20th November 2002

Column 34

How many of you have flags hanging outside of your house, or an American flag decal stuck on your car or truck? How many of you puff up your chest with pride and make the ‘we're #1’ sign when you hear the National Anthem being played? How many of you are quick to tell anyone who asks, that America 1s the best country in the world, and believe it (it doesn't matter that most of you have never been outside the borders of the USA). How many of you voted in the last election? I suspect that many of you, who love to wave the American flag and claim the USA is #1, are also part of the almost half of Americans who didn't bother to vote in the last election. It is amazing to me how people can give up this right. These are probably the same American's who complain and find fault with all the things the Government is doing. If you are one of the Americans who aren't happy with the direction the country is headed, then I am baffled why you didn't take the little bit of time needed to participate in the election process.

One of the rights you lose, when you are sent to prison, is the right to vote. It's not just while you are in prison, that you lose this right. You have lost the right to vote for the rest of your life. Supposedly, when you go to prison and are released, you have paid your debt to society. But when you lose the right to vote for the rest of your life, it seems you have never really paid your debt to society and never fully regain your rights back. This means there are many millions of disenfranchised people in the USA who do not have a voice in what their government does or who represents them.
I have no doubt's that many of you who are reading this are thinking, well if you went to prison, then you don't deserve the right to vote. But that is just a knee jerk reaction and one without any real thought behind it.  America is one of the few Industrialized countries that do not allow former prisoners the right to vote after serving their time. In fact, many Industrialized countries allow those who are still in prison to vote. 
So much for ‘the land of the free and the home of the brave’.

One of the reasons I think it is important for prisoners and former prisoners, to be able to vote is - if they were allowed to vote, the politicians would have to stop pandering to the extreme right wing. Instead of making speeches about getting tough on crime and all the other catch phrases they spout during their campaigns, they would have to find realistic solutions to the social problems that contribute to people committing crimes. In the long run, they (politicians) would have to work to insure that once a person has done their time, they would come out of prison a better person and be a productive member of society. I don't see ex-felon's being allowed to vote, but I do think if they were allowed to do so, it would make a positive difference in our society. After all, I doubt if people who have been in prison would fall for the ‘get tough on crime’ propaganda. They would have a better understanding of what is needed to solve the real problems that are behind most crimes that are committed. But the right wing would never allow this sort of thing.

Speaking of elections, I think what happened in the last election is going to be something most Americans will regret for many years to come. Nothing to do with the ‘War on Terrorism’ or the campaign to get rid of Saddam. The thing Americans will regret is the fact the Republicans controlled all branches of the Government. In the next year, you will see these extreme right wing Judges appointed to the Federal courts. If you thought our civil rights have been eroded over the last two decades, then just wait and see what happens in the next decade.
I am not talking about those of us in prison having a fair chance in the courts. We are only a small fraction of the people who will be effected. I am talking about all the women out there who want to have the right to choose on whether they have a baby. I can assure you that most of the Judges who will be appointed to the courts in the next few years, will mostly be against the right for a Woman to choose in this.

If you are someone who has any concern about the environment and the fact that our waters and air are already polluted, you will also be in for a rude surprise in the next few years. Bush has already undermined a lot of the environmental protections which were created in the last decade and I am sure you will see much more of the same in the next few years. One of the first victims will be ANWR (Arctic National Wildlife Refuge) in Alaska. In the next few years you will see oil companies drilling and building oil pipelines all across this beautiful piece of land. Just to get a small amount of oil that won't last the USA very long, but it will help Bush's friends make more money.

There is another factor you should be concerned about. These conservative courts will also give the various State and Federal Agencies even more power to invade peoples lives. All in the name of national security and for your own protection, of course. If there is one thing the Right Wing has learned over the years it is, when the public is full of fear, they give the Government a lot more power than they would otherwise. I suppose that when you have never lost your freedoms, you don't fully appreciate how valuable it is.

I have written previously, how it will be interesting to sit back and watch what happens after Bush took the Presidency. Well, it has been a real eye opener. Our country has gone from many of billions of dollars of surplus in the budget and is back to where it was in the 1980's and early 1990's, when the deficit was growing at a runaway rate. All this in just two years. The economy has stopped growing and we are on the verge of a recession. The crime rate has grown steadily since Bush took the Presidency. And overall, you are a lot worse off now, than you were two years ago. Well, after this last election, you haven't seen anything yet. Just wait another two years and remember how it was for you in 2000,compared to what it like for you in 2004. I suppose you will have the consolation of feeling safe though. After all, that is all that Bush has promised you, but he never promised to keep you safe from himself. It should be an interesting ride over the next few years. I hope you will enjoy it. So, for those of you who didn't take the time to vote in this last election, I hope you will look in the mirror, when you are looking for someone to blame, because you are not happy with what is happening in the USA.

Okay, I am out of here for this one. I don't expect many of you to agree with what I've said, but I hope that it has provided you with some food for thought.

Take care,