Richard Reeves

Goodnight, Moon! Goodnight, America!

LOS ANGELES -- Scanning the latest national polls, it seems that only 17 percent of Americans -- fewer than one in five -- say they are satisfied with the way things are going in the United States. Only 11 percent have confidence in the U.S. Congress, and the same percentage believe that old one about the country being headed in the right direction. Two out of three respondents think the economy is going in the wrong direction. This in the land of hope and glory.

(The numbers are from Gallup polls taken between Dec. 15 and Dec. 18. That 17 percent was as high as 60 percent as recently as 1998 and 2000. No more.)

Well, why not? One indicator of decline has to do with the fact that the band of Republican brothers and sister are roaming the country like a medicine show. They don't even mention the current debate about payroll taxes and unemployment benefits. They dodge, they wheel, they lie. At least two of them, Michele Bachmann and Newt Gingrich, make up a new Constitution as they go along. Gingrich, the history professor, doesn't even seem to believe in three branches of government, reducing the judiciary to a branch of the executive.

They are not all as bad as the worst, I must admit. Crusty old Ron Paul may deny a past that smells racist, but he has at least pointed out that the United States has been fighting one war after another, although Congress has not declared war as required by the Constitution, since Dec. 8, 1941.

We are becoming a trickle-down police state. The latest clue to that is here in Los Angeles and perhaps will avoid national conversations, although it rings like something left over from the 1920s, the '30s and the '60s. I quote from the lead of an inside page story by Kate Linthicum of the Los Angeles Times:

"Many Occupy L.A. protesters arrested during demonstrations in recent months are being offered a unique chance to avoid court trials: pay $355 to a private company for a lesson in free speech."

So free speech is no longer free. It costs $355. What exactly is free speech then? Apparently it is now defined by a private company called American Justice Associates, which gets all the money from people who suggested that perhaps certain financial inequities have now been built into the land of the free and the home of the brave.

It is time, I would suggest, to read Tom Paine, Henry David Thoreau, Aldous Huxley, George Orwell, none of whom worked for American Justice Associates. Imagine that: Our very own all-American re-education camps.

"The First Amendment is not absolute," said Los Angeles Chief Deputy City Attorney William Carter. He rambled on about court restrictions and Supreme Court decisions. He said the idea was to teach protesters the nuances of law and free speech.

Well, here's my nuance: I am an American and I can say anything I damn well please without the help of American Justice Associates. Beginning with, "Screw you, Mr. Carter."

Where is this all heading? I believe to a fractured political system. Our present election laws, after all, are a contract between the Democratic and Republican parties to keep each other in power -- and keep others out. Sooner or later, a third-party movement is going to take root -- from the right or from the left, I don't know -- but going back to the "debate" on Capitol Hill, our beloved two-party system is destroying itself.

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