issue with the necessary facts for the needs of the voter as congress, the servant of the people, has the obligation to do.

Feb. 15 2011 12:12 AM
RJ from Prospect Heights

It's been a bit ironic to keep hearing that this has been a "leaderless" revolution. Reporters keep acting as if things--boxes of bottles of water--just "appear." Who is arranging the food? The building of the stages and the scheduling of the performances? Who's been coordinating the shifts of those checking those entering the square? There are clearly *community organizers* there who have learned one fundamental lesson compared to previous revolutions: They stay out of public sight, perhaps until (if need be) their simple demand is answered: Mubarak (and his progeny/clones) leave. Community organizers: what a concept.

Feb. 11 2011 10:33 AM

We're finding the clips for those promos from this list:

You’re right – definitely one from the Simpsons. Also one from 40 Year Old Virgin and Napoleon Dynamite. Thanks for the tip!

Feb. 10 2011 09:13 AM
John May from New Jerusalem

They will develop a system…they always do! Maybe We should?! Don’t know if that is a question or a statement. Isn’t that where we always find ourselves though, right out there on the edge of discovery, in between the truth and lies. Currently politicians are using the teachers profession as a scapegoat to cut spending in American states as they attempt to balance their budgets. While this may help lighten the burden of getting out of debt it may prove to cost more in the long run. This creates a poor learning atmosphere and having large classrooms in under staffed schools means less security in general. How easily we forget all of the school shootings that have swept the nation in recent times. Why would we choose a time where our children will need to make the most out of education to create their future when our own direct future is so completely unbalanced?
Call me socially insecure!

If we apply the same policies set out for our teacher to our politicians we could see a change in how they view the topic. Maybe its time the Powerful gave the Power to the Powerless! Either way it makes more sense to me that we would in fact want our politicians paid by how they perform. Hopefully we would get some real substance people that really wanted to fix this county. Get corporations and religion out of politics. I’m tired or being Wii the people! Maybe we could get someone who could revitalize this country. Someone who could remind us that we are United and We must be united in these times to get back on our feet. Ben Franklin himself didn’t want congress men/woman or Senators to be paid. Would that even keep them honest these days? Why are we so afraid of letting our votes be counted by a majority? Why in this day and age where everyone pays taxes and has a social security number so they can tally what you owe and to who. Why in the world couldn’t they accurately tally the votes? Make the IRS tally the votes! Why not make it law to have to vote? Maybe have a fine for not voting, or a tax credit for voting? Make a slot on the ballot for people who don’t care or feel not informed enough and count all that too! At least we’ll know where we all stand! Its time to look into the mirror!

Feb. 10 2011 01:07 AM
Robert Moore from Manhattan

One of the most irritating political comment constructs is "The American people want/have spoken/demand......etc. This has become an epidemic after the November election and seems to be claimed by every speaker. I wonder if there are actually any statistics on this. I can find that about 42% of qualified electors actually voted in November but I do not know beyond that, how the split between Democrats and Republicans worked out. Does anyone know if there has been any research or analysis on this?There are a number of questions which could either confirm or give the lie to the statement about "what the American people want....."
What proportion of the population old enough to vote are registered?
As above, how did the party split really look.
In summary, what actual proportion of the electorate actually voted for what?
I would give a fair sum that says that the answer does not sustain a claim that the American people actually said they wanted anything specific but, of course, it sure sounds good to claim you are speaking for 300+ million people.

Jan. 25 2011 07:55 AM
MickieT from Queens

Where can I find a list of the sources for the sound bites in your promos? Obviously, one is from "The Simpsons."

If you need another "free country" quote, I noticed one: I was just watching "The Heart is A Lonely Hunter" on tv last night, and when a drunk Stacy Keach says "It's a free country!" the diner owner kicking him out replies, "The country may be free, but the beer ain't!"

