Hundreds of thousands of bundled up Americans awaited a speech in Washington D.C. yesterday on Martin Luther King Jr. Day 2013. This event is similar to reality television with millions of social media posts commenting on the bragging rights of “American-ness.” Thousands of heavily armed guards surrounded the Federal entourage during the 57th Presidential Inauguration, and NBC’s Brian Williams comment that the event “feels like a police state.” Yet this criticism seemed drowned in the proud boasts of millions of Americans. With all of this excitement, there are things that many Americans will fail to mention. For instance, President Obama will not make reference to the FBI’s intensive surveillance programs against Dr. King or how Mr. Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act, which now allows the military to detain U.S. citizen indefinitely without due process. While the celebration continues, these facts beg questions about the direction of this country.
Is your American-ness in question if you question the government? What is patriotism (click here for previous podcast) in the context of injustice in a society that holds life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in such high regard? While I consider these government actions reason enough to hold off partying, I do not believe the government is to blame. We the people have to believe that government is not the answer to all of our problems, and polls show that Americans are very dissatisfied with the government’s performance. We demand too much and pay too little. If we hold unrealistic standards for a system that is far from perfect, then we are bound to be disappointed, therefore it becomes a pressing concern to push back from time to time and work to get the system back on track.
In this Campfire Podcast, we learn of one American’s struggle as he questions his government on the day before the country celebrates freedom and democracy.
This should remind us of how the balance between freedom and security has become skewed. Yesterday, I interviewed an American who has a legitimate cause to question the government. Lionel Lombard Jr. is an American PR professional who was locked up for two years in a foreign prison on false charges and now is waiting for the U.S. State Department to respond to a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request that will help him with his case against Mohammed Al Abbar, Chairman of Emaar Properties. Mr. Lombard claims Mr. Al Abbar, a wealthy citizen of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), was responsible for holding him indefinitely due to his political influence in the UAE, one of the world’s largest buyer of American weapons.
Mr. Lombard is an American from New Orleans. The company Mr. Lombard founded, Inspiration Beyond Expectation LLC based out of Dubai’s International Financial Centre, was critical of the treatment of migrant workers in Dubai and after meeting a few of them one evening, Lombard expressed his concern to Emaar Properties, the billion dollar corporation based in the UAE. Within days, Mr. Lombard was heckled by unknown assailants until he was eventually jailed and charged with harassment. Before the charges were dropped, Mr. Lombard was bound, beaten, and felt his human rights were violated.
Mr. Lombard claims that due to the U.S. government’s refusal to release FOIA documents, his case against Emaar Properties is stalled. This week, his request will become one of the less than one percent of FOIA cases that goes to court. Mr. Lombard stated in the podcast that he wants the photocopies to prove his locked up abroad experience, so he can accept what happened and move on with his life.
During the Inauguration on Monday, President Obama’s quotes of safeguarding children while promoting democracy abroad failed to call for any specific government action in the coming weeks. Former President Jimmy Carter said to look out for continued Executive Orders forcing new gun laws across the country followed by an immigration debate. And on a day that the federal government honors one of the most famous “nonviolent” activists in American history, look into Afghanistan over the next few months as analysts attempt to postpone the planned withdrawal. Remember that our elected chief orders drone strikes throughout the world. Remember that 247,243 veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars have been diagnosed with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). Ask how many Americans have PTSD who have been shot at, imprisoned, experienced addiction, or have experienced several of the other outrageous threats that exist on a daily basis in this country. The reason for asking these questions is that we must recognize these problems before we expect government to have all the answers.
If we expect the government to solve all of these problems, then we must accept the cost. Many Americans believe we must cut spending. If the government budget is reduced, then someone else must pick up the slack. So the question again, what is American-ness? How do Americans rise to the tasks at hand beyond cheering a speech? What actions constitute American-ness?
Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee said during the Inauguration to “find the good and praise it.” Mr. Alexander is correct, but we must also remember that the first step to solving a problem is acknowledging that there is one, and that this is the American thing to do.
Write one letter to one of your elected officials in the next week and express a thought.
UPDATE AS OF FEBRUARY 8th 2013: Lombard’s case with the State Department has been re-opened and the District Attorney referred to in the podcast is being replaced.