Civil Liberties

Sen. Lindsay Graham

The Times Square incident of April 31 must have brought back some very painful memories of 9/11.  There is no telling the extent of the damage had the makeshift bomb exploded. Times Square, New York City, on a Saturday night, was the perfect time and place to send a bloody message to the new administration.

Yet the Shahzad story differs from the regular events that chronicle the war on terror. Unlike the 9/11 masterminds or the underwear bomber, Shahzad is a US citizen. Married with children, cumulatinga BA and a MBA, owner of a nice house in Connecticut, Faisal Shahzad’s only link to Pakistani talibans may have been tedious, az nothing in his past suggested he would suddenly turn against the nation he called home. Despite taking off to Pakistan after cumulating financial downfalls and a separation from his wife, Shahzad is no ideological jihadist nor a professional bomber trained for years in Waziristan – a recent 8 months trip would have provided the informations he needed to come up with his set-up, but this was amateur, likely to fail technology.

Shahzad was arrested and taken for questioning, then immediately confessed.  At that time, he hadn’t been mirandized. The Pentagon issued a statement saying that a court appearance was not time-sensitive as it would put a stop the flow of confessions that could be of prime importance. Senator McCain, the unlucky runner of the 2008 presidential election, is applauding this move. Catering to his radical base, McCain is of the perception that it’s perfectly acceptable to bluntly deny a citizen his constitutional rights, calling Mirandizing a suspected a terrorist “a serious mistake”.

Keith Olbermann said it better than I could: not only could this imply that Shahzad, if experiencing a change of mind or better legal counsel, could walk free on grounds of unconstitutionality -it could also mean the beginning of a terror state, where citizens are no longer protected by the basic civil rights their own constitution provides. It would also be a violation of human rights. The danger here is that Attorney General Eric Holder seems to follow McCain’s logic. But the Constitution is clear: the Fifth and Sixth Amendments, both dating back to the aulde age of Magna Carta, later led to the 1966 case Miranda vs Arizona.  The Supreme Court decision is clear:

The person in custody must, prior to interrogation, be clearly informed that he has the right to remain silent, and that anything he says will be used against him in the court of law; he must be clearly informed that he has the right to consult with a lawyer and to have the lawyer with him during interrogation, and that, if he is indigent, a lawyer will be appointed to represent him.

In a broader, more general aspect, the International Convention of Political and Civil Rights (ICCPR) states the same in Articles 9-1 and 9-2:

Everyone has the right to liberty and security of person. No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest or detention. No one shall be deprived of his liberty except on such grounds and in accordance with such procedure as are established by law. […] Anyone who is arrested shall be informed, at the time of arrest, of the reasons for his arrest and shall be promptly informed of any charges against him.

This is getting scarier and scarier. In order to accelerate the freefall into a well of north Korean madness, Senator Graham, no stranger to methods of control and coercion, went even further. One of the majr flaws exposed in the Shahzad hunt lied in that a terrorism suspect, already placed on the no-fly list, could still buy a gun or explosives. Mayor Bloomberg of New York City, convened with the safety of a city becoming a favorite target, suggested that suspected or hunted terrorists be blocked from purchasing firearms or detonating weapons. If that sounds likesheer common sense to you, listen to Graham’s response, as quoted in The Huffington Post (5-5-10):

“We’re talking about a constitutional right here,” he said, explaining that he could not support a bill that would force “innocent Americans” to “pay the cost of going to court to get their gun rights back.”

There is no limit to his hypocrisy. Graham argues his refusal to block anyone from buying guns is out of respect for the 2nd Amendment. Graham is going to considerable lengths to endanger a population in the name of the Constitution. The right to bear arms was written in out of protection against a potential invading enemy. Terrorism is precisely the enemy of the state. In that situation, regardless of their actions, a terrorist who would also be a citizen would receive the protection of the Constitution. It’s a noble, albeit slightly controversial position. But Graham is installing a hierarchy in fundamental rights – the purpose behind Miranda is to guarantee due process of the law, regardless of whether the suspect is a citizen or not. Being in America means receiving a fair trial and being protected by Habeas Corpus. Would this not be America anymore?