Jan. 25 2011 04:54 AM
Nick_A from Manhattan

Brian wrote

That’s where we come in. “It’s a free country” usually ends a conversation. What do you really say after that? It’s like saying “everything is relative” or “we’re all gonna die eventually.” Yeah, so? But here, it’s a conversation starter.

Our mission here is twofold: to provide you lively political content and to partner with you to build a unique interactive community. That doesn’t mean glossing over our differences. But it does mean airing them with the idea that we don’t have to become Babel in the process. We can do it in pursuit of building that shining city on a hill. Together.
I don't know if it could be possible or even if an Internet format could allow it but consider a section for research into "The Human Condition?" it is one thing to complain about problems but why do they continue to repeat?

"Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself". Tolstoy

How can we seriously contemplate this idea without first becoming open to the value of the Socratic axiom: "Know Thyself?" Without an experiential awareness of the human condition as it exists within us as individuals, thoughts of change can only be self serving fantasy.

For example, Linus describes the liberal mindset in his famous quote:

“I love mankind…It’s people I can’t stand!!” Linus (Peanuts)

I read and listen to all these wonderful platitudes but after a while they become empty. It seems as though people hit each other over the head with peace signs completely unaware of how ludicrous this is.

The human condition is speculated about in all countries yet it is politically incorrect to be open about it.

" Man is an exception, whatever else he is. If he is not the image of God, then he is a disease of the dust. If it is not true that a divine being fell, then we can only say that one of the animals went entirely off its head." Chesterton

It does seem to be the case. It is as if the "human condition" is the cause of what we think we can change through dialogue. But if since we are as we are, everything is as it is, the limitiations of dialogue must become obvious as soon as the cute blonde strolls by for example.

Perhaps Simone Weil is right. What can help the human condition itself so as to open humanity to its meaningful potential?

"Humanism was not wrong in thinking that truth, beauty, liberty, and equality are of infinite value, but in thinking that man can get them for himself without grace." Simone Weil

We cannot begin to validate any of this without first becoming open to experience the human condition in ourselves rather than just complain about it in others.

Jan. 21 2011 03:32 PM
gera from Manhattan

In the pension discussion, why is it never mentioned that civil service pensions in NY are absolved from income taxes?

Jan. 20 2011 10:24 AM
Nick_A from Manhattan

The trouble with America is that the attitude towards its citizens has changed. At one time they were considered "We the People." Now the elite including the media believe them to be "We the Great Unwashed."

"We the People" would have standing to know on what basis a presidential candidate is considered a natural born citizen. It is an essential bit of information necessary for them to cast an educated vote

The Great Unwashed is considered too stupid to be worthy and capable of an educated vote so do not have standing to see proof of natural born citizenship. They are compelled through lack of respect to cast a blind vote.

The government works for "We the People' as an employee." It is no longer the case. Now the "Great Unwashed" work for the government, are unworthy of standing, and should be grateful that the government has condescended to take care of them.

This change in political attitude towards the people vivified through the eligibility issue is why America continues to lose the freedoms it was designed to support. The people are believed too stupid for anything else.

Jan. 18 2011 08:43 PM
Carol Latman from Manhattan

My favorite lines in the U.S. Constitution are: The first three words of the Preamble, "We the People" and the last two words of the tenth and last amendment of the Bill of Rights, "the people". Doesn't that say something about the intentions of the framers? Where are "the people"? They seem to be ignored, especially if they are minority and/or poor, in favor or those who are able to make hefty contributions to campaigns.

Jan. 08 2011 10:50 AM
RJ from prospect hts

Jeremy, in response to your live chat comment about organized groups and Tea Party noise: Unfortunately, the TPs were/are financed by extraordinary amounts of right-wing money (whether they know it or not) that publicizes the most extreme perspectives that serve to separate the needs of the broad poor and working class people from the oversimplified and sometimes silly responses (the guy who carried the "revolution II" flag around the country?), who keep using the word "liberty" without having a clear definition for it (other than "keep government out of my Medicare"--government run and taxpayer subsidized). The organized groups I referred to put together fundraisers that cost $50 (or what you can afford), have individuals pay $20/person (If they have it) for a bus ride, and have members who can't afford (especially these days) to take days off work to go talk to their pols.

