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Racism: It’s the Law

Smoke and fire, sirens blaring, horns honking, a sudden hail of bullets. This is what passes for the American dialogue on race and justice.

It’s hidden until it explodes.

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Restorative Justice and the Rebirth of Chicago

The vision is a city interlaced with restorative justice hubs — community centers that bring hope and promise to troubled kids in a town where too many of them are dying. “It is not OK that my friends and I have already planned our funerals,” then-high school senior Keann Mays-Lenoir told a crowd of 300 people a year ago, at a rafter-shaking meeting where the idea was introduced.

It builds slowly, from the bottom up. Reclaim common sense. Reclaim community. Reclaim Chicago.

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Peace as a Human Right

“Individuals and peoples have a right to peace.”

In the beginning was the word. OK. This is the beginning, and these are the words, but they haven’t arrived yet — at least not officially, with full force of meaning

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Democracy’s Most Cherished Act

Democracy! A word, a way of life, our highest ideal: Everyone is equal; no one is marginal.

I still feel the force of this word, though the middle syllable — “mock” — grows increasingly dominant when I hear it, especially now, as election season rolls around again. The enormity of my indifference to this election is balanced by something that feels like grief. The system we live under is . . .

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One My Lai a Month

“When somebody asks, ‘Why do you do it to a gook, why do you do this to people?’ your answer is, ‘So what, they’re just gooks, they’re not people. It doesn’t make any difference what you do to them; they’re not human.’

“And this thing is built into you,” Cpl. John Geymann testified almost 44 years ago at the Winter Soldier Investigation, held in Detroit, which was sponsored by Vietnam Veterans Against the War. “It’s thrust into your head from the moment you wake up in boot camp to the moment you wake up when you’re a civilian.”

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Our Souls Turned into Weapons

“During basic training, we are weaponized: our souls turned into weapons.”

Jacob George’s suicide last month — a few days after President Obama announced that the US was launching its war against ISIS — opens a deep, terrible hole in the national identity. George: singer, banjo player, poet, peace warrior, vet. He served three tours in Afghanistan. He brought the war home. He tried to repair the damage.

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Sweden and the Wakening of Eco-Integrity

Startling news: Sweden now recycles 99 percent of its waste.

At least that’s what people are saying, including an official website of Sweden itself: “Less than one per cent of Sweden’s household waste ends up in a rubbish dump.” There may be less to this statement than meets the eye, but before I address that issue, I need to pause at the jolt of ecstatic excitement and jubilant incredulity I felt for a moment — that maybe the resource-consuming, planet-destroying, multinational political and economic system I’m part of is capable of correcting its own insanity, committing itself to a sustainable future and embracing the circle of life.

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The Cancer of Violent Extremism

“As we look to the future, one issue risks a cycle of conflict that could derail so much progress. And that is the cancer of violent extremism that has ravaged so many parts of the Muslim world.”

The cancer of violent extremism . . .

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Traces of Evil

Barack Obama’s central dilemma last week, when he tried to sell a new war to the American public on the eve of the thirteenth anniversary of 9/11, was to speak convincingly about the wisdom and effectiveness of U.S. foreign policy over the last decade-plus while at the same time, alas, dropping the bad news that it didn’t work.

Thus: “Thanks to our military and counterterrorism professionals, America is safer.”

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A Future That Values Everyone

“I think if we had a gun we would have been shot immediately.”

This is as good a place to start as any, at the logical limits of violent self-defense. The speaker is Andres Gutierrez of Nonviolent Peaceforce, a nonprofit organization that has engaged in peacekeeping work in troubled regions of the world for the last decade. Gutierrez, the organization’s team leader in South Sudan, along with colleague Derek Oakley, got caught in the chaos last April when the city of Bor was attacked, with armed men overrunning the perimeter of a U.N. base where thousands of civilians had sought protection. The two took shelter inside a mud hut.

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The Courage To Disarm

The Ferguson tragedy, like all those that preceded it and all that will follow — involving the trivial and panicky use of lethal force, by the police or anyone else — stirs up questions the social status quo doesn’t dare face.