The utmost, fundamental, historical rights so clearly tied to America being “the land of the free” could and should be waivered, according to Graham. Let them buy explosives, but god forbid they should be given any rights, like that of receiving legal assistance or not to be indefinitely detained.  The right to kill would prevail over core civil liberties? That Lindsay Graham is allowed to hold office despite an incredibly flawed reading of the law is beyond me. I would put Graham on my no-fly list for reckless endangerment of the nation and of its interests, as  as violation of fundamental rights. Step down, Lindsay, and remember – you do not have the right to remain silent, and you do not have the right to a lawyer.


We have all been wrong, painfully so. After a year of supporting Barack Obama’s policies and wishing upon a star that progressive ideologies would finally be implemented, correcting the wrongdoings of his predecessors – from Bill Clinton’s Don’t Ask Don’t Tell disaster to George W. Bush’s Guantanamo Bay horror – we realise it won’t be the case just yet, and chronic violations of the rule of law are the only common feature displayed by our divided media outlets. More recently, the debate over the use of torture on « unlawful enemy combatants », this hybrid creation of the 2006 Military Commission Act that made attorneys cringe and shiver worldwide, surfaced in the Drake trial. The CIA lawyer confessed that he believed destroying tapes proving the use of torture during interrogations was «unworthy of interest ». We are surfing on Orwellian territory. We are learning there is no such thing as supra constitutional rule, that human rights have limits quickly overcome by suspicious concerns of national security, and that torture is no big deal. If Dostoevsky was one of our contemporaries, the brothers Karamazov would have taken to the streets requesting the head of Bob Gates on a pike.

The most recent scandal to emerge from the detention facility in Cuba is the trial of Canadian citizen Omar Khadr, who has been held in Gitmo for 8 years. Khadr is now 23. Khadr was therefore arrested and detained, without trial and under torture, while he was still a minor. The only Westerner among 183 detainees, Khadr has reported the use of bag suffocation, threats of attacks by violent dogs barking at him, and even the threat of rape if he did not cooperate with his collaborators. The young man is accused of terrorism and war crimes : he allegedly worked with Al-Qaeda and murdered a US soldier in Afghanistan. As Glenn Greenwald put it, « resisting occupation as a teenager means you’re a war criminal and a Terrorist ». It is a direct violation of every law of war, but when it comes to Omar’s situation, what stings the most is the 2008 presentation of the United States before the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, which called the US representatives out on the following:

“Conduct investigations of accusations against detained children in a prompt and impartial manner, in accordance with minimum fair trial standards. The conduct of criminal proceedings against children within the military justice system should be avoided.”

It is clear that Khadr’s case will not be avoided, all the more since the military commissions before which Khadr will be presented hold no juvenile provisions, a situation that the Bush Administration legislators have failed to foresee. In the War on Terror, new shortages of justice are a daily occurrance. A document from Amnesty International released just yesterday lists the growing number of ratified and implemented conventions that are violated by Khadr’s unlawful detention, including the Commission on Equal Rights and Discrimination (CERD), protecting civilians from being prosecuted on the basis of their creed, color, or ethnic origin. In the current political context, where racial profiling is as common as your daily cream cheese bagel, the CERD seems almost out of place, like some sort of outdated, old-fashioned, and overrated legal recourse that holds no authority. The CERD does indeed look pale in comparison to the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), ratified as early as 1992, reiterating the simple and democratic statement that no one can be held without trial –  ignored as well.