Jan. 01 2011 01:19 PM
Robert from Manhattan

Incoming New York state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman disgraced himself this week with a mailing he sent to his soon-to-be-former State Senate constituents.

He has spent a lot of taxpayer money basically congratulating himself for serving as our State Senator and being elected Attorney General.

The paper is fancy. The color photography is nice. The mailing provides no information of real value.

In short, to have spent taxpayers' money on it is an outrage.

He has claimed to be better than the other Albany riffraff. With this wasteful action, he has completely undermined that claim.

To Brian Lehrer and all of Brian's listeners: I hope you will all call him on this!

Dec. 31 2010 08:10 AM
Robert from Manhattan

Incoming New York state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman disgraced himself this week with a mailing he sent to his soon-to-be-former State Senate constituents.

He has spent a lot of taxpayer money basically congratulating himself for serving as our State Senator and being elected Attorney General.

The paper is fancy. The color photography is nice. The mailing provides no information of real value.

In short, to have spent taxpayers' money on it is an outrage.

He has claimed to be better than the other Albany riffraff. With this wasteful action, he has completely undermined that claim.

To Brian Lehrer and all of Brian's listeners: I hope you will all call him on this!

Dec. 31 2010 08:08 AM
Patrice from NY, NY

I really wanted to call in this morning but could not because of work.

I am not informed enough to be able to make negative or positive predictions about the compromise on tax cuts and the extension of unemployment benefits.

I think it was a strategic moce by President Obama that I may have taken had I been in his position. I consider myself a faithful independednt. I am registered as such and I do not appreciate the recent comments by our Mayor, Michael Bloomberg. This is a feable attempt to use the compromise to shed a positive sunray towards his maverick disposition and make him appear 'presidential.' I think his comments are a shameful attempt to get himself in the public eye so that he would be considered the moderate that this country needs.

As an independent, I do not want to hear a lecture from a maverick whose idea of being a moderate is forcing everyone to follow his lead, no matter how unconventional, or unlawful it is.

I'm not aure why I had such a passion about it this morning but when I heard the clips played from Michael Bloomberg's speech, I had to post. I really just want him to have a seat. Sit down Michael Bloomberg, and let the rest of us independents think.

Dec. 09 2010 10:39 AM
oscar from ny

1) What is it with this divided governments? Republicans and Democrats blah blah blah.. isn't written that any kingdom divided against itself will be ruined and a house divided against itself will fall.
2) Everyone is talking about money these days, this passage comes to mind, "He also forced forced everyone small and great, rich and poor, free and slave to receive a mark on his right hand or on his forehead, so that no one could buy or sell unless he had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of his name ..{G}.

this one is for the lords of economy and math :),vepisode,1,0

Dec. 08 2010 10:07 AM
Bernie Hirschhorn from Oceanside, New York

Re: Congressman Charles Rangel
I am a white, civil rights activist and worked for decades with and for the black, political community.An attitude I encounter-ed often working in this community was that " when the whites held power they were corrupt and bent and broke the rules and got away with it. Now that we have some power, they are going after us for doing the same things the whites did.Going after us is just another form of white racism. " This attitude can explain the behavior of some, but by no means all, black elected officials, including Congressman Rangel and his predecessor, Adam Clayton Powell.This attitude unfortunately leads to behavior that tends to tarnish the reputation and overshadow the accomplishments of these black elected officials. This attitude is ultimately destructive of the needs of the communities from which these elected officials are chosen to serve. Bottom line --- Rangel should resign his seat and let someone else be elected that would not be such an embarrassment to the Democratic Party and the community that elected Rangel.

Nov. 16 2010 11:36 AM

Dear Jody,

Will the Tuesday night transcript be going up soon?

All of the comments were good. I try to put ideas together to submit to DC/Albany, etc.

