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Paul Buchheit
NationofChange / Op-Ed
Published: Monday 28 January 2013
Franklin Delano Roosevelt once said, “True individual freedom cannot exist without economic security.” As inequality destroys our economic security, the prison population grows, religion continues to impact public policy and our privacy is invaded, our precious freedoms become more of a failed American dream.

FDR’s Four Freedoms: Diminished and Defiled

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If asked why we live in a great country, an American is likely to respond: "Because we are free." Fortunately for the respondent, explanation is rarely required. Freedom is difficult to define and today it seems to exist more in our minds than in reality.

In a 1941 Message to Congress, Franklin Delano Roosevelt tried to explain what it means to be free. He outlined the "four essential human freedoms:"

The first is freedom of speech and expression.

The second is freedom of every person to worship.

The third is freedom from want.

The fourth is freedom from fear.

The 2013 version shows how our freedoms have been diminished, or corrupted into totally different forms.

Freedom from Want? Poverty Keeps Getting Worse.

For every three people in poverty in the year 2000, there are now four. Almost 50 million people were impoverished in 2011. Over 20 percent of our children live in poverty, including almost half of young black children. Among industrialized countries only Romania has a higher child poverty rate than the U.S.

It goes well beyond economics. Not long after the FDR era, in 1960, the U.S. ranked near the top among 34 OECD countries in Life Expectancy and Infant Mortality. By 2008 we were close to the bottom. A 2007 UNICEF report ranked us last among 21 OECD nations in an assessment of child health and safety.

Freedom from Want has been least attainable for people of color. For every $100 owned by a white family, a black family has $2. For every $100 owned by a single white woman, a single black or Hispanic woman has 25 cents.

Freedom from Fear? The New Jim Crow.

In the decades before FDR young black men were under constant threat of arrest for 'vagrancy,' and the resulting slave-like conditions of forced labor. Today vagrancy has been replaced by petty drug offenses. In "The New Jim Crow," Michelle Alexander documents the explosion of the prison population for drug offenses, with blacks and Hispanics the main targets even though they use drugs at about the same—or lesserrate as white Americans. In Colorado and Washington as well as New York City and Seattle the patterns are disturbingly similar: minority arrests are vastly out of proportion to their percentages of the population.

Freedom of Worship? Distorted by Visions of The Rapture.

In 2005, Bill Moyers wrote about the far-right evangelical beliefs that dominate much of conservative American thinking, and which impact social and environmental policies. He repeats a theology professor's summary of the Rapture credo: "The world cannot be saved." Believers are not responsible for the environment, and should focus only on personal salvation. Droughts and floods, which have been occurring with greater regularity as the earth warms, are simply signs of the apocalypse as foretold in the Bible, and thus should be welcomed.

With this attitude, freedom of worship is twisted into a radical dogma that threatens the health and safety of our entire population. Senator James Inhofe, R-Okla., like many on the conservative right, favors the Bible over science. "My point is," notes Inhofe with reference to a verse from Genesis, "God's still up there. The arrogance of people to think that we, human beings, would be able to change what He is doing in the climate is to me outrageous."

Also to be welcomed by extremists is war with Islam in the Middle East, for it is an "essential conflagration on the road to redemption." At a Florida conference on "Biblical Prophecy about End Times," diatribes poured forth with a vengeance: "Islam is an intolerant religion...Islam is a Satanic religion." A reporter came away convinced that "A terrible, final war in the [Middle East] is inevitable."

Freedom of Speech? No, Surveillance and Harassment.

In De Jonge v. Oregon, 1937, the Supreme Court decided that the right of peaceable assembly is "cognate to those of free speech and free press and is equally fundamental."

Recently released FBI documents reveal that the agency repeatedly monitored Occupy Wall Street activities, viewing them as possible terrorism.

Peaceable assembly and free speech might also describe the act of young men gathering on the streets of New York City. But their First Amendment rights, along with the Fourth Amendment prohibition against illegal search, are constantly violated by Stop & Frisk abuses by the police, which at times border on sexual assault.

In addition, our freedom of expression is increasingly compromised by advanced surveillance technologies. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Amendments Act gives the government license to spy on us. New techniques such as Iris Scans, License Plate Recognition, GPS devices in pharmaceutical products and Facial Recognition Technology invade our privacy. Drones are flying over our homes. The National Security Agency is building a data center big enough to store every email, text, phone call, web search and video in the U.S. With the Electronic Communications Privacy Act on its side, government is authorized to take anything it can get.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt once said, "True individual freedom cannot exist without economic security." As inequality destroys our economic security, the prison population grows, religion continues to impact public policy and our privacy is invaded, our precious freedoms become more of a failed American dream.

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ABOUT Paul Buchheit

Paul Buchheit is a college teacher with formal training in language development and cognitive science. He is the founder and developer of social justice and educational websites (,,, and the editor and main author of "American Wars: Illusions and Realities" (Clarity Press). He can be reached at

I am very concerned about the

I am very concerned about the influence of people who think Christianity is the superior religion in this country. A button I wear is "God, save me from your followers."
If I had the means I would live in a much more liberal and secular country where zealots are required to leave people alone.

The reason 'God's still up

The reason 'God's still up there' is because assholes like Inhofe are still down here and God is simply too embarassed by all the asshole he/she/it created. Probably the first words God will speak to us upon showing up would be, "Sorry about that. My bad."

If asked why we live in a

If asked why we live in a great country, THIS American is likely to respond: "We don't." There are certainly many worse countries to live in, but compared to a lot of other Western industrialized nations, America kinda sucks. As this article demonstrates.

I agree with you. If you

I agree with you. If you look at something called the "Freedom Index" you'll find US further down the list than one might think.

