December 2009

This is the time of year when one would compile the top 5 Desert Island things that made their year, from album releases to mom’s dishes. Here at SaC we thought we would continue our hard work fighting general illiteracy and list the books that have inspired us the most throughout the year. Be careful, you’re about to enter a zone of serious knowledge. All these books are available for less than $15.

Naomi Wolf – Give me liberty (a handbook for American Revolutionaries) order at Amazon here

Naomi Wolf is one extraordinary writer who puts her English language skills at the service of the Founding Fathers, coming back to the roots of the principles of freedom and justice that make up the American Constitution. Fearing another type of “gathering storm”, Naomi Wolf travelled the country and met scholars, ordinary people, pro-life activists and young software users who were all ready to resist the powers that be in the name of the freedom that was granted upon them as Americans. In that book, she claims that freedom can only be attained by learning the true meaning of democracy and taking it back into their own hands. Her detailed account of how the electoral system is manipulated in favor of certain consistuencies and her intensive research on the laws erecting themselves as obstacles to the right of expression, instead of facilitating it, is empowering.  Probably one of the most important book of the decade, Give Me Liberty is bringing revolution to what it really is: by the people, for the people, giving “patriotism” the meaning it had before the Bush Administration turned it into “imperialism”.  A tool of knowledge and self-awareness for all western countries, it even provides a bullet-point list of all the non-violent possibilities we have to put the citizenry back in charge.

Chris Hedges – The Empire of Illusion (the end of literacy and the triumph of spectacle) order at Amazon here

Chris Hedges is no stranger to the powerful meaning of words. A member of The Nation and blogger at salon, the former war correspondant carries an in-depth, profund and stunning analysis of the brainwashing media system corrupting the minds of Americans and coercing them into passivity. Now, if this sounds like a conspiracy theory, Chris Hedges brings out all the arguments into a well-crafted, incredibly constructed book with an amount of research that would make his fellow Harvard graduates cry in shame. From the illusion of literacy and the failure of the educational system, to the illusion of love and the role of the pornography industry in desensitizing people to torture, Chris Hedges tells a tale that we know all too well, paints portraits of people we might recognize ourselves in, and pleads for self-awareness, knowledge, and self-empowerment. Completely disconnected from circonvoluted speeches and party lines, he slams so-called liberal media when needed be, and tries to reinstaure a significant truth among  a puddle of lies: we are being fed distraction so as to stop participating in the forum, the same way Romans citizens were given games to watch in order to turn a blind eye to Julius Caesar’s endless wars and their own hungry stomachs. Where Noam Chomsky did not shy away from calling the United States a “failed state”, Chris Hedges goes further and depicts a failed population, with little to hope for and not much material to think over. Depression, degradation and desenfranchisement are at the heart of this masterpiece that feels like a giant suckerpunch to the jaw. Deconstructing a so-called successful society brick by brick, Hedges is ringing the alarm and hoping there is still time to turn around before we lose everything that made us human.

Frank Shaeffer – Crazy for God: how I grew up as one of the elect, helped found the religious right, and lived to take it all back (or almost) order at Amazon here

We have never been kind to religious extremists over there, but have done our best to understand why they have been trying so hard to undermine the fabric of a society that had already been targeted by other religious extremists on 9/11. After the passing of Proposition 8, it became increasingly clear that the battle of civil rights will be a religious one, and that the divide between atheism and the growing need for a secular state will be met with violent refusal and rebuttal from every fringe of christianity, judaism and islam within the United States. Frank Shaeffer, famous for travelling all over the country preaching the Gospel of Jesus in the 70s then turning his back on what made him rich and famous, is here telling his own story, that of a rebellious, art-inclined little boy who grew up isolated from society in Switzerland, and came to terms with the hypocrisy and contradictions of televangelism, calling out Pat Robertson and cohorts with uncompared grief and anger. This is the story of a father of three trying to find his own path outside his father’s, and seeking for his identity when being religious means being conservative. Too bad Frank Shaeffer is an uncompromising liberal. Aggravating at times, frustrating by moments, but overall terribly touching, Shaeffer isn’t hiding any flaws from the picture he paints of his own family. If there is one book to understand where the religious right comes from, it’s that one. Taboos and prejudices are quickly defeated.

