By Bob Wood
Bangkok, Thailand, August 20, 2013–On July 1 of this year my wife and I left our home in Florida — with no plans to return. We decided it was time to leave the United States permanently and head for her home country, Thailand.
Iâ€™ve heard many questions regarding why I would make such a life-altering change and leave my home country. My reasons were several and personal, though, I think, shared by others who wish they had the freedom to make a similar choice — but do not.
Freedom was central to my decision to leave, as in, the continuing loss of that very right. I could see my freedom under scrutiny during the first term of George W. Bush; upon his re-election in 2004, I knew the situation would only get worse in America. And it did.
That voters in this country would re-elect a team like Bush -Cheney, so obviously unfit for their jobs, was a shocking event for me. As a political liberal who always voted for Democrats before opting out of voting altogether in 2008, there was â€œhope and changeâ€™â€™ in the air when Barack Obama was elected. He promised more transparent government, more fairness in our economic system, the ending of two disastrous and losing wars (unless you were a war profiteer, that is) and some justice for Wall Street crooks.
If someone had told me what the future policies of the new administration would be back in 2008 without confirming who actually won the election, I would have guessed that the McCain – Palin team had been elected. Adding to my concerns about the electorate and the bad endings they could allow was the fact that so many could consider Sarah Palin qualified to become a potential president; that was more alarming than I could imagine.
As I have said, I didnâ€™t vote for anyone in the 2008 campaign, convinced that it really doesnâ€™t matter in America who wins and becomes president, Congressman or any other elected representative. Which of them promising to go to D.C. and fight for me wouldnâ€™t sell me out to the highest bidder on Day 1? Just this week we got news of a survey to be published in Political Research Quarterly, showing that members of the U.S. Senate consistently vote with the best interests of the wealthy in mind to the virtual exclusion of public opinions expressed by the middle class and the poor.
â€˜â€™In all of the five Congresses examined, the voting records of Senators were consistently aligned with the opinions of their wealthiest constituents. The opinions of lower-class constituents, however, never appeared to influence the Senatorsâ€™ voting behavior. The neglect of lower income groups was a bipartisan affair. Democrats were not any more responsive to the poor than Republicans.â€™â€™
Does that fit any description of democracy you were taught? A few good people like Dennis Kucinich, Bernie Sanders, Al Franken and now Elizabeth Warren really do seem to take seriously their responsibilities as our representatives, but, while living in Florida, I couldnâ€™t vote for any of them, even though they do represent all of us when they vote on important policy.
Given my understanding about how our democracy is supposed to work, Iâ€™ve called dozens of elected officials in Congress in recent years, asking why they did or did not support some awful piece of legislation, such as the Patriot Act. With that legislation, even model citizens (which my wife and I consider ourselves to be) are presumed suspects for having committed egregious sins against America, and this remains the default position of our government!
I became angry when sent for secondary inspections at border crossings when re-entering my home country from another country. I despised having my pockets and car searched on one re-entry from Canada, only to be told that I had no right to ask why I was questioned and searched. When relating this event to friends in Detroit, they confirmed that they simply stopped going into Canada, as the hassles of re-entering their home country just wasnâ€™t worth the trouble. And weâ€™ve learned, too, that some members of the media have been intimidated into self-censoring themselves for fear of reprisals from our own government.
Restricting our movements for fear of the same repercussions further fueled my concerns about loss of freedom. After leaving the U.S. and arriving in Thailand, we discovered a parting gift from our government: a note left in one piece of our luggage. The note informed us that the bag had been searched by the TSA. That some knuckle-dragging clown went through our personal belongings so freely was, I hope, our final insult.
Helping push my decision to leave was what we endured when sending money from our U.S. bank account to my wifeâ€™s accounts in Thailand. Not only were we required to sign forms indicating how we were going to use the money in Thailand, but also who we knew there and where the money came from (even though an obvious paper trail was easily accessible). On a couple occasions, we received follow-up calls from the bank the next day, requesting more explanation about our motives.