Thanks for 2 great times that match the McCain/Obama debate sequence of '08.

Everyone @ WNYC does a fantastic job on elections.

Nov. 03 2010 08:51 PM
Yvana from New York

I don't understand why people expect the president to fix in 2 years, a system that took 8 years to be the way it is now. I wonder if they just using that as an excuse to not let him win a second term because of his race. Let us all remember that God created us all.

Nov. 03 2010 07:35 PM
oscar m from ny

you guys ever watched that twilight zone episode were the aliens had a book that said to serve men and at the end they find out it was a cook book...

Nov. 02 2010 11:34 PM
IBRAHAM from Brooklyn

As a Muslim, big turn-out among us voting today more than ever, that is for the need to do so, due to the controversy at Park 51 and Sheepshead Bay Mosques...

As American, we are voting for freedom, democracy and against hate and racism. .

Nov. 02 2010 11:05 AM
sandy from Union Square area

First I have to thank Brian for making this blog possible. Second, I must say that I can agree, in part or in full, with almost all the postings which, is no surprise, since we're all Brian's listeners. I personally believe that many of the issues mentioned would disappear if we could get true campaign finance reform and take the influence away from corporations and unions.Perhaps the media, including WNYC could undertake a program to put "on record" the beliefs of every senator and congressperson as to what constitutes "true campaign finance reform."

Oct. 20 2010 12:29 PM
will galison

I salute the last comment by John D. What he may have under emphasized is the primacy of a "free press" in a free society.

All would agree that an uninformed or misinformed populace is not "free" in any meaningful way, because they are only free to operate out of ignorance or misunderstanding.

The North Koreans act on the basis of the facts they hear through the media; that their leader is a divinity and that the rest of the world is their enemy.

So what is a "free press"? On one hand the press must be free to present whatever they want, from conspiracy theories to fascist screeds. They are free to disseminate inaccuracies and outright lies, which other media is free to rebut. They are also subject to civil litigation claims of defamation.

But when good people speak of a free press, we speak of a media that is free to tell the truth, and to expose the truths that the government may try to conceal.

My brother Peter Galison made the well known documentary on this dance between investigative journalism and government secrecy:

To uncover and expose these truths, the media must be free of influence of interested and invested parties, because truth respects no one's interests.

FOX news calls itself "fair and balanced" but we know that is transparently false.

The horror begins when the media venues we trust turn slowly into organs of the corporate, political and criminal interests that wish to oppress and misinform the people.

As John D says, we have to think for ourselves. We must monitor the media like the media is supposed to monitor the empowered. That is our duty, and the moment we relinquish it, we get what we deserve.

WNYC has become an organ of the empowered in at least one crucial regard- they are concealing from us the truth about the rampant judicial corruption in New york State.

Recent NY Senate hearings held about this issue brought hundreds of people to Albany and New York to testify and and submit documentation about widespread judicial corruption, but WNYC refused to announce, cover or report on these hearings.

When Brian Lehrer asked his listeners to choose a topic for the first call-in show of 2010, there were over 80 responses, and over 85 percent of those responses asked that Judicial corruption be the topic.,+2010)

Brian ignored them, and the results of the poll were never mentioned.

Moreover, WNYC has refused to do a single story on judicial corruption in New York since 2001.

You are right John D. If we don't think for ourselves and keep our eyes open and our voices loud, we will be like North Korea, sooner than anyone can imagine.

Sep. 12 2010 11:33 PM
John D from New Jersey

what is wrong? what has gone wrong over the last several decades is that people have stopped thinking for themselves. They have outsourced intellectual thought, questioning, curiosity, critical analysis to other people - the media, their favorite pundit/commentator, their politicians, advertisements, Oprah (i know, i know), corporations...

They have let themselves be told what to think and have given up - voluntarily - the process of thinking for themselves, and turned themselves into herds of cattle...walking, stopping, eating, changing direction whatever, whenever, they are told to by whomever they decide to "follow". A recent music band i heard interviewed very aptly call this "devolution" i.e. the reverse of evolution - the process of humans to go down the evolution tree to become akin to amoebae.