Matthew Alexander – How to break a terrorist (The U.S. Interrogators Who Used Brains, Not Brutality, to Take Down the Deadliest Man in Iraq) order at Amazon here

Don’t be fooled by the cover. Don’t be fooled by the main title. Matthew Alexander – writing under a pseudonym – tells the hard story of a man sent to Iraq to capture, preferably alive, Mohamed Al-Zarqawi, presumed head of Al-Qaeda in the region. Yet Alexander did not receive the same training than his future employees. Far from the tragic abuses of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay, Alexander studied the Geneva Convention at the same time he was studying arabic and the Q’uran, and came to Iraq with intelligence methods in accordance with human rights law and based on the deepest knowledge of the prisoner, not a battle of brutality and violence. This book, which parts were blacked out for Secret Defense reasons, reads like a thriller, with intel on Al-Zarqawi being retrieved at the very end, after Alexander fought resistance to non-violent methods, bureaucracy, legal red tape, and the infamous ticking clock that is supposed to justify the use of torture. A compelling testimony on how intelligence can use brains instead of fists and cultural relativism to its own advantage, instead of retreating to imperialistic and white supremacist techniques that never proved themselves useful. Alexander’s loneliness however proves there is a long way until human rights are used into prison cells in the Middle East, but this is a fantastic start.

Paul Rieckhoff – Chasing Ghosts: a soldier’s fight for America, from Baghdad to Washington order at Amazon here

The first words set the tone of the book: “George W. Bush better be fucking right”. A voluntary soldier entering the US Army after graduating from the prestigious Amherst College, Paul Rieckhoff was not the typical unknowledgeable trooper some would have depicted. A commanding officer in charge of leading his men through one of the deadliest wars of the last three decades, Rieckhoff is quick to realise that not only was this war not properly organized or thought through, but that it wasn’t justified as well. Watching his men die or be wounded, facing dangers and mutilated kids on a daily basis, Rieckhoff came back to America with one ideal in mind: restore the America he had envisioned when he joined the Army. Founder of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, which has fought for the GI Bill and relentlessly lobbied for veteran health care and the recognition of PTSD as a war injury, Rieckhoff is a soldier in mind and in heart – and his account of his year in Baghdad is concise, precise, funny at times, but certainly like nothing you may have heard before. This is not the war as our media would want us to know about; this is a soldier’s perspective, losing his ideology and faith, and regaining it through the brotherhood and fraternity only brothers at arms can find. Struggling against phony definitions of patriotism and the overwhelming military-industrial complex (see: Eugene Jarecki, The American Way of War), this book is a mandatory read for anyone wanting to dabble in the never-ending Iraq war debate. Once again, his field experience sets him far away from any of the homeland’s partisan lines, and only reveals an internal monologue revolving around the need of a soldier to find purpose in violence, to find ideology in fear, and to know the rationale behind his actions. As Rieckhoff’s confusion increases throughout the book, so is ours; supporting the troops is not necessarily supporting the war. Driven by the necessity to take care of his men and other CO’s men, the work of the IAVA is priceless, and we strongly encourage you to visit their website as well and follow Rieckhoff on Twitter.


Happy Chanukah, citizens of the world, something has taken place on this beautiful day to remind ourselves of the presence of a Lord that probably doesn’t exist but in his mercy has decided to bless us with something hilarious, totally spontaneous and just what we needed to end 2009 on a happier note than the rest of the year.

Silvio Berlusconi, guarding over Italy ever since too many years, a man who believes that totalitarianism is not such a bad idea and who entertains a certain fondness for young, beautiful Barely Legals he carefully places in his entourage so he can behave like a sleaze anytime he pleases, Silvio Berlusconi, the right-wing douchebag who has been a thorn in Europe’s side ever since his hair gel abuse graced the cover of his party (“Forza Italia”)’s paper, has been punched in the face.

© Reuters

Now I know that abuse against heads of state will never really match the spontaneity and glory of the Iraqi shoe-tosser; but it happened in different circumstances, and by someone whose country was occupied by the leader standing in front of him. If anything, tossing a shoe at George W. Bush is certainly tame considering what he really, really should be accounted for (war crimes tribunal, anyone?) but punching in the face the leader of your own country and kicking a few teeth out in the process, man, that’s kind of beautiful, and please pardon my atheist self when I say it resembles a Christmas miracle.

