US Politics

I have a bone to pick with the right to carry a gun, and it’s a major one that has been successfully and unnervingly running through my conscience for years. It is one that so far I thought I could deal with, provided the necessary regulation was being enforced, but what happened in Tucson proved that there are only so many loopholes one can ignore before a nation decides to collectively shy away from the bloodshed.

Ever since Michael Moore released his groundbreaking documentary “Bowling for Columbine”, investigating the gun lobby surrounding the ability a 16 years old had to purchase a semi-automatic rifle with which to shoot down his schoolmates, the debate on gun control has raged in Congress. Until it died down, like all great ideas, stifled by more pressing preoccupations (going to war), nipped in the bud by overwhelming amounts of money (gun lobbyists) and a certainly respectable admiration for the Constitution. However, ever since the 2008 election, and the increasing amount of miles covered by the railroad tracks of the Tea Party Express, a sense of growing discontent – perfectly understandable – has found a way to express itself outside of the usual democratic process. The call to violence, of not-so-peaceful civil disobedience, is an issue most democracies have had to deal with in the past. Riots, rebellions, violent protests, hard repression by law enforcement, they all come into play whenever a government displays an appalling failure to satisfy those it was elected to represent. The catch here, exposed by the recent Tucson shooting, is a very American one. Because in America, contrary to other western democracies, it is perfectly legal to carry a gun and to use it. And we all know what happens when someone is pissed and already has a finger on a trigger.

The United States ranks fourth in the list of countries fighting gun crime. That is behind South Africa, a country in an almost permanent state of civil war, and Colombia, a nation where drug cartels are taking the population hostage. In 2005, the FBI reports that 75% of violent deaths were caused by a firearm. In 2004, 36.5% of Americans reported owning a handgun.

The Guardian published an article by Alexander Chancellor on January 14th aptly titled “the insanity of America’s lax gun laws“. This is indeed a country pretending to fight off terrorism, yet allowing people on the terror watch list to buy a gun; this is a country that was once the pride of Eleanor Roosevelt, who fought for the protection and care for the mentally ill, yet allowing mentally ill people to purchase a gun; Arizona, the state where the shooting took place, allows people to carry a concealed weapon without a permit. Not only can just anyone purchase a lethal weapon and carry it around with them, regardless of whether it has been assessed that they were fit and trained to use it, but they can choose to hide it from law enforcement and not be ever apprehended. The word “insanity” hardly begins to cover the gaping horror that America’s gun laws have inflicted and will continue to inflict on the american people. It is one thing to endorse police departments and federal agencies such as the FBI or the infamous Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) bureau to investigate gun crimes and help the prosecution. It is one another to flood the nation with what they are precisely trying to fight.  It’s a never ending vicious circle of hatred, bloodshed, and, ultimately, death and sorrow. Those are not attributes you’d want to pin on a healthy, independant and strong country. A country that willingly puts its citizens in harm’s way is one that should be under tutelage, not in charge of invading other countries.

It will be for other bloggers and commenters to make a case study of the culture of violence in the United States. I for one will like to see the Second Amendment, if not repealed, at least amended in a way that will not allow Congressmen to vote in favour of cop-killing bullets or undetectable plastic guns. As the votes show, this is not a partisan issue. That Dick Cheney was one of four Congressmen, only four, to allow the free circulation, access and purchase of ammunition that has no role and place in civil, peaceful society and that is so clearly aimed at disrupting the course of justice by precisely attacking those (supposedly) placed to have it respected. It’s nothing short of government-approved chaos.

And when said chaos is so openly preached by those seeking democratic approval to gain office, this turns into a scenario one should only witness in science-fiction or B-rated movies. Sharron Angle, a hopeful runner in the Nevada gubernatorial race this year, has claimed that, should she not win the election (she didn’t), her unhappy audience should not hesitate to turn towards “Second Amendment remedies”. There is no subjective interpretation possible: Sharron Angle, who claims the government is anti-american, yet still runs for government, also believes that her personal failure and unsatisfaction should lead to armed insurrection. To her credit, her fellow Tea Party idol, Sarah Palin, did release a video in which she asserts that what is most American is not violence, but virulence in debate; that the democracy survives and persists through a commonly shared values and ideals surrounding freedom and tolerance; that it is through discussion, conversation, and exchange of ideas that a nation grows and stays united. It is not through “gun remedies”, in short, that one gets their point across. In that, Sharron Angle is nothing short of a terrorist, if the way of violence and insurrection is the only one she can see out of the disappointment she feels with the Obama administration.

