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Absolute Power

“The existence of the approximately 14,000 photographs will probably cause yet another delay in the military commissions at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, as attorneys for the defendants demand that all the images be turned over and the government wades through the material to decide what it thinks is relevant to the proceedings.”

This was the Washington Post a few days ago, informing us wearily that the torture thing isn’t dead yet. The bureaucracy convulses, the wheels of justice grind. So much moral relativism to evaluate.

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His Soul Wrapped in a Confederate Flag

At the bond hearing, grieving loved ones forgave Dylann Roof. This was reported as news, but it was so much more than that. It was the light embracing the darkness.

And white America absorbed this forgiveness through the eyes of the 21-year-old terrorist, who watched the proceedings on a video screen from his jail cell. Whatever he heard and felt is unknown, but beyond him, in the world he believed he was saving, something gave. The solidarity of whiteness — the quiet assumption of white supremacy — shuddered ever so slightly.

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War, Murder and the American Way

He sat with them for an hour in prayer. Then he pulled his gun out and started shooting.

And today our national numbness is wrapped in a Confederate flag. The young man who killed nine members of Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church on Wednesday night was an old-school racist. “I have to do it,” Dylann Storm Roof is said to have explained. “You rape our women and you’re taking over our country. And you have to go.”

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Letting Go of Race

What’s your race?

Most of the discussion around the revelation that Rachel Dolezal, who resigned this week under pressure as head of the Spokane, Wash., NAACP, isn’t black, as she had claimed, and grew up as a blonde-haired, blue-eyed white girl, seems to assume that this question is objective, uncomplicated and neutral. Come on, which is it? You’re either African-American, Caucasian or other. Check the box.

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Swimming While Black

“He came into the call out of control, and as the video shows, was out of control during the incident.”

And cellphone videos continue to unravel America’s “law and order” paradigm. You might almost call it the cellphone revolution, as random video clips keep exposing a dark side of our social order that used to be so easy to deny. YouTube has become the gateway to our collective conscience, such as it is.

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Juvenile Justice and the War on Teens

“Fundamental to this process is the idea of ‘collective responsibility’ . . .”

The study, released earlier this year, is called: “What Can the Cook County Juvenile Court Do to Improve Its Ability to Help Our Youth? A Juvenile Justice Needs Assessment.”

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Nuclear Realism

There’s a category of political intellectuals who proudly proclaim themselves “realists,” then proceed to defend and advance a deeply faith-based agenda that centers on the ongoing necessity to prepare for war, including nuclear war.

These intellectuals, as they defend the military-industrial status quo (which often supports them financially), have made themselves the spokespersons for a deep human cancer: a soul cancer. When we prepare for war, we honor a profoundly embedded death wish; indeed, we assume we can exploit it for our own advantage. We can’t, of course. War and hatred link all of us; we can’t dehumanize, then proceed to murder, “the enemy” without doing the same, ultimately, to ourselves.

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Zero Tolerance

By Robert C. Koehler “As I walked down the hall, one of the police officers employed in the school noticed I did not have my identification badge with me.” The speaker is testifying before the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing. He was a high school freshman at the time. Ah, school days! “Before […]

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A New Dark Age

“What struck me” journalist Christian Parenti said in a recent Truthout interview, referring to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, “was the fact that these local towns and states around the region were sending the only resources they had to New Orleans: weapons and militarized gear.

“After 30 years of the War on Drugs and a neoliberal restructuring of the state at the local level, which is not a reduction of the public sector but a transformation of the public sector, the only thing local governments had were weapons.”

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Broken Windows, Broken Spines

The 21st century has skewed off plan and begun to break open. Its self-designated guardians and explainers look on, at times, confused.

“But at least 15 police officers have been hurt, 200 arrests, 144 vehicle fires — these are statistics. There’s no excuse for that kind of violence, right?”

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Moment of Silence

This is big. A new civil rights era births itself in terrible pain.

Black men die, over and over. I can only hope that peace is the result, serious peace, bigger than new laws, bigger than better trained police — agape peace, you might say, peace that is, in the words of Martin Luther King, “an overflowing love which seeks nothing in return.”

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Idiots of the World, Unite

“Sir, you are an idiot.”

Wow, an insult wrapped in such old-fashioned politeness. I let the words hover and reach, as I always do, for peace: that is to say, for clarity, connection, common humanity.

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Should the Police Be Armed?

The cellphone video “reality footage” just doesn’t stop. Black men are shot, killed, handcuffed. The shortcomings of their prematurely terminated lives soon become public knowledge, vaguely justifying the shocking wrongness of the officer’s action — always poisoning the grief.

