The Other Fourth

The Amendment That Ascertains
Power to This Independence Day

Dispensing all pomp and circumstance, national birthdays have a way of turning into numbing occasions for grandstanding patriotism and overindulgent gluttony. It’s no different in the U.S., even as Independence Day marks a moment of rebellion and self-sacrifice.
That being said, flags and (non-military) parades are ok, but it can’t hurt to focus on the constitutional side of that storied statement signed by the 13 colonies, which Congress adopted 243 years ago today, and whether it still holds sway as the highest law of the land.
As such, after almost two and a half centuries, it’s held up pretty well. As the nation went through its growing pains, it managed to extend the original liberal slant of its founding documents, even as it amended them, while also adding some truly lofty goals as far as individual rights are concerned. Yes, that can, and it seems to be already changing. Still.
The paradox about those high standards is that they’ve made the U.S. Constitution both an example of steely idealism committed to a set of amendments, and also a pragmatic tool, vulnerable to be waged against the very principles it vows to defend. Take now, for instance.
Despite having enjoyed a full century of world economic and military domination, without stealing land or doing away with its institutions, the past decades have presented serious challenges to its tradition of constitutionality and the rule of the law. Need to say more?
It brings no joy to mention this today, but with two long, unjust wars, thousands of American and foreign lives lost, billions of dollars wasted into the buildup of a scary military complex, the U.S. is more than ever perceived globally as a bully, with no respect to its own legal precepts. How did it come to that? Well, way before that rotten orange stench took over the White House’s lawns, that’s for sure.

(BOUNCED) CHECKS & IMBALANCES
The framers of the Constitution ‘did not want to rely on the promises of good motivations or good intents from the government,’ Professor of Law Jonathan Turley told the actor John Cusack in a 2013 interview. ‘They created a system where no branch had enough authority to govern alone, a system of shared and balanced powers.’
Turley blasted the Obama administration’s efforts to block prosecution of CIA operatives accused of torture during the Bush era as a flagrant infringement of international law. ‘Soon after 9/11, government officials started to talk about how the Constitution is making us weaker, how we can’t function by giving people due process.’ He was right, of course; some of them are indeed back in power.
Remember, that’s when Edward Snowden offered proof that the NSA had been spying on Americans and even foreign dignitaries for years. But as it happened with rumors (more)
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Read Also:
* Natural Law
* Pleading the Fifth

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The Far Out Report

For These Gut-Churning News,
Laugh Only When You Breathe

So busy digressing about things too serious to skip, those worries and concerns transfixing our age, we often forget that life finds a way all around, and mostly despite, us. One more disgraceful news and we risk losing the ability of flexing the muscles of our smile.
So let’s pretend summer is really easy, fish are a-jumping, and if not cotton, then someone is high. Anyone would, coming across F.W. Murnau’s head, or a performance corpse, or an one-line obituary. In fact, reality often threatens to drive even comedians out of business.
Heard the one about Zimbabwean money? The currency is so devalued that someone can have, say, Z$35 quadrillion in his or her banking account, and still starve. A hot dog may cost a little beyond that. In the U.S., it does: all this money is worth only one dollar.
What about ‘dick pics?’ Even NSA whistleblower Eduard Snowden was surprised when told that what really scares Americans was not the fear of an all too powerful government, but having their nude pictures watched over by spies, who should be busy with something else, anyway.
But that sort of iconography is indeed dear to our fellow citizens. Take 1934 public enemy No.1, for instance. A photo of a dead John Dillinger may have created the biggest hoax about him: it looks as if he’s having a post-mortis erection right under the blanket.
Unlikely, of course. It was probably a fluke. But does it matter? His notoriety is now forever melded to his supposedly endowment, regardless if it has anything to do with guns or not. Go figure. And don’t forget to check the Skip Showers for Beef‘ campaign. You may thank me later.

