America is becoming unrecognizable. There are times when I read the newspaper or watch television and am horrified by the changing face of our nation. I remember what I used to picture when I thought of the state and idea that is America. We were a beacon of freedom for the rest of the globe; we were a land of opportunity, where impoverished parents could work to make a better world for their children; we were a country where all opinions could be expressed without fear.
I wish I could say things were still this way. Now I look at America and I see our freedoms infringed upon by an overreaching government. I watch as social programs are cut as more and more Americans seek aid but are unable to find it. I observe a culture that labels any opposition to our government’s actions as treasonous. We, the people, are no longer adhering to the values of freedom, liberty and tolerance that were once our impenetrable foundation.
It started with an assault on American freedom and civil liberties. On Oct. 26, 2001, President Bush signed into law the USA PATRIOT Act, a piece of legislation that dramatically restricts our civil liberties and grants our government an incredibly perturbing ability to violate our privacy. The FBI and other investigating bodies may now spy on Americans’ Internet habits, tracking what Web pages they visit and what keywords they enter into search engines. All that is required to attain this authority is to tell a judge that the information is pertinent to an ongoing investigation. The person being spied on does not even need to be the subject of that investigation.
In addition, the FBI and CIA can now go from phone to phone and computer to computer with roving wiretaps without needing to prove that the targeted phone or computer was used by the subject of an investigative warrant. The government can serve a single wiretap on anyone nationwide, regardless of whether or not the person is specifically named in the order permitting the tap to be placed. Section 217 of the Act allows government spying on suspected computer trespassers with no need for a court order; section 503 permits a provision to take a DNA sample from any criminal convinced of “any crime of violence”; sections 210 and 211 expand the variety of records the government may request with a subpoena, which requires no court review, to include Internet session times and lengths, IP addresses, and credit card or bank account numbers. These instances constitute gross trespasses on American civil liberties as well as the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
It does not end there. America in the past was perceived as the “land of opportunity,” where impoverished Americans could work hard and grant their children a brighter future. But now that too is changing. President Bush’s fiscal policy has granted large tax breaks to the wealthiest Americans while locking out the less fortunate by slashing funding for social programs. The administration’s budget has called for child-care funding to be frozen for the next five years and has increased by one third the number of hours single mothers have to put in at the job in order to receive federal aid. The budget also pushes many social programs out of the responsibility of the federal government and on to the state governments, slapping them with a $100 billion collective debt. States, now burdened financially, have drastically cut programs such as Head Start, job training programs that benefit the unemployed, and adult ESL programs. These cuts have been made while the income taxes paid by the average millionaire in the U.S. have decreased by $89,000. With such an irresponsible fiscal policy, only the rich benefit, and the less fortunate are unable to partake in American prosperity.
These recent changes in our laws and fiscal policy are not a good direction to pursue. The foundation of freedom and opportunity that has encouraged such admiration and has persuaded so many to immigrate in the past is now crumbling under the weight of unjust, unconstitutional laws and a fiscal policy that benefits only the wealthy. We should revoke these policies and return to an era of unhindered civil liberties and strong social programs so that all Americans can fully enjoy the freedom and opportunity that is uniquely American.
Jonathan Menitove is a freshman in Ezra Stiles College.