The irony of it is that Berlusconi has not been smacked in the jaw by a very self-righteous fist; he was attacked by a cheap replica of the Milan Cathedral. The 42-year-old man who hit the Prime Minister in the face “had been undergoing mental problems” for a certain time, according to early reports by Reuters, but I think this is a sign he’s on the road to a perfect recovery. Now don’t get me wrong, I will certainly not advocate physical violence on the internet, where so many influentiable souls could take this as a call for duty. The 73 years old Berlusconi said he’s “fine”, repeatedly, not like his counterpart Nicolas Sarkozy who was rushed to the nearest hospitals after fainting while jogging. Because of low blood sugar. No, Berlusconi is “doing just fine”, he can take a sucker punch to the face, even when said punch was performed by a tiny version of the House of God. Two teeth were the collateral damage of the incident, but Umberto Bossi, whose name is too easy to make fun of, quickly jumped to the conclusion that it was “an act of terrorism”.

Bossi, the head of the far right Northern League and close friend of Berlusconi (you don’t say!) assimilated the incident to 9/11, the Mumbai attacks, the London 2005 horror, well, any other act of terrorism in which a number of lives are lost, others are wounded, and … teeth are gone to the wind. Accused of being an “absolute monarch” by the President of the Lower Chamber, Berlusconi has been stripped of his favorite privilege – second to his sex scandals -, that of immunity from prosecution, and is facing trials on charges ranging from tax fraud to … corruption and… more tax fraud…, this said, losing two teeth is “an act of terrorism”.

According to Berlusconi, all of his recent falls from grace are all due to the acts of some mischevious “communist” members of his government plotting against his divine self. Like the Milan Cathedral, for instance.

When Switzerland decided to ban the construction of minarets – nothing more than the Muslim equivalent to the christian belltower – it was not without a cacophony of responses from both sides of the Alps, whether they supported the Swiss in their decision to “preserve their identity”, or in their vehement condemnation of what they consider to be an infringement to the freedom of religion. Regardless, Switzerland not being a member of the European Union, this decision is not going to bleed all over Western Europe. Yet, similar decisions have been taken – in Ireland, for instance, where a South Dublin neighborhood complained that the call of prayer disturbed their peace – or are threatened to be taken, all in the name of this “identity”, which I can only understand as being “Judeo-Christian identity”.

Nicolas Sarkozy, who loves nothing more than being on the spotlight, discussed the topic in a long-winded editorial in leading French newspaper Le Monde today, with his habitual rhethoric: walking around the topic in circles and well-crafted sentences whilst never touching the ground on what is going to be not just the debate, but most possibly the conflict of the next decade. Slightly overshadowed by Copenhagen, the question of French – and European – identity is raised in a way that does not bring any answers. More questions, yes. Answer, we may have to wait for the next election in 2012.

In the first part of the editorial, Nicolas Sarkozy manages to question the referendum itself, implying that the process has been mocked by neighboring nations with longstanding traditions of representative democracy. Could a decision be considered null and void, unconstitutional, or liberticide if taken by referendum? What could be more at praise than direct democracy when the size of the nation and the density of the population makes it applicable? I am more than skeptical, considering the debacles in California, Maine, Florida, ad lib, in which referendum have enabled the majority to push the minorit(ies) back into the (proverbial) closet. Western Europeans, as depicted by Sarkozy, “are welcoming, are tolerant, it is in their nature and in their culture.” This is not a battle of ideas. This is a battle of words.