GRAVE ROBBERTS & THE VAMPIRE
On to the main course. For fans of gore (and low-standards real life puns), the theft of F.W. Murnau‘s head is a full dish, to be savored with cheap wordplay and poorly concocted theories. But it really happened: the grave of the Nosferatu‘s director in Berlin has been desecrated.
Worse: news reports about it wound up adding further grievances to his family and fans of one of the greatest masters Continue reading

Best Byes

Sendoffs, Farewells
& the Far Side of 2013

In many quarters of the globe, the departing year had its fair share of kooky dishes, strange brews and no small amounts of heart burn. Just like the number that hitched the millennium over 300 days ago. Much of it is forgettable, but some are worth revisiting.
In no particular order, and little if any sense, we’ve collected some of these gems for your consideration. You may come out nurturing the feeling that somehow you’ve missed a lot, but not to worry: just enjoy it like it’s your second and very last chance.
A mechanic’s invention to help safely suck babies into this world. A presidential party favor that the host, a former spymaster himself, graced his powerful guests. From brew to brick, to bricks made of blood, beer has certainly had a grip over the year.
From Bowie in space to cats on a subway track, 2013 was also a year of tearful animal goodbyes, and the two leading the bunch out of this world were unquestionably a special breed: a polar bear with a severe case of neurosis and a pig, with a weakness for booze.
But what on Earth, you may ask, have these far out events to do with anything or even each other? All we can invoke in defense of stringing together such insane chain of recollections is that each and every one of them was a rare gift, squeezed among the terrible headlines inflicted on us throughout the year.
After all, we’re sure that you’re being bombarded everywhere by that kind of recollection, and how we’ve reached yet another notch downwards, for all we’ve done to the planet and to each other, and for the lot we didn’t even consider doing to redeem ourselves.
End-of-the-year lists have this way of making us all feel so guilty and miserable that if one checks one, all the others get checked as well. Thus, as we struggle to find ways to wrap up the proceedings, we also humbly aim at bringing some vain comfort to our sore readers who’ve been through a lot.
So has The Remains, a band with a heartbreaking story that reunited last June after a 47-year hiatus. In 1966, they went into a 14-city tour, opening for a quartet from England. But while The Beatles’ last live performances are the stuff of legend, they wound up in Gowanus, Brooklyn, recollecting. Life’s definitely not fair.
Talking about the 1960s, another legend that will fold coming Dec. 31, is the Volkswagen bus, icon of summers of yore, and if we’re calling it Continue reading

Secret, Agent, Mad

Poison Pills
& Furry Spies

No one ever said that being a spy was easy. But for humans, the profession holds a certain romantic allure, what with all the dashing undercover, crossing borders and, at least in pulp literature and pop culture, getting the girl in the end. Or getting killed, of course.
The deal’s considerably rougher for animals, and no one should be surprised about that either. But even if we’ve been forcibly enrolling them to do our bidding since time immemorial, nothing compares to what happened when the CIA came up with Project Acoustic Kitty.
It was one of the most cruel and wasteful ideas, in a long line of blunders and mistakes, that the Langley, Virginia, based agency, has been responsible for, hands (handcuffed) down. No wonder even its acronym has been utterly upstaged lately by the Camp Williams, Utah, based NSA, heavens help us all.
This is been a particularly uncomfortable time for shadowy organizations all over the world. The unwelcome glare of a constant flow of staggering revelations leaked by former CIA contractor Edward Snowden about the NSA coming to light almost daily must be making secret powers that be very nervous indeed.
In fact, what we can only guess that goes on behind the scenes is far from the glamorous world portrayed in the 007 movies and even postwar accounts of heroism and tragedy for agent and double-agents alike, some driven by idealism, and others by the good old fashioned value of hard cash.
Not that the lives of spies have become any easier. The recent bombshell findings that the exhumed body of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat had ‘unnaturally high levels of polonium’ seem to prove that he was poisoned and didn’t die of a ‘cerebrovascular accident’ nine years ago next Monday.
In other words, he was probably killed by a spy, who knows working for whom. The case also revived in the public memory the 2006 death of Russian officer Alexander Litvinenko, in London, said to have been also poisoned by polonium, after meeting with two other agents from the Russian security agency.
Cases abound, but one has to keep in mind that nobody just simply wound up becoming a secret agent, and even making through the lower ranks of the ‘profession’ requires considerable – and here we’re sure Graham Greene would’ve put it in a much better way – will, skill, and ability to kill.