Finally, my response became: â€˜â€™Whose damned business is it what the money is for and what we intend to do with it? Itâ€™s ours, documented as legally obtained with all taxes paid, or, in my case, slightly overpaid. Itâ€™s none of their damned business!â€™â€™
Lately, the demonization of whistle-blowers like Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden, after their heroic attempts at making Americans aware of what their government is doing in secret and in their names, left a chill. What used to be considered investigative journalism and attempts at keeping our government between the legal and moral guidelines have been re-classified as treason. President Obama has already charged twice as many people under the Espionage Act as did all other presidents combined! And he ran for office as a liberal Democrat?
My calls and letters to our elected representatives asking how theyâ€™ve allowed us to lose so much of our basic freedoms of speech, movement and personal business dealings were a wasted effort. The responses Iâ€™ve heard were uniformly disappointing, supporting my belief that if only I were a big campaign contributor, the legislators would actually listen to my concerns. My favorite question became, â€˜â€™Whatâ€™s the difference between a campaign contribution and a bribe?â€ Try asking that question sometime. Youâ€™ll be amazed at how hard it is for them to answer!
Some of you who have been reading this fine publication for several years might recognize my name as the former writer of page 6 articles about the financial markets. This has become another of my concerns, as I see the financial situation in this country becoming borderline hopeless as it relates to any real change in the pervasive corruption that has led us to the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. I will devote more time to this subject in a future article.
The teaser for that is my anger at seeing not one high-ranking Wall Street executive held responsible for actions leading up to the worst financial crisis since the Depression, with President Obama telling us that, technically, none of them did anything illegal. This seems to be a two-tiered justice system where the very rich and well connected are immune from prosecution under the laws the rest of us must live by.
Senator Elizabeth Warren from Massachusetts has been asking why none of these bankers has been charged with any crimes. Are they not only â€œtoo big to fail,â€ but also â€œtoo big to jailâ€? This type of activity is more of what we would expect from a Banana Republic. I fear that America is on that road.
All of this is maddening to me, to be sure. But itâ€™s relatively small stuff compared to what originally motivated me to consider living in another country. Reading modern American history from a liberal perspective opened my eyes to a moral and ethical dilemma I wasnâ€™t aware of before.
The old adage that history is written by the victors and cleansed of their worst sins became obvious to me when I read some of the most thoughtful and well documented books about our past. The book that changed so much for me was Howard Zinnâ€™s The Peopleâ€™s History of the United States. A newer version on this same theme is found in director Oliver Stoneâ€™s Untold History of the United States, which admittedly is trailing my arrival in Thailand, and I have yet to read it.
What Zinn brought clearly to a readerâ€™s attention was the fate of historyâ€™s losers, the victims of our nationâ€™s thirst for political and economic advantage. Too often, innocent lives were taken; this aspect of war has been most revoltingly referred to as â€˜â€™collateral damage,â€™â€™ or, in Donald Rumsfeldâ€™s eyes, a messy aspect of war.
We see this same type of activity happening today in drone strikes against alleged terrorists in Pakistan, Afghanistan and now Yemen. Can you imagine the outcry in the U.S. ifChina or Russia began pursuing their political enemies on our soil? Drone strikes sometimes kill innocent women and children, who are too close to whomever the pursuing nations consider a threat without proof or due process.
This horror pales, however, in comparison to what the U.S. has done in past wars. We killed upwards of three million people in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War, most of whom were innocent civilians. The lingering effects of the massive dropping of Agent Orange have inflicted harm for years since the war ended. And we all know how much we fear those chemical weapons — when in the wrong hands!
Adding to my moral conflicts was learning of lesser transgressions such as the overthrow of Iranâ€™s popular leader in a CIA coup that brought to power the hated Shah and his murderous Savak police force. A Google search on â€˜â€™CIA and overthrowâ€™â€™ just yielded me 4.1 million hits. How many Americans have any idea what the CIA really does, and how many would approve if they did?