From both sides, a plethora of witnesses will be called to the stand – from FBI agents to interrogators, and from doctors to guards, attesting on one hand that Khadr is indeed a threat to United States security, on the other that he received « cruel, unusual and degrading treatment » at the hands of his wardens. This trial is instrumental in the possible reform of military tribunals surrounding the aberration that is the War on Terror – an aberration that Obama himself once criticized but not to the point of putting it to an end. Human Rights advocates are hoping that statements obtained under torture will be rejected in those  tribunals, a provision that is already in place in regular criminal courts. It may seem unsignificant, but therein lies the key of the trial. Refusing to accept any confession obtained under “enhanced interrogation” is in fact acknowledging that the use of coercive treatment during interrogation does not provide a legit, lawful and useful confession or admission, and certainly does not help the course of justice in the way it should be carried in a lawful, democratic nation based on equality. No redundancy, just emphasis. In short, Omar Khadr’s trial will decide whether those military tribunals will from then on choose to uphold the rule of law, and admit that torture not only does not work, but has no place in a realm supposedly promoting justice.

In the meantime, Guantanamo is also holding captive Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the self-confessed mastermind behind 9/11, as well as his four cohorts who are also believed to have planned and executed the attack. Their trial lingers in limbo, and their future is more than uncertain. One thing is for sure, the most controversial detention facility, a mother, sister and father to the Baghram prison in Iraq, is not anywhere near closing.

We have seen our fair share of stupidity, racism, misogyny and homophobia the last three years. It seems the election of a young black man in the White House unleashed a series of right-wing radical group therapies. From Sarah Palin’s hand notes being “a poor man’s teleprompter“, to Sen. Al Franken having the hardest time making the Senate understand that raping women is actually not okay, everything peaked when Utah criminalized miscarriage – and criminalized women, by extension, no longer being victims of abuse or medical recklessness, but just of their own existence and the fact it is conditioned by creating and caring for fetuses. That was bad. That was really bad.

Trent Franks: a little confused.

It is so bad, in fact, that some Senators are starting to miss the good ol’ days, fondly remembering a productive, efficient, proficient past, when everyone lived happily as separate but equal, when women were tending to their duties without whining like overeducated feminists, when those who were not white and rich would simply know their place and tip their stray hats to whomever would come strollin’ on by. Trent Franks is one of them; and it is with the confidence of the man who knows he’s digging himself a watery grave that he stated that “black people were better off under slavery”. If you think I am paraphrasing, or adding my own personal bias, I hereby swear that I am only directly quoting from this interview (starting around 6’20”).

Here is the full quote, for the YouTubophobiacs:

In this country, we had slavery for God knows how long. [sic] And now we look back on it and we say “How brave were they? What was the matter with them? You know, I can’t believe, you know, four million slaves. This is incredible.” And we’re right, we’re right. We should look back on that with criticism. [re-sic] It is a crushing mark on America’s soul. And yet today, half of all black children are aborted. Half of all black children are aborted. Far more of the African-American community is being devastated by the policies of today than were being devastated by policies of slavery. And I think, What does it take to get us to wake up?

This is not how one celebrates the achievements of Martin Luther King, Senator. Not knowing the duration of slavery? That was the first thing that tipped me off. I grew extremely uncomfortable as he then recalled the “bravery” of slaves and the “criticism” (sic) that must be thrown at the advocates of slavery. You know, in case there are elected members of Congress besides Senator Franks that still think slavery was the best thing that happened to the United States. It is indeed a very sad day when one realises an elected official is incapable of making the difference between institutional racism and the psychological, social and economic ramifications behind abortion in a given fringe of the population. After Rick Warren comparing abortion to the Holocaust, we now have Franks comparing it to another human disaster. The need to improve the American educational system is increasing every time one Republican senator speaks publicly. Do something.

Franks is not done, though. He emphasizes his point by stating it was not a temporary lapse of judgement. It is always better to highlight your stupidity by claiming it is actually intelligent and that your interlocutor can simply not decipher your thought process. Franks tells the bemused reporter,

“[S]ometimes we get angry and say things that we shouldn’t say, and I apologize…[for saying things] that are intemperate. But I don’t want to hide from the truth.”