Only two years into his four-year long mandate and his new creation, the Minister of Immigration and National Identity, created controversy, hatred, and among all, sparked a lot of tension between the Muslim community – who felt targeted and specifically led to believe they were unwanted – and the powers that be. Between the 2006 riots and today, nothing much changed in the kingdom of France, except the willingness to create a special kind of Islam, French Islam, an Islam that would respect France’s tradition of secularism, a republican value inherited from various revolutions and resulted in a bill crafted no later than 1905 and guaranteed a strict, uncompromising and irrevocable separation of Church and State. Any Church. Any State. Elevated to “principle of constitutional value”, France’s “laicite” has often been misunderstood by its non-secular counterparts, who mistook secularism for godlessness. So far, France’s secularism is what protected the country from a crisis of culture and identity when the ticking bomb of its immigration policies exposed to the wide world that its infamous “assimilation” was nothing more than a lie: France is not a melting pot, just an over simplified juxtaposition of religions, cultures, beliefs, holding onto their traditions so tightly we can hear the foundations of the Republic crack under its burden.

Brice Hortefeux, the first Minister of this extremely obscure National Identity ministry, only managed to illustrate himself through repeated extraditions and much-publicized racist remarks in the press. Changing him with former left-wing leader Eric Besson, who switched camps during the 2007 elections, Nicolas Sarkozy is hoping to place the public opinion in his favor.

National identity is the antidote to communautarism and tribalism. It is precisely for this reason that I wished for a great debate on national identity.  This grinding threat so many people are feeling in our great and old european nations, be they right or wrong, are menacing their identity, we must talk about this together if only not to repress this feeling that may give birth to resentment.

In regular talk, Nicolas Sarkozy wants everyone to come together and debate on whether our “identity” includes the respect of Islam and its traditions, otherwise we might have to face that clash of civilizations Samuel Huntington warned everyone against, until terribly defeated by historian Edward Said who sadly died without knowing that the world of the third millenium would once again place its power and ressources in the hands of ignorants driven by fear.

national identity: er, no thank you.

But ever since this ministry has been created, no debate has ever taken place, and the words “national identity” are being tossed around at every possible occasion without having any solid meaning attached to them. How can one define an identity in a country with a history so complex and so intertwined as France’s? From world wars to imperialism, to wars of colonialism to independance and enlightment, France has known waves of immigration and emigration, ethnic cleansing and commitment to human rights, leader of the European Union while digesting a slow process of european expansion.

Truth is, an entire generation of French citizens, born on French soil and educated in French schools, are feeling entirely disenfranchised and perhaps even deprived of their civil rights. Anyss Arbib asked the question so strongly and painfully: what does it mean to be French but a product of first, second or third generation of immigration? What does it mean to be French when you practise a religion that is not in France’s tradition? Who is French, and who is not? Nicolas Sarkozy, no matter how long his editorial – four columns – never answers this question. He simply says,

Any man of belief, regardless of said belief, or faith, everyone must keep away from obnoxiousness and provocation.

The obnoxiousness reference here is from my translation: here Nicolas Sarkozy refers to a law on “ostentatious signs of religion” banned in public buildings (from public schools to government buildings) after a 1994 reaction from two Muslim girls expelled from a public school for wearing the hidjab. The line between what is ostentatious and what is not, what is a regular duty for a believer and what is an add-on for an overzealous practicioner remains blurry. Once again, the Muslim community felt targeted, more than the Christians, the Jewish, or the minority of other religions who had until then kept quiet. Violences between Jews and Muslim rose in urban zones, as a pathetic paragon to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, without anyone calling them “ostentatious signs of religion”. Who is provoking who? Who started who over?

Sarkozy ends his editorial by saying he welcomes Muslims, but

in our country in which Christian traditions have left such a deep mark, where Republican values are an integrant part of our values, everything that could be felt as a defiance against those values will condemn the practice of a french Islam to a failure, an Islam that must find within itself the roots of its integrations and the common values that could tie it to our culture.

It is no longer “national identity”, but “national culture” now. We have moved onto an entirely different ground.

It is not without a certain sneer that the reader will note that next to those Republican values so close to Sarkozy’s heart, and so deeply embedded into France’s legal system, are standing Christianity, side-by-side, as an equal to the Constitution, as an equal to a nation and a culture that pledged to remove any faith from the public debate. Long gone are the days when then-MP Christine Boutin shocked both the political community and the public opinion for holding a Bible up high whilst voting against civil unions. There is no clarity in this editorial, whether Sarkozy is trying to preserve Europe’s Judeo-Christian traditions – and would therefore renegade Turkey from entering Europe – or whether he simply acknowledges a history and a cultural heritage that can not simply be forgotten and wiped out in the name of a recent outnumbering religion.