My sister, Sue Melcher, put it this way: “I find myself also nauseated that another issue never seems to enter the discussion: the issue that a highly trained officer could make such a mistake with a gun demonstrates that just having the weapon present increased the danger of the situation. Had the citizens been armed, how many more casualties could there have been? None of us is ‘healthy’ enough to be trusted to use lethal force wisely — and is that even possible?”

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Deep Justice in Ferguson

Black ’hood, white cops. “Get the fuck on the sidewalk.”

And so it begins, and begins, and begins. An African-American boy dies for walking in the street — for yet one more insanely small transgression. Protesters cry for justice. The legal bureaucracy hunkers down, defends itself, does what it can to paint the deceased 18-year-old, Michael Brown, as a bad guy. Sides harden in the media. Once more it’s us vs. them. Nobody talks about making things right; nobody talks about healing.

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Iraq and Endless War

Our kills are clean and secular; theirs are messy and religious.

“In their effort to create a caliphate across parts of Iraq and Syria,” CNN tells us, “ISIS fighters have slaughtered civilians as they take over cities in both countries.

“In Syria, the group put some of its victims’ severed heads on poles.”

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Hatred in the Nuclear Era

Before nuclear weapons, after nuclear weapons . . .

“The latter era, of course,” writes Noam Chomsky, “opened on August 6, 1945, the first day of the countdown to what may be the inglorious end of this strange species, which attained the intelligence to discover the effective means to destroy itself, but — so the evidence suggests — not the moral and intellectual capacity to control its worst instincts.”

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The Water of Life

I’m thirsty. Indeed, I’m overwhelmed by thirst, thinking about those who lack access to clean water. I’m thirsty for a different world.

“In Gaza, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians lack water, including those living in hospitals and refugee camps,” Sarah Kendzior wrote in Al-Jazeera last week. “On July 15, citizens of Detroit held a rally in solidarity, holding signs that said ‘Water for all, from Detroit to Palestine.’ A basic resource has become a distant dream, a longing for a transformation of politics aimed at ending suffering instead of extending it.”

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Never Again to Us

“Israel regrets every injury to civilians. I call on the residents of Gaza: Don’t stay there. Hamas wants you to die, we want you to be safe.”

This is Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as quoted in the Jewish Daily Forward, cleansing the nation’s collective conscience. Is it really that easy to sweep away the moral sting of violent action? A captive population is being pummeled with missiles. Well over 500 Palestinians have died so far in Operation Protective Edge, three-quarters of them civilians and, of course, many of them children. But “we want you to be safe” and wish we didn’t have to do this.

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The Oxymoron of Peace

“At the same time, values and ideas which were considered universal, such as cooperation, mutual aid, international social justice and peace as an encompassing paradigm are also becoming irrelevant.”

Maybe this piercing observation by Roberto Savio, founder of the news agency Inter Press Service, is the cruelest cut of all. Geopolitically speaking, hope — the official kind, represented, say, by the United Nations in 1945 — feels fainter than I can remember. “We the peoples of the United Nations, determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war . . .”

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Democracy: No Longer for Sale?

Ah, 1961. The year — certain aspects of it, anyway — are almost impossible to remember. “Whites only” bathrooms, for instance.

U.S. Rep. John Lewis, legendary civil rights leader and crosser of lines, recently tweeted an ancient mugshot memorializing his arrest that year for using a “whites only” bathroom in Mississippi and, in the process, amping up outrage against Jim Crow segregation in the South and intensifying the civil rights movement’s global resonance.

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Watching the World Destroy Itself

The video opens with a few bars of adrenalin-pumping music. We see a topsy-turvy camera angle, sky, trees, darkness, then a staccato pop pop pop that blends rhythmically with the music, but of course it’s gunfire, lots of gunfire, followed by a few urgent words in Arabic, then English. “Down here! Down here!”

This chaotic excitement is Iraq, the evening’s International Hot Spot, brought to us by ABC. It’s the news, but it’s also reality TV and big league sports, rolled into an entertainment package of shocking cluelessness. OMG, ISIS is on the move. It’s winning. Stay tuned!

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Soul Murder

All men are created equal. All chattel are insured.