FDR standing up for free

FDR standing up for free speech is like Stalinstanding up for free trade. He tried to jail people for saying his foreign policy was crap, how's that for free speech?

Learn that nonsense on Glenn

Learn that nonsense on Glenn Beck?

"My point is," notes Inhofe

"My point is," notes Inhofe with reference to a verse from Genesis, "God's still up there. The arrogance of people to think that we, human beings, would be able to change what He is doing in the climate is to me outrageous."--Senator James Inhofe, R-Okla

What's really outrageous is that the same ignorant argument explained a bacterium called Yersinia pestis, or Black Death.

Listen Mr. Inhofe, if you prefer to fuck-off your own future based on unsound religious beliefs, fuck-off your children's lives, and your grand children's lives, that's fine, but don't you dare think it's ok for you to fuck the rest of humankind, you pitiful, selfish, ignorant piece of fucking shit.

No one has the right to destroy the rest of the world because of his or her invalid religious beliefs, beliefs that have obviously become completely irrational.

You better hope there is a God because in my world you're position, and others who hold it, is subsumed under the rubric of scum. You're no better than a street thug who harms others for his own pleasure.

I think that capital can be

I think that capital can be useful, but only in the context of a more socialized culture. Like; Corporations must be stripped of their access to our elected officials. Lobbying in it's present wild west mode should be made an offense for which ten years in Leavenworth would be acceptable;

They must also be separated from their "personhood", by Constitutional Amendment, and their ability to continue in perpetuity. I like the post revolutionary idea that corporations should be made to petition the government for re-charter every two years, justifying their continued existence in public hearings. Tired of the depredations of Wal-Mart? We'd get to vote them out. (and think of all the attorneys that would have work).

Glass-Steagall was tepid medicine even in it's time. We will need to reinstitute something GS like, but with more teeth.

Dissolve the Fed. Bring central banking back into the orbit of government.

We need a 100% tax over some to be established ceiling. Sorry mitt. If this seems to be creating a DIS-incentive for people like mitt to make great big "ol shitloads of cash..... good! I think we could do without some of mitt's style of creating "value".

There have been lots of lofty

There have been lots of lofty sounding words spoken over the centuries. It is because the memory of the West's ONLY golden age of prosperity for most of the masses (whites) is still relatively fresh that we wrangle. To return to a facsimile of those times without addressing other (worldwide) necessities would be a tragic mistake and a failure.

FDR, was not the hero of the people he's made out to be. Glass Steigal et al were put in place, rather than other options, to stave off populist revolt and to save capitalism. FDR was a useful idiot of the elite class and performed in that role. As J.K. Galbraith noted at the time Glass Steigal was being drafted, after a commission of economist worked on the problem of the depression; the proposed legislation of the G.S. Act was chosen over the option of ending the Fed et al, (the Chicago Plan) to save the vested interests their control over the nation. The people got some little relief, while the plutocracy kept their ownership and control over the nation.

The populous are often fed great sounding phrases while the plutocracy maintains the illusions up front as a distraction to their on going crimes against the peoples.

You have that partly

You have that partly right.

Glass-Steagal protected "we the people" from what were strictly investment banks until Gramm-Leach-Bliley. Gramm-Leach-Bliley was indirectly responsible for the economic meltdown of 2008. It could be described as the "Enronization" of the U.S. economy.

Socialists want to kill

Socialists want to kill capitalism. Capitalists want to kill socialism. Between the two of them, they are killing the country.

Neither ideology in its pure

Neither ideology in its pure form is really a good thing. Socialism alone means the state owns everything. Capitalism alone means the corporation owns everything which we're getting closer to every day.
Oligarchy is the common word that describes what today's conservatives are trying to achieve in my opinion.
A mixture means everyone has a right to prosper and grow but not so big that everyone else is hurt in the process. CEOs earn 30 times more than their lowest paid worker. Too bad we've gone beyond that point. CEOs earn 200 times more than the lowest paid worker and the middle class is stagnant.
Thanks conservative creeps.

Jerry, I don't know any

Jerry, I don't know any "Socialists" that want to kill capitalism. The Socialists I know want capitalism to benefit all of us, not just some Wall Street connected criminal overclass.

But you are right about capitalists. Many want to kill Socialism because they do not want to pay taxes and they do not want to be regulated at all.

The righties in this nation would have you believe that we are moving toward Socialism when the very opposite is true. If you would cite the Affordable Care Act as newly enacted example of Socialism you would be wrong. The ACA preserves the entire for-profit health care apparatus. Socialized health care would completely eliminate the for-profit system which only benefits a few wealthy at an extreme cost to the nation.

Wrong! Socialists want to


Socialists want to GRANT the 4 Freedoms to every person...

Capitalists want to grant those freedoms only to the last elites still standing...

jackwenayscott's picture

Delusions, delusions, who's

Delusions, delusions, who's got the delusions. Nearly all Americans are deluded, their minds are not "free", they are chained by hypnosis to their motion imagery Empire, headquartered in Los Angeles. "Whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad." And, the destruction of the American mind is nearly complete, the right blames the "liberal establishment" for controlling the media, the left blames "big corporations" for controlling the media and thereby ruling America. The truth is really simple, those who make the TV images are in control, and the deluded audience has become insane due to their television and movie watching. If you stop watching motion pictures, you will lose your mind, but continuing to watch progressively makes you internally more and more insane and non-functional. The TV is turning everyone's brains to mush, but that works for L.A. Entertainment-News, mushy brains are compliant with the suggestions put out through the television. The NRA notices that L.A. wants you powerless, yes, powerless and compliant, trusting your L.A. masters, and accepting their suggestions for every facet of your lifestyle, and draining your political power and money into show-business. So, the madness and non-functionality increase and increase as the whole thing begins to fail, with the deluded American public and the "System" breaking down into insanity and finally, DEATH!



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