Did you know that the School of the Americas at Fort Benning, Georgia became a training ground for torture squads, which helped support dictators in Central America who agreed to deal with us on our terms economically? Those torture squads were responsible for much pain, suffering and death. The â€˜â€™schoolâ€™â€™ was officially closed in 1999 but soon after re-opened under a different name. It still exists today with some members of Congress asking Obama to finally close it for good last year.
The recent wars in Iraq were illegal by any international standard as well as the Vaticanâ€™s Just War Doctrine, which support going to war only when directly threatened — and as a last resort. When it became apparent that U.N. weapons inspectors were right all along and there were no WMDs in Iraq, why was no one in the Bush administration held accountable? And what of the damage done to the Iraqi people from this unjust war?
I can only imagine the pain and suffering brought to the survivors of an innocent man killed in Iraq or Afghanistan when one of our smart bombs missed its target. How does his wife support their family by herself in those societies where opportunities for women are so scarce?
Itâ€™s stunning to me that people in America are so outraged about illegal aliens here from Mexico and adamant about building a fence to keep them out. Especially odd is how they want to keep them out of many places in the Southwest with Spanish names. How do these border-fence patriots think those cities and towns got those names? A relatively painless review of any history book will show that this was their land before we claimed it in the name of eminent domain or some other flimsy rationale.
Going a little further back in history shows that Mexico wasnâ€™t our first experience in displacing people in the way of our economic progress. A drive around New England will take you through some nice towns and over picturesque rivers with odd-sounding names. Those names had native American origins. The only thing missing from those areas now are the native Americans! Reading Zinnâ€™s classic book shows the other side of the â€œheroicâ€ Indian killers, so warmly portrayed in our grade school history books.
Those same books written today no doubt paint a glowing picture of our relationship with our â€˜â€™little brother and unshakable ally in the Middle Eastâ€™â€™ — Israel. Itâ€™s too bad that so many adults and children in this country have little understanding of how repugnant our support for that government has been since 1948, and, indeed, going back to Englandâ€™s Balfour Declaration in 1917. That the Israeli government or military has never had any member arrested and brought to the Hague on war crimes charges is testament only to our governmentâ€™s direct interference in a true pursuit of justice for Palestinians so wrongly displaced, arrested or simply thrown out of their long-held homes and land, then simply handed over to the next settler with his hand out.
You may not share my internal conflict with our government, but I suggest that you read the books by Zinn or Stone yourself. For extra credit, try one or two books by Ward Churchill, depicted by our government as an internal enemy combatant for having the nerve to cite â€œblowbackâ€ as one possible root cause for terrorism directed at America.
Our country goes to war to gain economic advantage or simply to make well-connected war profiteers, such as Dick Cheneyâ€™s pals, thoroughly rich. Refer back to General Smedley Butlerâ€™s War is a Racket, penned in 1933 to show how long this process has gone on. Weâ€™re told that our military goes to war as a last resort, fighting for our freedoms or defending them from enemies. I think we havenâ€™t fought for our freedom since 1776!
The other wars, interventions and coups have been waged for political and economic gain, but the government canâ€™t admit that, or who would fight these battles? The rich, who stand to gain most from war, donâ€™t send their kids to fight. So they appeal to the fears of others, citing â€˜â€™Islamo-Fascists,â€™â€™ which, under any scrutiny for meaning, makes no sense at all.
But that term does sound scary, doesnâ€™t it? So we are told to fear â€œthem,â€ or weâ€™ll see the rise of the next Hitler or Stalin, and we donâ€™t want to be speaking Russian now, do we? Of course, we had no problem working with Stalin during World War II any more than we had working with Saddam during the Reagan years.
So our poor and middle class kids get sent away to fight people who really have no problem with us and whom we really have no problem with either. Only long after the battles are fought do we discover that the rationale for going to war in the first place was but another hoax.
Remember the Maine! Remember the Alamo! The German U-Boat crisis! The Gulf of Tonkin. Saddamâ€™s WMDs. In the end, someone gets rich, and thousands or millions of innocent people are killed with barely a mention of it in the U.S.
And all this was just too much complicity for me as a taxpayer and as an American.