6/27/06 -- A Day That Will Go Down in Infamy

Very rarely in American history do moments come along when our Congress publicly and openly flaunts the fact that it has stopped even trying to pretend it cares about this country. Usually, the disdain lawmakers have for ordinary citizens and the nation's well being is hidden behind fake promises of altruism and idealism. But today is one of those truly rare moments -- a moment that should go down in infamy for its nauseating candor.

Today, the United States Senate -- supposedly the greatest deliberative body in the greatest representative democracy on the planet -- spent its precious time having a heated debate over whether to amend the Constitution for the first time in a generation so as to ban flag burning. The U.S. House last year spent its precious time on the same issue. Regardless of how one feels about this issue, the admission of irresponsibility inherent in Congress spending time on this issue is truly historic. We are a nation that is in the throes of a very serious crisis -- one that is costing us hundreds of lives every day. The numbers explain what I am talking about far better than prose.

Consider this -- the U.S. Congress and cynical pundits and political operatives in Washington are polluting our country's political discourse with a debate over flag burning at the very same time that:

- The American Journal of Public Health reports more than 1,700 African Americans die each week because they don't have the same access to health care as other Americans.

- The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports 110 workers die each week in workplace fatalities -- many of which could be prevented by better enforcement of basic workplace laws by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (which is being gutted by budget cuts).

- The Pentagon reports roughly 15 American soldiers die each week in Iraq.

- The Institute of Medicine reports 346 Americans die each week because they lack health insurance.

- The Environmental Working Group reports that 192 Americans die each week because of exposure to asbestos.

Mind you, these are but a few pieces of data quickly pulled from my new book, Hostile Takeover. They are tiny snippets in a blood-stained river of similar facts -- facts that are similarly ignored by America's political Establishment. But quiet dismissal of life and death is one thing -- openly substituting a discussion of life and death with a made-for-television spectacle about a fabricated "controversy" is altogether different.

There are truly no words for a Congress that would have the nerve to spend its time creating and then "debating" an "issue" like flag burning at a time when this is going on -- especially when, last I checked, there is no plague of flag burning overtaking the country. But even if there was that plague, there still are no words to describe the irresponsibility and negligence of the cynical, soulless politicians who would allow such a debate to even take place when these life-and-death realities are unnecessarily unfolding before our eyes -- realities that these politicians have the power to stop.

Our founding fathers would be ashamed. Our country's historical icons who fought to make this country great would be appalled. My own ancestors who risked their lives to free themselves from tyrrany, get to this country and help build it through public service -- they would be disgusted. And the next generation will rightly look upon this day -- and this era -- as a humiliating cautionary tale in the history of a country that allowed the worst forms of greed and self-indulgence from the most vile political opportunists in both parties to imperil the very foundation this nation was built upon. They will wonder how we, the people, didn't all scream at Congress from the top of our lungs: "How dare you?"

Today, for the first time in my life, I am both embarrassed for my country, and fear for its future. Only a country that has a very serious disease within its political system could allow this to happen. And unless we stop denying the existence of that disease, unless we root out those within the system who are helping spread that disease, unless we cure ourselves of the germs in our Congress who would trumpet cynical gestures at a time when so many of our countrymen are unnecessarily dying -- then, as much as it truly pains me to say it, America's days as the greatest country on Earth may indeed be numbered.