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America, the WTF Nation

I used to read the news in the morning and often find myself saying “This can’t be happening!,” which is actually how this news site got its name. But if I were just getting set to create the site these days, I’d have to call our publication “WTF!?,” which is what I find myself saying more and more often over my morning paper.

Just consider some recent news.

* In late April, Cameron D’Ambrosio, a high school student and amateur rapper in the town of Methuen, outside Boston, posted a rap on his Facebook page that made a musical, non-specific reference to making a bomb bigger than the Boston Marathon bomb. He didn’t do anything, didn’t make a bomb, didn’t attempt to get the materials for a bomb, and by all accounts didn’t know how to make a bomb. He just wrote and sang about the idea. No matter, he was arrested by Methuen’s Finest, and is now in jail on — get this — $1 million bail — awaiting arraignment on state “terrorism” charges that carry a potential prison sentence of 20 years. The kid has the misfortune of being 18, so he’s being treated as an adult, though he clearly is not one.

The chief of police of Methuen, exhibiting that incredible mentality of police these days in 9-11 all-the-time America, explained the arrest of an over-the-top wannabe songwriter saying, “When we’re just recovering from what occurred in Boston, to make a threat and use what occurred in Boston to enhance your threat, is extremely alarming for us.”

Really, what can you say to something like this but WTF!? Once when I was 14, I and two friends painted the side of a girl’s house orange on Halloween. I suppose that could have been terrifying, but when we got caught later, our penalty was to repaint the house, not arrest. Ditto when we threw some rocks at cars as kids and one broke a guy’s windshield as he drove by. Stupid, yes. Terror inducing for the driver, probably. And certainly worse than writing a song. But we didn’t get arrested or go to jail. We paid for a new windshield.

* Then there’s the sad story of a five-year-old who fatally shot his two-year-old sister with a rifle while their mother had “stepped outside” the house, leaving the two small kids alone and unsupervised. Such tales of gun accidents by children are all too common, but this one came with a bizarre twist: the five-year-old was reportedly firing his own rifle! It was a cute little “starter” .22-cal. gun called a Crickett (motto: “My first rifle”) available in blue, pink and red-white-and-blue. His doting grandma had bought for him as a birthday gift.

The parents say, in their defense, that they didn’t realize that the gun, which had been left leaning against a corner in the house, had a bullet loaded into it. Which, of course, begs the question of why they even had a bullet for it. Also, it was only a single-shot rifle, so it should have been a pretty simple matter to check if it was being left loaded or not the last time the boy used it, presumably under close supervision. But really: a rifle for a five-year-old? I thought my parents were crazy for letting me buy my own .22-cal. rifle when I was 12! (They were: I used to go to the local hardware store and buy a gross of hollow point bullets for it and go out in the woods with friends to shoot down small trees. We’d also shoot our guns straight up in a local gravel pit to see if we could see craters form when they came back down.)

This kid’s uncle reportedly told CNN: “It’s just tragic. It’s something that you can’t prepare for.”

Say what? Something you can’t prepare for? How about not buying a five-year-old a real gun? How about if you do buy one, not leaving it around the house at ground level? How about not leaving bullets in it. Really, WTF!?

* Hamid Karzai, the “president” of Afghanistan, has confirmed that over the past decade, while millions of Americans have been going hungry, entire school systems have been closing down for lack of funds, and millions of long-term unemployed workers have lost their unemployment benefits because of state and federal budget cuts, all to pay for a staggering and unprecedented trillion-a-year US military budget, he has been getting bags of cash delivered to him by the CIA. This money, amounting to over $10 million in bribes which the CIA was “deploying” supposedly in order to “buy influence” with the man that the US has spent over a trillion dollars propping up and protecting, has funded a vast culture of corruption among the warlords of Afghanistan, and has helped make it the world’s leading narco-state and producer/exporter of opium.

Even after this scandal was exposed, the CIA is carting shipping that dirty money to Karzai, and the US is still fully engaged in a horribly bloody war in that shattered and corrupt land, largely already destroyed at our own hands. WTF!?

* President Obama has yet again blamed Congress for supposedly “blocking” him from fulfilling a 2008 campaign pledge to shut down the shameful and criminal US torture gulag in Guantanamo, Cuba, where some 160 captives, in violation of all international law, are still languishing in a lawless hellhole without trial or even charge, many for as long as 12 years now. Yet most of these people– currently on a lengthy and desperate hunger strike over their plight–have been cleared of any crimes or terrorist link. Now it turns out that all along, the president could have ended this atrocity on his own. Under the terms of the 2011, 2012, and 2013 National Defense Authorization Acts, all of which Obama signed into law and which he claims prevent him from carrying out his promised shutdown of Guantanamo’s prison gulag, the reality is that the president has always had the authority to transfer or release any captive he wants, simply by asserting that the individual doesn’t pose a security risk! Likewise, his claim that the courts prevent him from releasing Guantanamo prisoners is a lie. As Guantanamo defense attorney Martha Rayner recently wrote in a scathing op-ed in the Wall Street Journal [1], “The courts have made clear that this is Mr. Obama’s decision.” So really there is no reason to continue to have this national embarrassment that does nothing but piss off the rest of the civilized world. Yet we still are using Guantanamo to hold demonstrably innocent people without charge and without trial. WTF!?

* Dzohkhar Tsarnaev, the 19-year-old, injured suspected bomber from the Boston Marathon, was on the run on foot in Boston, clearly without access to any weapons of mass destruction, or even heavy armaments, and the police and federal authorities locked down the entire 1.5-million population metropolitan area, requiring all residents to stay inside their homes, except for those whose homes were invaded by armed up and gestapo-like police toting automatic weapons who ordered them outside while they engaged in warrantless house searches. Eventually a man was discovered hiding in a boat on a trailer behind a man’s house, so the police peppered the boat with bullets before even establishing that their target was actually the suspect, and not some wino, a runaway, or whatever. Most of the residents of Boston cheered and chanted “Boston Strong!” about this first-ever example of local police establishing undeclared martial law in a US city. So we have millions of people around the country going berserk over fevered fears that the government and police are going to “take away our guns,” yet nobody seems at all concerned that the “new normal” after Boston is likely to feature city-wide martial law clampdowns that take away all our rights every time there is some criminal at large. WTF!? What’s next: Locking down neighborhoods to pursue a burglar? Locking down whole stretches of interstate highways to nab a speeder? Locking down department stores to catch a shoplifter? Stay tuned.

* Philadelphia high school students are protesting at the city’s board of ed because this fifth largest school district in the nation is technically bankrupt. Short some $160 million for next year’s school budget, the district is closing nearly 40 schools, canceling school plays, laying off teachers, eliminating after school programs, cutting lunch programs and basically preparing for an armageddon where the kids will be essentially prisoners in institutions that don’t offer anything but regimented test preparation. And nobody in city government or in the state’s capital is saying WTF!? Well I will. A city of a million, with over 150,000 students, in the richest country in the world, a stock market setting all time records, and they’re closing schools and basically shutting down the education system? And this is happening in cities all over this country, from New York to Chicago to L.A., while much less-well-endowed nations like Taiwan, Korea, and even Cuba or Costa Rica seem to be able to educate their kids. WTF!?

Is it something in the water?

Dave Lindorff is a  founder of This Can’t Be Happening and a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press. Hopeless is also available in a Kindle edition. Lindorff’s article on drones in Philadelphia appears in the March issue of CounterPunch magazine. He lives in Philadelphia.

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Dave Lindorff is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, an online newspaper collective, and is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

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