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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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Poster City of Abandonment

White flight, corporate flight . . .

I grew up just outside Detroit and have felt an ache in my heart for this bleeding city for so many years now. It’s long been one of the country’s designated loser cities, beginning in the 1960s, when change hit it hard. The phrase at the time was “urban blight,” a social cancer with unexamined causes that, in the ensuing years, has gotten progressively worse.

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Outing the Deep State

There has always been a “deep state,” as Mike Lofgren described it in a compelling essay recently published at BillMoyers.com — a predatory consensus of money and political ideology that serves only its own endless growth and functions in pristine autonomy from any sort of democratic process — but defining it begs an enormous question: Can we actually build a world that isn’t run by its shadow interests?

And what is this going to take? Can good will and big principles stand up to Wall Street and the Washington consensus? Perhaps even more to the point, if it’s even possible, how much time do we have before war and climate change rip the human experiment to shreds?

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Voices of Pain and Peace

No matter how bad it gets, we can look inside ourselves and find hope, possibility . . . the future. And when we find that, we know what it means to build peace.

“It’s like I’m in a never-ending battle with my brain,” Kayla said. “They called me Crazy Kayla. I have anger problems. Someone messes with me, I lose it. I was molested, raped, physically and mentally abused. I was in 127 different homes. I have a 3-month-old baby . . .”

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Walk Softly

“When you go to dig your fields, or make a pot from clay, you are disturbing the balance of things. When you walk, you are moving the air, breathing it in and out. Therefore you must make payments.”

Oh, unraveling planet, exploited, polluted, overrun with berserk human technology. How does one face it with anything other than rage and despair, which quickly harden into cynicism? And cynicism is just another word for helplessness.

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Asphyxiating Education

“The standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers. With American students fully prepared for the future, our communities will be best positioned to compete successfully in the global economy.”

This is how we talk about learning, growth and the human future?

Things are getting worse in the American classroom, not better. The experts and the special interests purporting to fix the educational system are continuing, instead, to asphyxiate it.

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A Bug on the Windshield

The young guys were half a block ahead of us. Nothing was happening except that they were walking. A police car pulled up behind them, slowed to their pace, aimed a spotlight at them.

They were African-American (did you guess?), numbering maybe half a dozen. They weren’t intimidated. Some of them stopped, stood staring at the police car, talking to it; this had obviously happened before. The spotlight continued to shine in their faces. Other young men crossed the street in front of the car and joined the crowd. The game went on for a while: the slow saunter, the cops driving along next to them, the light in their faces.

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Abolishing War, Resurrecting Fallujah

Iraq vet Ross Caputi’s film opens with a fleeting synopsis of the American heartbreak — and the bandage we tape across it.

His documentary, Fear Not the Path of Truth, is about the U.S. devastation of Fallujah, in which he participated as part of Operation Phantom Fury in November 2004, but the first couple minutes give us an overview of his hometown, the “former industrial city” of Fitchburg, Mass.:

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Beyond Our Broken Dreams

Every night gunshots lullaby me to sleep
In ruins of abandoned buildings
the broken glass is
where we bottle up all our broken dreams. . . .

Hold the dream with me, as it breaks loose from Jameale Pickett’s poem. Something beyond the insane dance of crime and punishment is happening, at least this year, this moment, in Chicago’s high schools. Young people are getting a chance to excel and become themselves, as more and more schools find and embrace common sense, also known as restorative justice.

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Bereft of Democracy

“(Chris) Christie is the caricature of a Third World despot,” writes Chris Hedges of the reeling New Jersey governor. “He has a vicious temper, a propensity to bully and belittle those weaker than himself, an insatiable thirst for revenge against real or perceived enemies, and little respect for the law and, as recent events have made clear, for the truth.”

And he still might wind up becoming our next president.

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Cosmetic Surgery

“In Iraq, al-Qaeda launched an offensive to take control of two cities, Fallujah and Ramadi, that U.S. troops sacrificed heavily to clear of terrorists between 2004 and 2008.”

And so the new year begins, with a heavy dose of same old, same old. This is the Washington Post editorial page, which Robert Parry dubbed the neocon bullhorn, blaming the al-Qaeda uprising in western Iraq on President Obama’s withdrawal of troops from that country, along with his failure to invade Syria last fall, all of which, the editorial charges, adds up to complacency in the face of growing danger and a lack of protection for “vital U.S. interests.”

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The Code of Shame

“I’m dying to know what it’s like to love somebody — to know what it feels like to be wanted.” — Art Corneau

So we need a documentary to break the Code of Shame. It’s called A Hard Name and came out in 2009; it ran on Canadian public television. (The film is online but, unfortunately, can’t be viewed in the U.S. “due to rights restrictions.”) Director Alan Zweig found seven ex-prisoners — five men, two women — and just let them speak. The result was the opening of a raw wound: the public exposure of something so deeply hidden, so wrapped in cynical taboo, I could barely listen without screaming: Why?

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Nuclear Disarmament: Beyond Iran

Iran! So long our enemy-in-waiting, just asking for it, y’know?

