There is an alarming trend occurring in our great nation that deserves scrutiny and constant vigilance. The current Bush Administration has made no secret of its "shadow government" ever since 9/11. But shadow governments are not the trend; they have existed throughout the ages. The trend lies in the public's blanket acceptance of such policy by our elected officials.

In light of the recent revelation that the administration might have had advance notice of the 9/11 hijackings, the issue of disclosure becomes far more crucial. The media continues to report President Bush as enjoying high ratings since the 9/11 attacks. Yet no science is ever forthcoming about the participants in these polls, how the polls are conducted, or even if these polls are truly representative of the country's sentiment. Americans should question the legitimacy of these polls that greatly influence the public's perception.

Along with the covert operation of a shadow government, citizens are simultaneously experiencing increased costs due to "security," for which those imposing the costs are unaccountable to the taxpayers and consumers. Providers of electricity, natural gas, oil, water, and other such infrastructure needs are able to impose higher rates on consumers without disclosing what the increased revenues will be spent on. Under the umbrella of improved security, Americans blindly trust that our dollars are actually being spent on the added value of additional security, but we are no longer entitled to be sure. As for our tax dollars, we have only begun to experience the impact that the "war on terror" is exacting from Americans. The moniker "security no matter the cost" does not reflect a philosophy that most Americans ascribe to. Americans want security that works. We want a plan that we can all buy into, one that has measurables and produces results. Security can be treated as nebulous and intangible, or it can be a definitive plan of action that has a firm basis for determining its success or failure, with predictable costs.

After 9/11, the public was told that the purpose of our military action in Afghanistan was to root out those responsible for the attacks on America, most especially Bin Laden. Billions of dollars later, we have primarily failed in this stated mission because Bin Laden is still unaccounted for, with ongoing threats of more terrorism pending.

Even more frightening is that the measures taken thus far to protect Americans have the potential to seriously erode our freedom, but the public appears to be apathetic. What are we protected from if our privacy and freedom are compromised? Nothing is more precious or more American than our personal rights and freedom. Measures to vigilantly scrutinize include the rescission of the Presidential Records Act, so that the administration's records are no longer required to be made public after a certain period; the loss of certain rights under the new USA PATRIOT Act, in which the language is so broad that it can be misused by law enforcement; and Attorney General Ashcroft's commitment of his office's resources to help defend those who defy the Freedom of Information Act in the interest of security. These are just a few of the precarious legislative and/or policy changes that have taken place since 9/11. It is safe to assume there is more that could undermine our democratic way of life.

So what can Americans do? We have this notion that, as individual citizens, we are powerless to do anything to create change. This is a myth that our own media helps to perpetuate by eliminating much of the meaningful public debate. Instead it focuses its content on sensationalism as a revenue generator, not as a catalyst for informing, whether in the form of news broadcasts or pontificating pundits. Most of us are all too aware that this occurs regularly in our news coverage, but we choose to ignore it. Our collective excuse almost always boils down to "not enough time."

If Americans don't shake the profound and destructive apathy and self-absorption that has characterized our civic participation, the patriotic legacy we leave our children will be the worst in our country's history.

For those with initiative and leadership skills, this is an amazing time to get on board and create change at every level of civic life. The dearth of strong, honorable leadership that presently exists makes it ideal for those with vision and a true desire to improve their communities, states, or nation to take the helm. Americans are hungry for such leadership, but they know the difference between serving and self-serving.

A paradigm shift in thinking needs to occur, where inclusiveness is the norm, not the exception, to civic and organizational activity. Exclusive shadow governments, shadow councils, or shadow boards are no longer acceptable. The elected body needs to acknowledge the wealth of social capital yet untapped, and begin to widen the circle of participation to include more voices. But this will only happen at the insistence of the American public. Citizens must renew their commitment to engage in public debate and make their voices heard through volunteerism and grassroots organization. Each of us should pick one community issue that we feel passionate about, or at least genuinely interested in, and give of our time (not just our money) by volunteering in some capacity. If every one of us made this specific and deliberate effort, we would have a very different world.

The myth that a single individual cannot create change is not only ludicrous, it is patently false. It is individuals who create new ideas, who share them with others, who build consensus, and who implement new policies, models, procedures, etc. Such change almost always begins with one dedicated person or a handful of committed individuals who see it through to fruition. In America, so much is possible when we apply ourselves. The opportunities are endless, and the rights and freedoms we hold sacred give us the confidence to pursue our ambitions. We must not allow anything to jeopardize these inalienable rights and freedoms that define us as Americans.

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