The future that "Ann Marwick from Mahopac, Putnam county" mentions is already here. A huge part of our lives are controlled by corporations which limit the choices we have (many times with the stated guise of "increasing" consumer choices!=) - all to increase the consumption of their products and make sure we don't turn away from their products.

The civic apathy, wanton commercialism/consumerism, partisanship, jingoism, fanaticism etc etc are a direct consequence of that. And then the people complain that their "Leaders" don't "listen to them". why should they - since the whole system works on the premise that the "led" will unquestionably follow the "leaders".

Sadly, the people who point this out are called names (elitists??) and told to shut up because no one likes to be called a zombie.

Time to wake up and take responsibility for ourselves, people!! ...and yes, taking responsibility for your own choices and decisions is hard work.

PS: this phenomenon isn't isolated to the US - it is evident in many many countries in the world, under many guises. i have seen this first hand.

Sep. 12 2010 09:34 AM
will galison

I urge Brian Lehrer to address my comment below. If any of the statements therein are inaccurate, I beg to be corrected.

If Sunny Sheu, a whistleblower who was scheduled to testify at the Senate hearings on Judicial Corruption, and who reported death threats from a NY Supreme Court judge, can be bludgeoned to death without an investigation, why does Brian say that this is a free country?

Sep. 11 2010 11:16 AM
will galison from manhattan

Free Country?

WNYC has censored my comments on their website and banned me from their Facebook page because I have respectfully expressed my concerns about judicial corruption in New York State.

Sunny Sheu was murdered after reporting death threats from a NYS Judge, and after asking WNYC to report on judicial corruption.

There has been no investigation, and WNYC refuses to even report the murder, let alone the cover-up. The Queens Medical Examiner determined that Sunny died of massive head trauma, but the police deny this documented fact.

When WNYC asked listeners to suggest a topic for the first call-in show of 2010, 41 people suggested judicial corruption, including Sunny.

One other topic received three votes. no others received more than one vote.

There can be no freedom without an honest and non-conflicted media. Otherwise people are only free to be ignorant and act in ignorance.

Why does WNYC suppress the huge story of judicial corruption? Look at WNYC's board of trustees.

Sep. 11 2010 11:11 AM
Joel Schwalb from Nyack, NY

The only way we will truly have a free country is to do the following:
1. Take the money out of politics. Get rid of the lobbyists. Limit individual donations.
2. Do away with the electoral college.
3. Do away with the senate, it is not a representative body. Why should N. Dakota, pop. 647,000 have the same representation as California, pop. 37,000,000?
4.Federal elections should be by popular vote.

We need to face the reality that the system is broken. Until then, things will remain the same no matter which party is in power.

Sep. 10 2010 11:38 AM
Ron from NYC-Flatiron district

I want to say that once America was a free country. Now, however, it is too caught up in merely saying "no" to people whose ideas differ from their own and do not seek any other solution to the problems confronting us

We assume that freedom of expression means all expression , even if it means physical harm to anyone else-such as Koran burning which could result in many uncalled for American deaths

Sep. 09 2010 01:28 PM
Ann Marwick from Mahopac, Putnam county

I think that the people of this country still think of it as the "new free world"- which it was in the 1770s but so many things have changed and especially during the past three or four decades, I would argue that it is no longer a free society.
I came to live here in 1980 and I can barely recognize this as the country in which I arrived back then. The media was still fair and balanced, (I was actually able to watch Fox news when it started), the politicians seemed a lot less angry with one another and although racism was very much a part of the society, it was still considered wrong by most people to make racist remarks in public.
Now, I can only listen to NPR and WNYC because I find that the TV stations only ever present one side of the story. Racism is alive and kicking (listen to the undertones in the conversations of the Tea-party people, and of course Glenn Beck doesn't even try to cover it up) and now on top of all that , we have religious freedom being questioned.
I cannot believe the comments being made by the opponents of the community center in NY where there will be a small Mosque. If one really listens to the commentary, one can draw only one conclusion- that this is not a free country at all. It has become marginalized, and seems to belong to the bigoted right-wing evangelical white males. (oh and they each own a gun).
Most days I get up thinking that things will surely get better, only to hear a guest on Brian's show being interviewed about something in the news that is bad- either more lies of war, another nail in the coffin of womens' rights, the Supreme Court making yet another objectionable decision which help corporations become even more powerful, someone slamming President Obama for not being a real Citizen, or simply that our favorite Starbucks will allow guns in their coffee houses..... Freedom is dissipating before our very eyes, slowly but surely.