So, here we are: no answers on what being French means, except it means the constant dilemma between secularism and christianism, between acceptance and tolerance, between integration and immigration, between assimilation and rejection. Not only must any country in the world unite against the rise of muslim fundamentalism – there is no single doubt about that – but Europe now has to decide whether secularism means what it technically implies: that even the Church steps down and bows before the Constitution, the only supreme value on which every French citizen pledges their allegiance.  Leaving the options wide open, as any failing leader would do, it is now up to the French Muslim community to regulate themselves and understand that they are alone in their fight against isolationism, ghettoism, radicalism, and racism. Good luck with that.

status quo. n.m. the existing state or condition.

Jean-Paul Sartre was very clear in his description of existentialism: it is not just responsibility for you and your fellow citizens, it is also a form of humanism, in which, through our collective and individual awareness, we are creating a possibility for improvement, betterness – in other words, hope and change.

Those two key words were also the key words used by President Obama during his campaign, and that we are now realising are nothing much but a brand, as put by Chris Hedges in his slap-in-the-face piece for TruthDig, “Liberals are useless”. Once again, Chris Hedges, the author of The Empire of Illusion, has nailed the truth, one that we do not want to hear but must face: for as long as we subscribe to whatever has been sold, we are never going to change, and we can hope, that we can do, but it is not going to bring about change. Change is not something that appears, out of the blue, into your hands. Liberals are not supposed to believe in change like Catholics believe in the birth of Jesus. We are not supposed to adorn our elected leader with an aura of pure faith and wait for the blessings of Babylon to be handed out to us. Like free coupons.

Jean-Paul Sartre: he no likey

Tha majority of the American people who voted for Obama mostly acted on two ideals: the escalation of war and violence must be stopped, and health care must be provided to every citizen on the basis of international conventions, so as even full-time workers could support a family and not descend into Dickens-like poverty as soon as fate hit them with a disease, most often curable and temporary in western countries in which universal health care was a tradition no politician would ever consider denying. Obama was supposed to bring the United States into a new age of equality and fairness, justice and democracy, everything its predecessor had failed to provide. Instead, we are at a standstill: as the war in Afghanistan escalates with more than vague timeframes for withdrawal, as the health care reform has been watered down to the point of being nothing more than what it already was, and as unemployement is on the rise to the point where college students have to rely on foodstamps, it is a legitimate statement Chris Hedges made when he said we were a “useless lot”.

For what it is worth, Obama said it the day of his inauguration: “Help me achieve what I must do”. A mandate is precisely what this is, but apathetic as we had become accustomed to be, we simply left our lives into his own hands, tied by the private insurance companies and polluted by Blackwater, until we are scared of questioning his decisions. He can not be wrong, we are saying, because he is our leader, he is not like them; we are consciously and purposefully setting him apart with as much rethorical power as we can, to dissociate him from the previous presidents in place, in opposition as well as in our own camp – the Clinton era was a trainwreck – so well we might as well have erected a pedestal. Problem is: this is not Obama’s job to decide what is and what must be. This is ours. Electing a representative is one thing; giving him the power to decide without your input is one another entirely. The situation the nation is in right now requires more popular uprisings, yet the streets are empty and liberals are urging everyone to “just wait”, we are not even halfway through his mandate yet; just like we were asked to “just wait”, he was only in the first hundred days of his presidency.

I was an Obama supporter myself; I made my decision over Hilary Clinton because she seemed to be more of a war supporter than he was. I believed in his Chicago southside background, and I believed that his past as a community organizer would make him just that, a community organizer on a wider scale. In place of a community, of a united nation behind democratic and legal principles, we are sold the “bipartisanship” brand, the type of compromise that is so condescending in its description we are just babies waiting for big daddy to tell us the facts of life. We did not elect Barack Obama because he was a compromise; we did not elect him because he was a hybrid between John McCain and Ralph Nader. We elected him because he was leftier than Bill Clinton, and because as liberals, we were too chicken to see what was going on in Ralph Nader’s corner.