Let’s not. ThinkProgress mentions that Franks’ comments are similar to that new (and slightly frightening) ad campaign targeting “urban black areas” and reading “black children are an endangered species”.  If this is the way Senator Franks is trying to emulate his spokesperson, Michael Steele, and win over the black vote, I call a fail.

I woke up today knowing was something was about to change. Granted, this change might not be permanent; it might even be the start of something different yet not entirely ground-breaking. Still, James Dobson stepping down from his long-lasting radio show “focus on the family” is one thing to be happy about, one voice we are surely not going to miss anytime soon.

James Dobson detached from his mother, his hair, and his brain.

James Dobson, one of the founders of today’s evangelical movement – a right-wing, gun-toting, women-hating, gay-lynching, anti-government political force – is turning the microphones off in Colorado Springs, CO… for the time being. Moving on to a yet unnamed radio show in the forthcoming months, the arrival of spring is giving us the possibility of a renewal and the opportunity of being free of any raving and irrational homophobic rants.  Ever since 1977, Dr. Dobson has vowed to “nurture and defend the God-ordained institution of the family and promoting biblical truths worldwide.” Even if the terms under which Focus on the Family was founded does not allow Dobson to publicly fund and endorse political candidates, the assumption that “defend the institution” clearly stated a widespread political position. He was one of the first to advise George W. Bush, published a magazine (Citizen) entirely devoted to the art of political religious spin, and offered the world a wonderful Welcome Center that helps the anti-science movement, and produce C.S. Lewis’ plays (for those defending the author, he did authorize Focus on the Family not just to release the audio play, but made this audio tape the only one available for The Screwtape Letters.)

Focus On The Family is not warm, reassuring, comforting and overall supportive as it sounds. Based on spiteful hatred, Dobson’s enemies ranked diverse and numerous – abortion, obviously, feminism, homosexuality pornography, legalized gambling, any sex outside of wedlock (pre-marital, extra-martial), and anything having to do with physics. The list of what he supports is appalling: school-sponsored prayer, corporal punishment, zionism, the Supreme Court, and last but not least, Barack Obama, although this most certainly is not a surprise. Although Dobson announced last year that he would also step down from FotF’s Board, he was still actively contributing. This year’s SuperBowl ad proved that not only were the group not afraid of branching out into the mainstream media and ruin everyone’s entertainment, they also feel the need to put their money where the money is in order to make more money. What can I say, they may hate science, but they do know a lot about economics.

For those who still believe that Dobson is a legitimate and rational political or ideological contender, here are a few quotes compiled at that clearly reflect the spirits of Focus on the Family.

“Passing the Federal Marriage Amendment is Like Struggling for Civil Rights” manages to be both homophobic and racist at the same time, adding a wonderfully unedited “How long did it take to get the civil rights legislation passed? It took years and years and years … We’re not going to give up.” I can only assume that Dr. Dobson does not celebrate Black History Month.

“Homosexuals are not monogamous. They want to destroy the institution of marriage. It will destroy marriage. It will destroy the Earth.” Since James does not believe in global warming or anything having to do with the Big Bang, he had to find another explanation for the earthquake of a devastating 8.8 scale that just struck down in Chile today. What Dr. Dobson didn’t know, however, is the divorce/separation rate of heterosexual couples: 3.5 per 1,000 … for a 7.1 per 1,000 married couples. That’s a little over a half, James. Heterosexual couples are destroying the institution of marriage.  Heterosexual couples are not monogamous either. That’s one piece of reality that has never entered his Welcome Center.