If you have not seen the futuristic movie that John Cusak made- "War Inc." where instead of countries in the world, there are corporations, I suggest you rent it. One can recognize some truths already here with us today. The USA is no longer by the people for the people, it is owned by the oil companies, the health care industry, the bankers and the rich pharmaceuticals..... which team do you want to be on? Oh to go back in time.

Sep. 08 2010 09:34 PM
j.w. from Stamford, CT

So far as I can surmise, people in this comment thread have said the following things are wrong with this country:

1) Gerrymandering (rudi from queens)
2) Poor education (rudi from queens)
3) Ugly and corrupt political processes (RCT from Chappaqua)
4) Polarized politics (Dan from Dutches)
5) Poor participation among voters (John H from Northern NJ and Tom from Minnesota)

I agree that each of these things are important and troubling issues. My ideas:

I think using our own version of live and unscripted "question time" from the U.K. would excite the political process and get many more people involved, and it may also make politician's position on policy much clearer.

Gerrymandering should be eliminated or regulated so that it cannot be easily misused for political gain.

Campaign finance reform should be enacted so that there is complete transparency at every level of government, for starters.

Education needs to be better funded, but I also think the burden to emphasize its importance to our children needs to be shifted more to the parents and less on the schools, teachers, and government. (of course, many parents already do this, but I'm sure there are some who could improve on it, especially if they were constantly reminded about it)

So that's my 2 cents.

Also, there are many, many other things we could say are "wrong" with our country, too many in fact, so I'm going to say that there is a lot "right" with America too, and let's try not to forget about that while we work out the problems we do have.

Thanks Brian for the continually great discussions, please keep up the great work!

Sep. 08 2010 12:03 PM
j.w. from Stamford, CT

Hello all, I just wanted to add a quick thought about the idea of the United States as a free country: it really isn't. I think it much more apt to call the United States a "free-er" or "more free" country. Freedom of speech, religion and freedom of the press, which we tend to think of when we think of freedom, are all regulated by the government, and if you take the time to look, you can find many examples of laws, acts, and supreme court cases that limit these freedoms rather than extend them, all through out our entire history and up to the present day. Moreover, while most of us think we inherently understand the concept of "freedom", it really isn't all that easy to define in words in a concise manner, and you should try to do it sometime. Just something to ponder :)

I'm going to add another post in response to the conversation about what's wrong and how to fix it momentarily, thanks!

Sep. 08 2010 11:39 AM
John H from Northern NJ

Yes, people are 'free' to do what they want. Vote or not vote. Most do not vote.
That is the problem.
Most people do NOT vote.
There is no direct consequence for NOT voting.
For those of us who vote as well as know who and why we are voting for some candidates, it is frustrating to have so many citizens (eligible voters) not vote.
One problem is we continue to vote on Tuesdays. Back in the day of the horse & buggy, it was the first day anyone could get into town after the sabbath. Move elections to Saturday & Sunday.
Instill a 50% tax increase if you choose not to vote. It can be income tax or property tax.
If you do not vote you are saying I do not care!
If you really do not care then a 50% tax increase will be no problem for you right?
Other postings spoke of redistricting: This is a problem because congressional districts are designed for a specific party. This is ridiculous.
Candidates for office should only be able to raise funds for election inside their district. Too many campaign funds come from outside groups with deep pockets. They should have no say in how will be elected in a district in which they have no presence.