Words like “radical” and “socialist” are being used as insults while newspapers, this so-called “leftist media” that Sarah Palin blamed for her downfall, are praising the decisions made by Barack Obama when this is no step forward: simply because it is not even a step backward. It is a statu quo. Nothing changed. Even John McCain, the maverick, is pleased with the foreign policy on Afghanistan. The little outrage sparked by the attribution of the Peace Nobel Prize to someone fighting two and a half wars and still supervising illegal detention centers (such as Baghram, and Guantanamo Bay still not taken care of) was the proof that we are considered like stupid, braindead, brainwashed, and manipulated infantilized group of people. Follow the leader, they said, so we did. The marching song sounded nice enough, so why not.

Nothing that has to be done is anything new. Before Chris Hedges came Naomi Wolf, before Naomi Wolf came Amy Goodman, and before Amy Goodman came Ralph Nader, before Ralph Nader came Noam Chomsky. And before all of them came all of those rescapees, those refugees of the great popular movements of 1968, that are giving us the warning signs, that are begging us not to repeat the same mistakes, that are telling us that our generation might have given free-flowing, no-hold-barred capitalism a try, but when a system is not working, it is not up to your leader to stop it, it is up to you, and you only, to tell your leader to stop it. You are not supposed to follow the leader: the leader follows you, your incentive, your mandate, your propositions, suggestions, and orders. Don’t ask for permits, don’t wait for elections, don’t sit on everything you are told until you are so nauseous you want to vomit this so-called democracy and be done and over with. We are useless because we don’t act and are satisfied too easily.

That is called a status quo. And yes, this is a problem.

It has been some time since the New York Times has provided quality information for the masses. It has been quite some time ever since the New York Times hired decent regular opinion writers to adorn its famous columns. I know that this blog has played its part in the collective blogolynching of Maureen Dowd back in the day, but I would like to change target and give the poor woman a break while she retouches her roots and talk about David Brooks.

David Brooks. The same David Brooks who should never, never, NEVER be allowed to teach sexual education to anyone, regardless of their age, color, or sexual orientation. I feel bad about doing this op-ed as I feel like a bully who is picking on the popular kid for trying to be popular, different, edgy, thinking outside the box, all those things they tell you in liberal arts school and I never felt were really applied in real life, on the other side of those iron gates shielding secondary education from the masses. To reinstaure balance and protect my karma, I will say this as a disclaimer: David Brooks should not write for the New York Times if he believes what he believes in the following.

David Brooks: he doesn't care!

I am young and ideological. I believe politics should be driven by a profund willingness to further the well-being of the community. I have a set of principles and rules that have been engraved into my manipulable little brain as a child by politically conscious parents, but David Brooks is telling me that the last twenty-six years I have been told a lie! No! Mister Reality, break into someone else’s house!

[T]he Obama campaign, like all presidential campaigns, was built on a series of fictions. The first fiction was that government is a contest between truth and error. In reality, government is usually a contest between competing, unequal truths.

Surely he jests. (quote taken from Allison Kilkenny’s spin on that column).

“The first fiction was that government is a contest between truth and error.” Perhaps David Brooks meant to say “trial and error”, in which a government is allowed to fail and retry in order to make the best out of its four-year mandate in this glorious nation and make the decisions for which said government has been elected. No, I don’t think this is a typo. At least David Brooks is clear on the fact that we are not mentioning the ideological, antediluvian war between truth and lie here, no, it’s truth and error. As in, whatever is not truth is a mistake. All the fact-checkers in us are rejoicing, except, sadly, we were all believing that governments are nothing but working for the people as representatives, and that therefore, there is no such thing as “unequal truth”. Truths that are less truthful than other truths judged more truthful than the average truth is not the truth. Get it? David Brooks does, and he’s going to tell you how.

The second fiction was that to support a policy is to make it happen. In fact, in government power is exercised through other people. It is only by coaxing, prodding and compromise that presidents actually get anything done.

Bullet points. That’s an academic right there.

