Reading for revolution

The way I figure it, any day now, we’ll tire of Halo 2, anime, downloading new tones for our cell phones, Sex in the City reruns, fruit-flavored booze, football and playing craps.

Well, maybe not craps.

We’ll stumble out of dorms, apartments and parked cars and look around at the world that happened while we were distracted. Perhaps we’ll miss having health insurance, freedom of religion, affordable housing or even a job. Maybe we’ll be bugged by the mercury that’s accumulating in our bodies from coal-burning power plants, or by the sending off of friends and family members to kill and be killed in wars of economic imperialism.

(Conspiracy alert for Northern Nevadans: Coal power and WMDs are both issues that can be traced to The Carlyle Group, the corporation that really runs the world, that has connections to Bushes, bin Ladens and billionaire George “Lefty” Soros. The Carlyle Group, I read in The New York Times last weekend, occasionally funds Sempra Energy’s profit-mongering schemes, one of which is building a 1,450-megawatt coal plant in Gerlach, Nev. [See “Power Play,” RN&R cover story, April 15.] The Carlyle Group funds plenty of military projects, too, with a portfolio that lists realized buyouts of around 10 U.S. aerospace and defense companies, with a few others pending.)

We haven’t been paying attention. It’s our own fault. We let ourselves be lulled to sleep in American government classes and so, even now, we don’t have a clue how our political system works.

Thankfully, a new publication explains it all—America (The Book): A Citizen’s Guide to Democracy Inaction by Jon Stewart and The Daily Show writers.

Buy a copy. Cover it with a paper bag for that high-school-textbook feel. Flip to any page and begin learning.

Page 5: “Timeline of Democracy.” Fun-filled dates include 1480s: “Spanish Inquisition pioneers use of target demographics as focus groups.”

Chapter Three, “The President: King of Democracy,” outlines the job of the “most powerful, most recognizable and best person on Earth.”

The president can’t make laws. He is commander-in-chief of U.S. armed forces but can’t declare war without “the expressed written consent of Congress and, if possible, Major League Baseball.” The only way to get around this safeguard would be, the textbook continues, “citing ‘proof’ of an ‘imminent threat’ to convince Congress to grant him broader power through an ambiguously worded resolution.” Footnote: “A laughable and unlikely scenario.”

Page 68: “Senate Color by Numbers.” A side-by-side comparison of the 1789 U.S. Senate and the 2004 U.S. Senate, with empty numbered balloons in place of heads. Text states: “As the nation grew in ethnic and cultural diversity, the Senate responded by getting bigger.” The activity’s color key is a no-brainer: “1 = White.”

Each chapter ends with discussion questions and classroom activities. In Chapter Six, “Campaigns and Elections: America Changes the Sheets,” discussion questions include: “What the hell does it mean to ‘rock’ a vote? Seriously, how come at 18 we’re like, old enough to vote, but we can’t have a beer?”

Classroom activities: “Disenfranchise a black student. … Hold a mock election. If you can’t do this, mock a real election.”

A chapter on the media, “Democracy’s Valiant Vulgarians,” discusses newspaper luminaries such as William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer, who ran pretend stories as news and started a war to buoy circulation. Standard stuff, really.

"The pair’s blend of fiction, bigotry and jingoism became known as yellow journalism. Later, the phrase was shortened to ‘journalism.' "