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For our March discussion, the Human Rights Book Discussion group has decided to read a book describing the current human rights situation in Russia, and we have chosen The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia by award-winning journalist and Vladimir Putin biographer, Masha Gessen. From reviews on Amazon: The Future is History is a beautifully-written, sensitively-argued and cleverly-structured journey through Russia's failure to establish democracy after the fall of the Soviet Union. Gessen builds her story around the lives of a half-dozen people whose fortunes wax and wane as the country opens up, then closes down once more. Each of her subjects came of age with unprecedented expectations, some as the children and grandchildren of the very architects of the new Russia, each with newfound aspirations of their own--as entrepreneurs, activists, thinkers, and writers, sexual and social beings. Gessen charts their paths against the machinations of the regime that would crush them all, and against the war it waged on understanding itself, which ensured the unobstructed reemergence of the old Soviet order in the form of today's terrifying and seemingly unstoppable mafia state. Gessen's understanding of the events and forces that have wracked Russia over the past few generations is unparalleled. Powerful and urgent, The Future Is History is a cautionary tale for our time, and for all time. Note that this book is a bit longer than most of the other books we’ve read, so make sure to give yourselves plenty of time to obtain and read the book prior to the discussion.
Sincere apologies -- we didn't realize that April 28th conflicts with another event we participate in (Earth Fair), so we have had to move this book discussion to Sunday, May 5th. Sorry for any inconvenience this may cause! -------------------------- For our April/May book discussion, we've chosen to read _Gaza: An Inquest Into Its Martyrdom_, by Norman Finkelstein. The Gaza Strip is among the most densely populated places in the world: more than two-thirds of its inhabitants are refugees, and more than half are under eighteen years of age. Since 2004, Israel has launched eight devastating “operations” against Gaza’s largely defenseless population. Thousands have perished, and tens of thousands have been left homeless. In the meantime, Israel has subjected Gaza to a merciless economic blockade. What has befallen Gaza is a man-made humanitarian disaster. Based on scores of human rights reports, Norman G. Finkelstein's new book presents a meticulously researched examination of Gaza’s devastation. He shows that although Israel has justified its assaults in the name of self-defense, in fact these actions constituted flagrant violations of human rights and international law. But Finkelstein also documents that the guardians of international law—from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch to the UN Human Rights Council—ultimately failed Gaza. One of his most disturbing conclusions is that, after Judge Richard Goldstone's humiliating retraction of his UN report, human rights organizations succumbed to the Israeli juggernaut. As a modern-day Sisyphus, rolling the heavy boulder up the hill of disinformation, Norman Finkelstein does not waver in his determination to take it to the crest. Although a non-lawyer, he masters the legal issues, the Geneva Conventions, ICJ advisory opinions, UN resolutions, and commission reports, weaving them into a compelling narrative, an articulate appeal for justice, a protest against the moral cop-out of the international community. Finkelstein refutes the Big Lie and many arcane little lies about Gaza and Palestine. An important reference for every politician and every person concerned with human rights.
For our June discussion, the Human Rights Book Discussion Meetup group decided to read something a bit more upbeat and optimistic than our usual fare and chose _Utopia for Realists: How We Can Build the Ideal World_ by Rutger Bregman. Universal basic income. A 15-hour workweek. Open borders. Does it sound too good to be true? One of Europe's leading young thinkers shows how we can build an ideal world today. After working all day at jobs we often dislike, we buy things we don't need. Rutger Bregman, a Dutch historian, reminds us it needn't be this way-and in some places it isn't. Rutger Bregman's TED Talk about universal basic income seemed impossibly radical when he delivered it in 2014. A quarter of a million views later, the subject of that video is being seriously considered by leading economists and government leaders the world over. It's just one of the many utopian ideas that Bregman proves is possible today. Utopia for Realists is one of those rare books that takes you by surprise and challenges what you think can happen. From a Canadian city that once completely eradicated poverty, to Richard Nixon's near implementation of a basic income for millions of Americans, Bregman takes us on a journey through history, and beyond the traditional left-right divides, as he champions ideas whose time have come. Every progressive milestone of civilization-from the end of slavery to the beginning of democracy-was once considered a utopian fantasy. Bregman's book, both challenging and bracing, demonstrates that new utopian ideas, like the elimination of poverty and the creation of the fifteen-hour workweek, can become a reality in our lifetime. Being unrealistic and unreasonable can in fact make the impossible inevitable, and it is the only way to build the ideal world.