See, once again I am scratching my head at this idea of governance, since I was so convinced that the Constitution in place gave powers to the President to make policies happen, you know, the good ole game of lawmaking which, obviously, is slightly more complicated and requires compromise when the Congress majority is against the President, but this is not the case here. Here – and this is not fiction – President Obama, a Democrat, is holding the majority in the House, I mean other Democrats. I do not see why people fighting on the same side should coaxe, prod, and compromise, and by the way, I feel a bit dirty just listing those actions.  By “coaxing-prodding-compromise”, I think David Brooks lays down a slightly different series of three points through which he believes lawmaking is done: “feigning to care – polling Republicans – pulling strings”. According to David Brooks, what independant journalists call corruption, selling out, not following a mandate, or simply ignoring the will of the population is simply the way things get done! When in Rome, you know, you might as well be Caesar and throw reality TV and junk food at your intellectually and politically starved population before they start questioning your methods.

The third fiction was that we can begin the world anew. In fact, all problems and policies have already been worked by a thousand hands and the clay is mostly dry. Presidents are compelled to work with the material they have before them.

Raise your hand if you have ever believed in a political clean slate.

I thought so.

The fourth fiction was that leaders know the path ahead. In fact, they have general goals, but the way ahead is pathless and everything is shrouded by uncertainty.

David Brooks: stating the obvious since 2009. On another completely related note, if things are so uncertain, why are political campaigns for? And what are ideological clivages for? Why is there a left and a right? Why are there Republicans and Democrats and independants if all we have ahead of us is a long, winding road to nowhere, kind of like the bridge Sarah Palin refused to fund? That’s right. David Brooks believes that whoever is in charge up there on Capitol Hill doesn’t really matter. It’s all uncertain! Leave your social fate to the hands of fortune, because only God knows what tomorrow is made of, and that, as mere human beings who were tricked by atheist parents into existentialism and responsibility for your own people, we are not to know. But like Senator Inhofe, take comfort in the fact that God watches over you. That should totally compensate for the fact David Brooks basically said you have no political power at all and that you may as well not vote.

Barring a scientific breakthrough, we can’t merge Obama’s analysis with George Bush’s passion. But we should still be glad that he is governing the way he is. I loved covering the Obama campaign. But amid problems like Afghanistan and health care, it simply wouldn’t do to give gauzy speeches about the meaning of the word hope. It is in Obama’s nature to lead a government by symposium. Embrace the complexity. Learn to live with the dispassion.

No, we can’t merge what is opposite (or at least, what we thought at first was diametrically opposite). But taking passion out of social activism, and bringing complexity about subjects as straightforward as healthcare is dangerous, and lead to inequality, injustice, and ultimately, apathy. David Brooks is basically claiming that there is nothing we can do, hell, there is probably nothing he can do either except disapassionately covering political topics weekly for the New York Times, unideologically following lawmaking like he would mow his lawn, and care about the well-being of his fellow citizens the way he does about the well-being of anyone else who does not have a subscription to the New York Times. Maybe the world will end in 2012 indeed if we all follow David Brooks’ path. Again, it might not. Because we live in a world of uncertainty!

I mean, seriously.

What is citizenship and what does it mean? What does it entail and imply besides voting, paying your taxes (hopefully on time) and getting mildly interested in the news? What does citizenship mean for you besides your passport and the fact you are – or aren’t  – a patriot? Definition borderlining from hardcore nationalism to unabashed globalism has flooded our brains ever since the door of coporate politics have somehow marginalized political activists as crazies with a side note of 1917 nostalgia. They managed to redefine key terms, key definitions, reword their own Constitution and their own belief so they could sell it to the mass of consumers – the citizens – without them ever questioning what’s really written in the small print at the back of the package. Why put on your reading glasses when the package itself is so flashy?

But being a citizen doesn’t only involve rights, it also involves duties, and that is something I am afraid my generation has lost sight of a while ago. Citizenship does imply getting away from your PS3 every 2, 4, 6 years to elect a local or national official, and sometimes evokes the nasty memory of using a calculator in order to pay taxes “to the man”, those same taxes that have been at the heart of a controversy ever since the Republicans did not find any other topic besides abortion to filibuster about. The idea of citizenship is entirely tied to the idea of state and it seems the very concept, Montesquieu or Tocqueville or Rousseau as you can be, is disappearing, melting away, fading in the distance. It is dangerous. It is dangerous because with a fading state comes fading citizenship, directly involving fading responsibilities… and fading rights.