What to do, then, when a citizen can’t even rely on its elected (or almost elected) officials to preach the way of non-violence? What is left of a properly working democracy when its very core institution, the Congress, is ripe with lobbying money from an organization as extremist as the NRA, that does not hesitate to put a halt to bills even remotely connected to gun ownership, even when it has to do with animal cruelty? There is one way out of this stinking hole, and that’s a new amendment.

Do not think that I take this lightly or underestimate the importance of amending the Constitution. I am a self-professed strict constitutionalist that has nothing but reverence for fundamental texts. I believe that the United States Constitution is one of the most admirable texts to have ever sprung out of a lawmaker’s mind, especially in dire times of revolution and distress. But as with any law, it was written in a specific context, it is bound to its history, to the time and place in which it was written. The Second Amendment was more than necessary for the Founding Fathers, as they were fighting off the biggest Empire, and were trying to create a nation-state out of virtually nothing. They had fled from religious persecution, from seizure of property, and thought well to endorse their new land with the legal possibility of fighting for your freedom, protecting your wife and children from an enemy (“both foreign and domestic”), and retain control of your house. However, this is 2011; and law enforcement has been specifically created, at federal and state level, to protect the citizen from unlawful behaviour.

As far as I am concerned, trust in the Second Amendment to ensure the viability of your land and your own life expectancy means mistrust and growing defiance against your government to do exactly just that. If I am in awe of the boldness of the amendment for its historical value and what it socially represents for the times, I believe it is now a threat. The Second Amendment can simply not exist if it is taken literally. This very interesting and telling graph represents the intercorrelation between gun ownership and gun crime. It doesn’t take a masters in science to understand that the very fact violence is legally and readily available breeds violence.

And when said violence targets an elected official, during the course of their duty, then it is the whole country that is targeted; it is the whole

Yes, that poster exists. Little known fact, gun nuts: the Statue of Liberty is called to ENLIGHTEN the people, not KILL them.

institution of Congress that is being at risk, and as a whole, the nation itself and the democracy it upholds. The Constitution does not constitute holy writ; it is a legal reference, a political framework, a social ideology, but in no way does it ever set in stone the way the nation should work. Lest we forget the same text once contained the now decried three-fifths compromise, or banned women from voting. It enforced segregation at a time, and never mentioned equality until a series of Supreme Court decisions forced the word into the text. The Constitution is a text that is by very nature changing, evolving, moving. It adapts itself to the very society it is called upon to rule, and as such should be a reflection of the way the society ought to behave. A Constitution can be changed and amended; it has been before, and shall be again. The right to bear arms can be strictly limited to situations of emergency, to screened or authorized personel, or submitted to thorough background checks (that are hardly ever applied in today’s gun shops). Not everyone should have the right to carry with themselves the potential to take a life. Anyone claiming that the Second Amendment is in fact a protection against death is seriously mistaken. They’re fooling themselves in thinking that a gun has a coercive power. It doesn’t. A gun is meant to kill; this is what it’s been manufactured for. The complex machinery of conscience that is set in motion once one hits the trigger is one that not only alters the thought process of the shooter, but on a national level, is capable of altering the very fabric of society.

We all live in fear of one another, and one tragedy after the other, we are justified in our fear. It isolates us, divides us, and forces us apart at times when we should learn to unite, hold tight, and face the pain. It is time to let the NRA back into the hunting shack where it belongs, along with other barbaric and obsolete processes meant to end human life in the most painful, careless and cruel ways. Those animalistic methods are not worthy of the mandate we gave each other when we decided to vote on the ending of war, the closing of illegal prisons, and the promise of health care for all. We wanted a society in which we would feel safe and protected. So why are we walking down the street with the potential of aiming at each other and pulling the trigger? What is it, at the end of the day – the fear of the other, or simply the fear of ourselves and of we might just be capable of?


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.