No wonder Americans are confused about the idea of maybe not going to war with that country one of these days, at least according to USA Today, which reported: “The White House and Iran face an uphill selling job to convince Americans to embrace the interim nuclear pact negotiated with Tehran last month.”

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Return of the Golden Calf

’Tis the season to feel rage and heartache about the economy.

I feel hope as well, praise the Lord, thanks to Pope Francis and the alley behind my house, where nothing of value goes to waste.

I’m the kind of person who can’t throw anything away, but sometimes I have to anyway — an old microwave, a sewing machine that hasn’t been used in 20 years, a threadbare easy chair, tangled computer wires and other excruciating miscellany — and when I do, it’s usually gone within a day, if not an hour. When I can no longer find value in what I possess, others see it as a gift from the universe.

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Trivializing Peace

What goes around comes around . . . and around, and around.

Last month, the day after I left Santa Rosa, Calif., a 13-year-old boy carrying a toy replica of an AK-47 was shot and killed on the outskirts of that town by a Sonoma County deputy sheriff with a reputation for being trigger-happy. The officer had ordered the boy to drop the “gun,” then in a matter of two or three seconds opened fire, giving him no chance to comply.

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Cries in the Wilderness

“The only premise of the book was to just go out and listen.”

And the book, edited by Miles Harvey, who is quoted above, is remarkable. It’s one of a kind, as far as I know – How Long Will I Cry? – the first publication of a newly formed nonprofit organization called Big Shoulders Books, which is affiliated with Chicago’s DePaul University. It’s available free of charge, because . . . how could a cry in the wilderness be otherwise?

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Reclaiming ‘Chiraq’

I felt the music and the fire as the civil rights movement rose from its slumber.

“Repair . . . justice!” went the call and response last week, in the basement of an old Chicago church at the corner of Ashland and Washington. “Restore . . . life! Rebuild . . . community!”

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Corralling the Loners

Another crazed, furious loner shocks the world. This time I’m a little too close to the edge of the chaos.

I gape at the TV in disbelief: I’m supposed to fly out of Los Angeles Airport — Terminal 3, no less — that afternoon, but all I see is footage of scrambling police and snarled traffic. If I’d booked an earlier flight, I could have been sitting there when the 23-year-old gunman shot the TSA agent at the foot of the escalator, then wandered through the gate area with his rifle and his grievances.

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Slicing the Baby in Two

“To all of our atheist friends: Thank God you’re wrong.”

Move over, We Buy Ugly Houses.com and Jackass Presents Bad Grandpa. Here was religious faith on a billboard, refuting non-belief in letters three feet high. I was visiting Los Angeles, driving with a friend along La Cienega Boulevard, when this king-size ad for religious certainty smacked us in the eye.

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Making Peace with War

What if we had politicians who believed in the abolition of war with as much passion as the Republican right believes in the abolition of taxes?

For me, the question that immediately follows is: What kind of politics draws power from resources other than the deep pockets of billionaires? Just because the world is sick of war, how will that ever translate into serious political action to defund standing armies and ongoing weapons research? How will it ever cohere into a consensus that has political traction? Does Washington, D.C. only have room for one consensus?

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A Rationality Shutdown

In an agony of stupidity, the government shuts down.

Only some of it shuts down, of course. The part that stays open is the part that’s at war. “Those of you in uniform will remain on your normal duty status,” the president said. “The threats to our national security have not changed, and we need you to be ready for any contingency. Ongoing military operations, like our efforts in Afghanistan, will continue.”

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Hope Flows from Hollow Water

The community was out of control — the children, oh my God, the children, were sniffing gasoline and pretty much abandoning any pretense of a future — and the social and criminal-justice systems were just adding to the problem. Nothing was working.

“Our children slammed us against a brick wall,” Burma Bushie said.

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Poison Values

Poison gas is not only a “moral obscenity” — one the United States stockpiled for decades after its use was banned in warfare — but a metaphor for human recklessness and wasted science.

Like it or not, we’re forced to think about it these days, since it’s still an enticing pretext for war. And the more I think about it, the more I marvel at the persistent insanity of its existence. The “red line” that the so-called civilized world crossed over a century ago was not in the use of poison gas but in its creation, because it’s lethal whether it’s used or not. Attempting to get rid of it — by burying it, burning it, dumping it — has consequences almost as deadly as firing it off in battle.

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Building Real Peace

“Imagine if we sent 5,000 well-trained nonviolent peacekeepers from throughout the world to protect civilians and work with local civil society in building the peace.”

Indeed, imagine if we knew that doing this was an option.

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Cherry-Picking Evil

“Because these weapons can kill on a mass scale, with no distinction between soldier and infant, the civilized world has spent a century working to ban them.”

Why does the president need to address a classroom full of third-graders?

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Stopping a War Before It Starts

This is the time, as the next war strains to be born, amid the same old lies as last time, amid the same urgency and pseudo-debate and pretensions of seriousness:

The government of Syria has crossed a “red line.” It has used poison gas, killing hundreds of innocent people and committing a heinous war crime. And suddenly, clear as a bell, we have good vs. evil. Our only course of action, President Obama and his spokespersons tell us, is to “carry out a punitive strike against the Syrian government.”

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