Being a citizen is a full time job. It requires of you to be informed and to do research. It requires a minimum amount of education and the courage to know you can bring down a wall if needed be. Being a citizen means being in charge. The past eight years, the United States has been telling the masses their citizen passes had been revoked and that Big Daddy was going to fix it all for them while they’re finishing that pack of Cheetos. Well, a real citizen would have raised a very skeptical eyebrow. Right now, we are told that a big state, a state that controls and a state that legislates is a state that oversteps the boundaries of the United States Constitution, and that Rick Perry wants to take off and take Texas with him. But what happens to citizens? I mean, all of them, every single one of them? The black one, the white one, the latino one… the gay one?

Yes, this is where I am going. All men and women are born equal. Every single detail is just a part of the fabric that makes it a whole. I am talking stupid, Hallmark-crafted melting pot here. I am talking about the values of citizenship being destroyed by a part of the population who believes citizenship is about controlling other citizens by voting on other citizens’ rights, therefore destroying the balance of equality created – and supposedly protected – by the state. People voted for Obama because they wanted hope, they wanted change, and they were sick and tired of the lax attitude Bush showed to the CEOs swallowing $500 bills with their Cheerios. By voting for Obama, they somehow reclaimed some of that control: they showed up in massive groups, the young voted like they never did, Obama was given a mandate, for a very long time in American history, we felt like we had a representative that actually realised he was just this – a citizen, a citizen given a mandate by other citizens, to do what citizens wanted.

This is why the issue of gay rights is a federal issue, an issue Obama has to take care of, not a grassroots, state-by-state decision to be made. Inequality prevails within each state between those who can afford to lobby for their cause, and those who have only ideologies and books to distribute. There are those with the money, and those with the only excuse of being citizens. The first ones are using their tools against the second ones. This is precisely the reason why states exist: because human nature forces the majority to restrain the minority against its natural strive towards freedom. Man is a selfish animal, that somehow knows about empathy and solidarity through only damage, trauma, and profound dismay. Man has shown his wonders when faced with complete and utter horror. Man has moved with each other with man had no choice but to link arms with other men in order to make it out alive. In times of peace and of general, even if relative, rest, man will only tend to his own lawn. This is a sad story that we have been told by the New York Senate today as it followed into Maine’s footsteps by withdrawing rights from gay couples to marry.

Someone on Twitter – aurosan not to name them – had a very good point. “I haven’t seen any secular argument against gay marriage”, he said, “which is in itself a civil ceremony. This is not about whether we should marry in Church, this is about we should marry in the town hall”. Indeed, there are no secular arguments going against the perpetual inequality and double-standards that are rife in this country. Manipulated by the religious rights and caught at the throat by those who decided citizenship was nothing more than a beautiful word a horrible lie, the Congress is not moving forward, and Obama remains mute, despite the Human Rights Campaign starting to get angsty. Citizenship has disappeared for as long as there will not be thousands in the streets deciding that no one should have their rights taken away from them. There is a time for a national parade, a time for revolution, a time when citizens of all walks of life, color and sexual orientation decide that their citizenship means more to them than the right to pay taxes and be an impersonal number on a Governor’s file. The issue of equality has already been debated in this country and it had been decided that no one should ever be deprived of the rights some have. This was right for women, this was right for black people; it is now time, at the eve of a new decade, to decide the LGBT people are Americans before they are LGBT; that they are citizens before they are LGBT; and what that means, is that their LGBT tag should be removed or pushed aside, because nothing else matters.

You won’t push Americans out of America’s land. The hatred you might feel will be reflected by the shame of your sons and grandsons’ eyes, as Sean Penn so beautifully put, when they realise you took part in a pogrom against your own people and your fellow citizens, that those who once were your equal are now a sub-par of the community you think you built. The better days you are claiming are ahead of you in this economy will not be shared by those who could have helped rebuild and rebenefit what has been lost. On this path we will turn around to realise we are alone.

Citizenship ties people together and gives them an unbreakable bond. Citizens must protect each other. Once they stop, the citizen that has been called to order the other citizens to rest should put them back at peace. One doesn’t compromise with equality. Only with equality can a country feel wholesome enough to fight any obstacle in its path.