One of the most infuriating events of 2009, the murder of abortion doctor Georges Tiller in Kansas, is still taking its course as the shooter finally confessed to the murder in court, supposedly rolling in an easy first degree murder conviction. Tiller, a hero to women, providing late-term abortions to those in precarious situations in and outside Kansas, who had already been shot in the arm, saw his life end violently and abruptly while attending his regular Sunday Church service.

Now a key event to the most radical fringe of the pro-life movement such as Operation Rescue, the murder of Dr. Tiller, which should have raised the question of the limits to which the government is going to restrict abortion rights and the infinite dangerosity floating around doctor’s lives, is carrying in its wake a dangerous miscarriage of justice: the soon-to-be-convicted shooter has been allowed by the defense to present his case as being « morally justified ». From’s Wendy Norris:

Sedgwick County District Judge Warren Wilbert ruled Tuesday that Kansas law does not recognize the “necessity defense” — a legal claim that a defendant is justified in breaking the law to thwart a greater imminent threat. Roeder admitted to news reporters last month that he killed Wichita physician George Tiller May 31in the foyer of a church to prevent him from performing abortions.

The judge said allowing the personal beliefs of defendants to justify unlawful actions would “not only lead to chaos but would be tantamount to sanctioning anarchy.”

For months, the Army of God, a militant anti-abortion group linked to murders, clinic arsons and domestic terrorism, has egged Roeder on to claim Tiller’s death was Biblically justified.

However, that ultimate aim has not been entirely lost.

Wilbert said he would “leave the door open” for Roeder’s defense team to argue to jurors that his religious beliefs about abortion compelled him to act.

Let’s be clear. There is such a thing as an absolute truth ; morals may be subjective, and conditioned by religious (or non-religious, for that matter) beliefs, but the role of the law is to rise above such subjectivity and provide an objective, stone-cold compass for the entirety of society to live by. The law is not a tool to be easily manipulated by successive governments, it is not meant to serve a specific personal, religious, or political ideology. The law is, in itself, the absolute ; and every society that proclaims order over chaos and humanity over disenfrenchisement is unequivocal regarding murder. Killing another human being is wrong on all possible levels, and will be subsequently punished. The fact that murder is also the first cardinal sin in all three monotheists religions is no coincidence. Murder is where one would draw the line on their soul, specifically when said murder was premeditated, such as Doctor Tiller’s case, where Scott Roeder was driven by ideology.

Because the Constitution clearly states that every man is innocent until proven otherwise, and that all citizens are entitled to a fair trial, when evidence is strongly held against the defendant, the defense usually seeks for circumstancial evidence that could have explained the desperate gesture that murder is, from self-defense to temporary insanity, from a difficult childhood and everything in-between. Even the very question surrounding the controversy of the death penalty circles around the belief that regardless of the situation, no matter how righteous one feels, killing someone is a display of social inadequacy. In order to provide nuances and allow space for difficult situations, second degree murder and manslaughter created a hierarchy in a crime resulting in the death of an individual, the classification resting on the responsibility and the intent of the defendant.

However, the court is creating what can only seem as a precedent – is there such a thing as « morally justified murder » ? Would it then be considered somewhat alright by legal standards to play God with people’s lives for as long as they do not follow the ideology we put our faith in ? Is this not how the current climate of terrorism presents itself, the coercion of an entire population into bending to another’s cultural and religious beliefs in the name of a set of morals we do not understand ? If murder can be justified, will it then cross into misdemeanour territory, a minor glitch into someone’s role in society, a try-out at rectifying and regulating the course of political and social action ? Is that a gateway into legalizing mob justice ? What is it, the Far West circa 1812 ? As Wendy Norris continues to explain, the “necessity defense” course of action is nothing new in the pro-life movement – a group called the Army of God (sic) once used it to justify their violent actions as being a “defensive force” as described in the Christian Dominionist version of the Bible.

As a woman, would I be morally justified into killing members of Operation Rescue as they are in direct infraction with my own human and civil rights, or are we backpedaling to the times when women are considered to be void of any soul? If citizens can not turn to the judicial branch of their nation to protect them from harm, is there such a thing as a legal state anymore, or should we just go ahead and assume that the Bible holds supraconstitutional value in the United States?

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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