$20 MILLION TO KILL A CAT
Not with our sentient companions on this Earth, unfortunately not ever given the freedom to make that choice. They’re simply recruited and, regardless whether they fulfill their assignments or get killed right at the starting gate, there’s no possible way we can make sure they’ll benefit from the experience.
Take the unnamed, and unfortunate, female kitty of the CIA experiment. As Robert Wallace and H. Keith Melton wrote in Spycraft, their account of the CIA’s diatribes to outwit the Soviet Union during the Cold War, she was the first and, thankfully, the last of a spectacularly misguided project, and unwittingly paid dearly for it.
The project that was to be deemed ‘a complete failure’ a few years Continue reading

Whistle Blown

Truth Telling Costs
Manning His Freedom

The military trial and conviction of Pvt. Bradley Manning, for revealing classified information about the U.S. intelligence and armed forces to the public, marks one of the darkest moments in the history of democratic dissent and freedom of the press in this country.
His verdict and sentencing today to a possible maximum of 136 years in jail, have shaken all progressive forces fighting for individual rights in the world, and chipped even further the U.S.’s already tarnished image of the land of the free and home of the brave.
Even before being convicted of 19 offenses, including five counts of the WWI relic Espionage Act, Manning had already spent three years in solitary and brutal confinement, and had the grand total of just one chance for speaking his version of the facts to the public.
Despite having been justly acquitted of the unfounded charge of aiding the enemy, the trial most certainly ended the 25-year old’s hopes of ever regaining the right to tell the American people what he saw in Iraq, apart from the shocking videos and cables he’s passed along to WikiLeaks.
But as we grieve over the personal sacrifice that this young idealist was willing to go through, in order to reveal some of the behind-the-scenes actions of the corporation he once joined out of pride and honor, we’re also sure his courage will outlast the secretive establishment that now is sending him to the gallows.
We may not hear again his voice for a long time, even if that was never his intention to begin with. But someday his example will be honored just as many a fine American has in the past, who like him, sacrificed everything but in the end, were vindicated by history.
Bradley Manning is not a traitor, neither he lied or risked his freedom for personal gain. Unlike many of his accusers, his actions will be remembered perhaps as the first steps of a great turnaround of hearts and minds in this country, to put an end of this endless cycle of wars and intimidation of those who oppose them.
The trial of Pvt. Manning is a complete denial of everything that the U.S. has stood for over two centuries, as a nation of laws and still the inspiration for millions of oppressed and unjustly persecuted people around the world. And as such, it will never represent the real aspirations of the American people.
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Full Stop

Le Bastille & Guthrie, 
& Heartbreak in Florida

By the time you read this, Francophiles and revolutionists of all stripes are done marking Bastille Day and Woody Guthrie’s 101th birthday. It’s also been a day to cut off yet another link with the past: someone, somewhere in India, will post the world’s last telegram.
But even for those whose best Sunday plans include a pass on headline news, it was hard to ignore the shock waves that came from Travyon Martin’s murder trial. To a nation that’s beaten to a pulp so many enemies, race has proven once again to be a formidable foe.
Many will be grieving over the not-guilty verdict. But for Pete Seeger, one of Guthrie‘s best friends, the date has a poignancy of its own, as Toshi-Aline Ohta Seeger, his wife and collaborator of 70 years, passed away last Tuesday. Now how this mix of milestones, trivia, and personal loss are connected, we could hardly say.
We can only offer that the French Revolution, despite all spilled blood and betrayed expectations, is still closer to the U.S. than even the 10 days separating Le Quatorze from the Fourth of July would lead to believe, as it did serve as a cautionary tale to the young American republic.
Over two centuries later, both nations are in badly need of a refresher on their ideals of equality and freedom for all. In fact, most news about a possible identify of purpose between the two come invariably infected with the pragmatism of shared intel and similar military-driven goals.
As for Guthrie and his friends, it’s startling to realize how much worse it got to be a dissenter and an outcast. Whereas no one disputes Continue reading