Sep. 08 2010 08:11 AM
Tom from Minnesota

What's wrong with "america"? Well, Dan from Dutchess Cnty from Dutchess County NY is one big reason, because like virtually all americans, he knows nothing or completely factually incorrect information about the basic history of his country, in this case the Constitution. In fact, the first "constitution" of the United States was what is generally known by knowledgeable people as the Articles of Confederation, drawn up 1777 and finally and formally adopted in 1781. Under the Articles, the states were sovereign, with the principle powers of the national government being the raising of a national army and navy, and the conducting of foreign policy. Among the things the national government under the Articles couldn't do was raise taxes (all funds could only be solicited from the states) or govern commerce between the states (so the states could set up tariffs within the boundaries of the US against each other) as examples.

By 1787, it was obvious this wasn't working, plus, there were in the northern and central states increasing numbers of uprisings by farmers and artisans against the wealthier elements of those states, culminating in Shay's rebellion in 1786 in Mass. against the banks and rich of Boston, who were foreclosing on farmers and artisans who had acquired deep debts during the Revolution.

This finally pushed the Continental Congress to authorize a convention to amend or otherwise revise the Articles, but not to try and create a whole new constitution. Certain "elements" were ready for this however, and they managed to pack the convention with men who thought the Articles should be scrapped completely and a new document written which would establish a strong centralized national government that could override the states when necessary.

This is the document which ended up being the current Constitution of the US, the adoption of which was opposed by Thomas Paine, Samuel Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, and others who saw it as simply replacing the old "dictatorship" of the British parliament and king with a new dictatorship closer to home.

So, our current constitution was created by an illegal coup d'état staged by a small group of men intent on creating a strong centralized government that could control the states and override their authority in the name of the common national good.

And this is the document anti-federal government teab-ggers get so teary-eyed about.

Talk about ignorant fools.

Sep. 07 2010 07:46 PM
Jon Mann from New York City

The important thing to remember and maintain is the fact that America is OUR free country. We The People is us, individual citizens collectively continuing the work of those who came before to stand for Freedom. Freedom of religion, freedom from tyranny, freedom from discrimination and injustice, freedom from unreasonable searches and invasions into our privacy and the rightful list goes on -- but none of it would have happened and none of it will stay in place indefinitely without participation by The People. So, how can we participate in an effective and efficient way? The methods that have been available are inadequate. Talk is a start, but whats needed is a new, democratic process and an outcome that moves our nation forward. That is the impetus of -- created to inform, inspire and enable The People to reflect and learn from our history, to use their 'Common Sense' to determine just what our greatest national problems and best achievable solutions are.

Sep. 07 2010 12:00 PM
Dan from Dutchess Cnty from Dutchess County NY

I think that the evolution of the American body politic that I've seen in the last 50 years into a highly polarized and too often dysfunctional governing process cheered on by ideologues on the far ends of both ruling parties is both sad and troubling. We seem to be losing the ability to think through complex issues in a pragmatic way. We seem to be losing the ability to compromise for the highest overall good for the most citizens. With recent Supreme Court rulings regarding campaign financing by business interests I don't know how the citizens of our democracy will be able to compete against business money for a voice in the chambers of power. With the militarization and intelligence gathering of Police agencies and policies like "stop and frisk" being just one example I openly fear for the freedoms of my children and their children. With technologies that sap away citizens privacy and other rights becoming ubiquitous as time goes on, our democracy will become unrecognizable by those of us who used to proclaim "It's a free country"

Many people think that the United States Democracy burst forth fully formed on July 4, 1776. The fact is that our founding fathers argued over the Constitution for more than a decade more before it was approved in 1787. The only thing that finally got them all to agree and approve the Constitution was the first 10 amendments. The Bill of Rights. They did their best to set up a "Free Country" I think that where our elected officials have been steering our free country, we may need to get used to our America being described as a Limited Democracy and the limitations being manifested as a gradual loss of freedom.

