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A Little 'Change' is Always Good to Read, Ponder

From The Daily Progress
Original article available here.

"The Change Manifesto" is an inspiring, albeit frustrating book. A book that fairly bursts with righteous outrage, which is the best kind of outrage there is. At times, I felt that John Whitehead -- its author and founder and president of the local Rutherford Institute -- had taken possession of my thought processes, creating order out of my often chaotic responses to what is happening to our Constitutional form of government.

In his opening chapter -- "Author to Reader" -- Whitehead tells us that "We Are Not What We Set Out To Be," and he does so with equal amounts of sorrow and anger. To those who believe that "I'm a law-abiding citizen, I have nothing to worry about," the author disabuses such confidence, telling us that "... [w]e are now operating under a system of government where everyone is suspect."

Paranoia? No indeed, and don't take my word for it. Take Whitehead's. Read this book. Read Whitehead's belief that we, "[a]t the dawn of the 21st century, are mentally clogged, anesthetized, numb." The author cites a litany of things he, a Constitutional lawyer, believes the Bush administration is to blame for -- expansion of wartime powers and the rights of those deemed to be "enemy combatants" denied access to attorneys.

Is "The Change Manifesto" a convenient "cry wolf" diatribe? Not at all. It is more reminiscent of a long-ago book about South Africa, called "Cry, the Beloved Country." America is our beloved country, and Whitehead believes there are plentiful reasons to shed tears over what it has become over the past eight years.

What makes "Manifesto" so worth the reading -- so worth the pondering and feeling one's moral juices stirring -- is the integrity of the author. Whitehead is no wild-eyed radical. He is a thoughful, knowledgeable man, who approaches each issue, each case, on its own merits. He has taken on issues which offend, equally, those on the right and left, and has done so with equal zeal, zest and courage, in order to champion civil and speech rights. This is what makes it so frustrating to review a book from whose every page I would like to quote.

Whitehead takes the reader back to the McCarthy era of the 1950s and the Nixon administration and draws not only comparisons, but signs of continuing affronts to rights guaranteed by our form of government.

The section on Constitutional illiteracy is near-shattering, followed up, as it is, by a description of how far our fundamental principles have strayed. Anyone who has a circulatory problem and an even less than keen interest in our inalienable rights, will find her or his blood coursing to a new, almost manic beat. I dare anyone with even a sliver of an open mind not to react to the reference to how the administration has taken advantage of post-9/11 hysteria.

Whitehead concentrates on the indecencies perpetrated by such agencies as FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) which was circumvented by the National Security Agency. And he does not exclude the Department of Homeland Security's multiple failures and the effects of the Patriot Act. All are grist for this man's intelligent and, yes, caring mill, and if we have been left with a mockery of true wheat -- badly harvested by said mill -- we are accomplices through our quiescence.

"On May 11, 2005," Whitehead writes, "President Bush signed the Read ID Act into law, essentially establishing the first national identification system in American history." He also instructs us in all the ways we are tracked -- from mail to e-mail to phone calls to bank accounts and purchases -- the list goes on and on. Read them, and if you feel a chill creeping up your arms, don't shield them. It means that you are still capable of experiencing fear and outrage.

In a section of the chapter on "American Empire," Whitehead cites Cullen Murphy, who wrote a book titled "Are We Rome?" In it, he worries that "We no longer live in 'Jefferson's America.' " The author of "Mainfesto" believes this is not an idle question, because "America's ascension to power has long been compared to the one of the Roman Empire -- and its subsequent fall." Hyperbole, you say? Read this book.

Yet and still, according to Whitehead, "I for one believe that so long as there is a spark of freedom left, there is hope." And he sets forth 11 suggestions about what we can do to keep that spark flickering, if not actually burning with a fierce flame. Read them all, and think about them, because they are the result of a thinking man's probing ruminations on how to ignite sparks in the cause of freedom.

Just when I became heartened, I was confronted with this: "Surveys reveal that Americans are inexcusably illiterate about the Bill of Rights. Most Americans cannot name the first five freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment." If these are truths we have come to accept as self-evident, what does this evidence of lack of information portend? And will it continue to grow until we have lost all sense of what our Constitution and Bill of Rights, and the rule of habeus corpus, stand for?

The book contains copious endnotes and a comprehensive index. I don't always agree with the cases the Rutherford Institute takes on to champion, but it, and its founder, have established the principle of "speaking truth to power." With "The Change Manifesto," Whitehead not only has spoken truth to the powerful, but has made his passionate commitment to doing so manifest.

I would like my readers to know that I cannot recommend this thoughtful -- at times despairing, but ultimately hopeful -- book too highly.


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