“Mothers Make Us All Queer” now, again, let’s underline this once more, Dr. Dobson only has the “theological PhD” aspect of the doctorate. He certainly does not do anything remotely scientific, not even the thinking process of it. He does not like it at all. It appears to be taking him away from God. This is however one of the most outlandish statement I have ever heard. Let’s hear the rest of the argument: “[Homosexuality] has to do with an identity crisis that occurs too early to remember, … where a boy is born with an attachment to his mother and she is everything to him for about 18 months, and between 18 months and five years, he needs to detach from her and to reattach to his father.” Now, two points: 1) if it occurs too early to remember, how can you still blame a gay person for making a conscious choice to be gay? 2) I thought that the destruction of marriage and the detachement from the family was the cause of the Earth’s demise? So why would we tell people to detach from their mothers and ruin the equilibrium of a family and an education? Oh, James. You can’t even organize your own theories, can you?

So long, James, and don’t forget to let us know what you’re onto next, especially if it involves a well-deserved retirement home.

Two weeks ago I was flying out of JFK airport in New York City and quietly lining up to pass security. A young couple was curled up in a corner and obviously finding it hard to separate from one another, as the young man was leaving back to Europe after spending the holidays with his loved one. Several security officers watched the heart-wrenching scene with humid eyes. Airports are often the scene of failed and reconciled relationships, a huddle of bad and good romances, a place to find each other and leave.

Liam Neeson recruiting a future Al-Qaeda suicide bomber in Heathrow during the holiday season

Despite JFK’s bad rep, this time it’s Newark Liberty that decided to coerce people into separating, leaving, and emotionally distressing them. A Rutdgers University student was told to back the hell off of his girlfriend while saying goodbye as his crossing a security line was a “disaster”, according to Senator Frank Lautenberg. Facing a fine of up to $500, the doctoral student may receive worse a penalty, as Lautenberg decided to act tough on love: “I’d like to see if we can bring this under federal jurisdiction, as opposed to just a misdemeanor and a $500 fine, that’s a slap on the wrist. He maybe thought he was being a Romeo, but he added to our woes, to the unease about travel. An example has to be made of this.” Whether it is customary for Newark Liberty to be the center stage of unabashed PDA, the story does not say, but after the shoe bomber on the Detroit flight, what security officers are looking for are not necessarily explosives or liquids over 200ml, but whether or not one is likely to feel their heart swell at the idea of being in an airport. Who knew potential terrorists had all watched Love Actually on repeat during their training?

Let’s outlaw romance. Let’s make it illegal to be in love; let’s frown upon any declaration, demonstration, and institution that proves, shows, illustrates, depicts love under all its shapes and sizes. Let’s make love impossible to be found in the most distraught of places; let’s teach mistrust and isolated individuality, let’s push empathy back in the darkest places of our memory, where it is unlikely to be found and thus summoned when a fellow human being is weak enough to ask for our help. Let’s not feel anything that could be considered spontaneous enough to be admired, let’s consider all those furtive little feelings as corruption, intrusion, and ultimately, destruction.

I would be stupid enough to think that after the year – hell, the decade – we have all been through, and the tough years awaiting us, love could be the only thing we could all rally around, something strong enough to keep us warm during an El-Niño winter, and carry us on through the days of record unemployement rates and shattered dreams. Last week, New Jersey – also home of Newark Liberty Airport – voted (14-20) against gay marriage, refusing tens of thousands of couples the right to institutionalize their union, to adopt their own children, to create a safe home, and to feel part of a big nation, to be recognized as a useful citizen. Most importantly, what the New Jersey Senate voted against – like Maine, New York, Florida, California, Arizona before them – is the right to simply declare your love. Simply. Publicly. The right not to die alone. The right to give your loved one a phone call while arrested or drafted. The right to protect the children together. The right to feel like a family.

If keeping America safe is to protect it from everything that made it what it is, and shield every citizen away from the only thing that can help them not lose their minds, if the war on terror is actually a war on human emotions, then the only safe thing we can say, is that we’re on the path towards more fear, more isolation, more failure, the biggest downfall of all. Fasten your seatbelts, turbulences ahead.

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.

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.

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