I saw the movie Belle the other day and a piece of it got stuck in my head. The costume drama, set in England in the 1780s, hinged on a real historical event: the monstrous voyage of the slave ship Zong in 1781, from West Africa to the Caribbean. Its cargo when it set out on its transatlantic voyage included some 470 tightly packed human beings — too tightly packed, it turns out. Disease ran through the cargo hold. Slaves and crewmen began to die. The ship got lost. They began running low on water. Eventually the surviving crew jettisoned . . . 132 live humans, still in chains. This was business as usual.

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Army of One

The world withheld love and he went to war. He was an army of one — another army of one, laying out his plans in secret torment, plotting his “day of retribution.”

“The rampage shooters see themselves as moralistic punishers striking against deep injustice,” Peter Turchin wrote a year and a half ago, in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre. In his essay, ominously titled “Canaries in a Coal Mine,” which was published at Social Evolution Forum, he notes the upward trajectory of mass murders. Since the ’60s, they’ve increased more than tenfold. Something’s going wrong in the world we’ve created.

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Money and Morality

Step on the gas, step on a man . . .

Writing recently in The Nation, Chris Hayes drew an intensely unnerving parallel between the use of fossil fuels as an energy source and the use of slave labor — not a moral parallel, but a financial one, though money and morality have a perversely symbiotic relationship. Where there’s money to be made — especially enormous quantities of it — moral justifications come awfully cheap.

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The War To End All Wars

“Peace, as we have seen, is not an order natural to mankind: it is artificial, intricate and highly volatile. All kinds of preconditions are necessary.” — Michael Howard, The Invention of Peace

And here comes World War I, wrapped in World War II, wrapped in the Cold War: tremors on one of Planet Earth’s human fault lines.

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Working the Dark Side

Ten years ago, photos of the crucifixion — and worse — were released to the American public. The media still call it “the Abu Ghraib scandal,” as though, oops, the awkward repercussions for Team Bush were the torture photos’ primary horror.

No one talks about “the Auschwitz scandal.” The depth of our moral wrong has yet to be plumbed.

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Losing Another Decade

“We cannot afford to lose another decade.”

My God. There’s more darkness in this quote than the New York Times intended. I winced when I read these words of Ottmar Edenhofer, co-chairman of the committee that wrote the latest United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change IPCC report, which the Times quoted in a recent editorial headlined “Time Is Running Out.”

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In Partnership with Mother Earth

OK, mankind, it’s time to grow up, and I see a good way to start: Change the wording of Genesis 1:26.

Change one word.

Last week, I quoted that Bible verse in a column about the increasing velocity of climate change: “And God said . . . let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air,” etc. Dominion! Nature belongs to us, to suck dry and toss away. And thus we moved out of the circle of life and became its conquerors, an attitude at the core of the Agricultural Revolution and the rise of civilization. The momentum of this attitude is still driving us. We don’t know how to stop, even though most people now grasp that we’re wrecking the environmental commons that sustains life.

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Calling All Pagans

Somewhere between these two quotes lies the future:

“And I would like to emphasize that nobody on this planet is going to be untouched by the impacts of climate change.”

“The Judeo-Christian worldview is that man is at the center of the universe; nature was therefore created for man. Nature has no intrinsic worth other than man’s appreciation and moral use of it.”

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High Stakes

A mind is a terrible thing to test, especially a child’s mind — if, in so doing, you reduce it to a number and proceed to worship that number, ignoring the extraordinary complexity and near-infinite potential of what you have just tested.

“In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts: they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty.”

What if?

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Monsters in Our Midst

“It was loaded with meaning and death.”

Oh lethal, ticklish topic. So many people love guns and swear by them — many of them people with whom I am otherwise in essential political agreement. And it’s not like I relish a debate about “gun control,” a tug-of-war about limits that offends most gun lovers and causes weapon-buying sprees after every mass murder.

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Make It Hurt

“After Russia invaded Crimea, a senior American official vowed to ‘make it hurt.’ More than two weeks later, Moscow has given no sign that it feels any pain, and the challenge for President Obama is whether he is willing or able to inflict enough to change the Kremlin’s calculus.”

This is the New York Times, of course, yet again parroting the insecure right, ignoring history and reducing the terrifying complexity of international politics – and the great global longing for peace – to a lethally simplistic game of winning and losing. It’s the kind of coverage we get in every political crisis, inevitably shutting down whatever collective intelligence we’re capable of manifesting and reducing the public to spectators at a geopolitical wrestling match.

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