Sep. 07 2010 11:43 AM
RCT from Chappaqua, NY

Apologies for the typos and "is" for "are". I'm hopelessly dyslexic; I can't see my errors until I look at them, much later, with a "cold eye."

Sep. 07 2010 11:06 AM
RCT from Chappaqua, NY

What's wrong? From the beginning, U.S. politics has been contentious and ugly. President Obama said yesterday that he's been treated "like a dog" by his opponents; so he has, and so were John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. Politics is a fight for money and power, and those who think they are "right" will do anything to succeed. Moreover, the U.S. has always had its share of "Tea Partiers" -- i.e., unschooled populists and their cagey supporters, who deplore elitism and government because they seek power of their own.

What is different today in that the pitch made to the ordinary American is couched in the language of focus groups and paid for by wealthy corporations. Planned "button pushing" has replaced argument -- even heated, irrational argument -- and the pushers are billion-dollar companies who, even if they cannot advertise openly (i.e., if campaign finance reform is passed), can finance the research and advertising strategies that stoke the furnaces of those who do not think with their heads. Buzz words like "socialist" -- which to the average guy, means "foreign," "immigrant," "minority" can be deployed against any opponent who is not white, Christian and conservative. Telling people a million times over what "socialist" really means won't change their minds, because as the researchers know, "socialist" does not mean a political ideology to these folks; it means "foreign, black, hispanic, et al." Not consciously -- that's the point -- our elections and our less-educated populace is being manipulated by professionals. Hence "Take your government hands off my Medicare!"

I don't have the solution. I've seen in my own family that nice people -- good people -- who are less educated, but not stupid, can have their chains pulled by political advertising. A cousin with four kids who are over 21 and have no health insurance, opposes what she calls "Obamacare". Is she a moron? No -- but her buttons were pushed by (1) the fact that Obama is black (she can't admit this, but the "socialist" label gives her comfort) and (2) the fact that she and her kids will be "forced" to purchase insurance.

The problem, therefore, is not merely campaign contributions: it is rather a campaign by rich interests to operate via the Republican Party to create a corporate America supported by the very people who are being shafted. What's the matter with Kansas? The matter is that the same guys who are selling our kids Cheetos and Fruit Loops, are selling us "Obamacare" and "squandering our grandchildren's future."

Any suggestions?

Sep. 07 2010 11:01 AM

Rudi -
We've fixed the survey. Thanks for your responses. Everyone else, share your thoughts here!

Sep. 07 2010 10:37 AM
Rudi from queens

Your other form did not accept my submission, saying to "enter valid email address," even though all fields there were optional and I did enter the same email as here.

a. Gerrymandered election districts, nationwide

b. Civics education in schools, and education generally. (e.g, history eduction in Florida high schools.)

a. Don't vote for any candidate who will not pledge to redistrict on a random, non-partisan basis.

b. Increased history and civics education requirements, with increased funding and teacher quality review

I agree with the guy who said you don't have the right to be ignorant.

Sep. 07 2010 10:35 AM
Luiz Antonio Castro-Santos from Petrópolis, Brazil

A word from Brazil. Maybe it´s a good start for me, because I have already learned something about the uses of language as a tool to bring us closer of a bit further apart. I did not know what "crowdsourcing" is -- now I know, after visiting some informative sites. I did not know what would happen to Brian´s son if the concrete action implied by the vert "pummel" would happen (now I know -- and I better be careful, because I have two sons - or rather grandsons - I just turned 65 in February - aged 10 and 12). But I still don´t know what "storm off the dodge ball court" means. For one thing, I don´t understand the usual terms in baseball. But I will learn quickly. I guess I would like to turn this great manifesto in WNYC into a free WORLD manifesto. However, since learning Esperanto is harder than learning English, I accept to write such manifesto, little by little, slowly but steadily, in the language of William Carlos Williams.

Sep. 07 2010 09:18 AM

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