The family, the loved ones, the sympathetic sector of the American (and global) public demand “justice.” Even when they get it, or sort of get it, in the form of an arrest or some official expression of regret, the victim — the human being they valued — is still dead.

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The Real Nuclear Threat

If war were only “itself” — the violence and horror, the conflagration and death — it would be bad enough, but it’s also an abstraction, a specific language of self-justifying righteousness that allows proponents to contemplate unleashing it not merely in physical but in moral safety.

War, the abstraction, is an instrument of policy, an “option” that can be waged or threatened to get one’s way. It is always contained and sure of itself, limited in its goals and, of course, necessary. Its unintended consequences are minimal and quickly neutralized with an official apology, then forgotten. If we didn’t forget, the next war wouldn’t seem like such a viable, enticing option.

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Lodestar of Peace

“Deeply sensible of their solemn duty to promote the welfare of mankind . . .”

What? Were they serious?

I kneel in a sort of gasping awe as I read the words of the Kellogg-Briand Pact, a treaty signed in 1928 – by the United States, France, Germany, Great Britain, Japan and ultimately by every country that then existed. The treaty . . . outlaws war.

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Wealth vs. Money

By Robert C. Koehler “There is no patent. Could you patent the sun?” The words are those of Jonas Salk, developer of the polio vaccine, speaking to Edward R. Murrow in 1955, as quoted recently in an essay by Paul Buchheit. What was he thinking? Six decades later, the words have such a counter-resonance with […]

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Rocka My Soul

“I wanna be ready . . .”

And suddenly the glass case shattered. You know the one, perhaps. I’d been agitated by it for the past hour or so, sitting as I was maybe 25 rows back from the stage at Chicago’s ornate Auditorium Theater, watching the Alvin Ailey troupe dance their hearts out, moving their bodies with such lithe precision and grace.

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Frat Boys on the Bus

“You can hang him from a tree, but he can never sign with me . . .”

Yeah, something had to happen. The cellphone video went public and the frat boys on the bus, who were just having a little politically incorrect fun, y’know, singing about Jim Crow exclusionary practices and, well, lynching, suddenly found themselves thrust into a national context, embarrassing the hell out of their fraternity and their school.

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White Terrorism

The president doesn’t “love” America?

Would that it were true. Would that Rudy Giuliani’s five-star Republican nightmare actually paced the Oval Office, pondering how to disarm, demilitarize . . . defang American exceptionalism.

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Peace Behind Barbed Wire

As media ownership converges and technology “unites” us, the concept of national identity grows ever easier to exploit — and therefore, I fear, increasingly, and dangerously, simplistic.

This is the war on terror. This is the war on crime. They march on, despite the magnitude of their failures. They march on . . . because America is tough. America is exceptional.

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Alive and Bleeding

Good and evil leap from the headlines: “Egyptian planes pound ISIS in Libya in revenge for mass beheadings of Christians.”

It’s nonstop action for the American public. It’s the history of war compressed into a dozen words. It’s Fox News, but it could be just about any mainstream purveyor of current events.

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The Sociology of Dead Children

Experts have put urban violence under the microscope. You might call it the sociology of dead kids.

There’s a lot less here than meets the eye, or so it seemed when I read about a new study by researchers at Yale called “Tragic, but not random: The social contagion of nonfatal gunshot injuries.” It’s an attempt to create categories of likely future shooting victims in Chicago and, thus, determine who among us is most in danger. Well, sure, why not? But in the process, the study, at least as it was reported a few days ago in the Chicago Sun-Times, utterly depersonalized the potential victims, along with the communities in which they lived, reducing them to components in a mathematical formula.

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War and Perpetual Adolescence

The urgency I feel isn’t any longer to stop a particular war but to interrupt endless war: to interrupt the narrowly focused geopolitical conversation, conveyed to us over and over by media stenographers, in which lethal intervention — wherever — is always the first and only choice. The uncertainty is never a matter of “if.” It’s only a matter of “when.”

For instance: “The West needs to bolster deterrence in Ukraine by raising the risks and costs to Russia of any renewed major offensive. That requires providing direct military assistance — in far larger amounts than provided to date and including lethal defensive arms.”

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Healing the Criminal Justice System

“It’d be really hard to have a higher recidivism rate than we have in Cook County.”

Maybe this is the place to start a brief meditation on changing the world, or at least Chicago . . . known to some of its residents as “Chiraq.”

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War in Two Directions

“Sometimes they have drug and alcohol problems and when they feel that the VA is ignoring them, not answering the phone, failing to return calls for assistance or there are long wait times, they get more and more disgruntled. The VA is ripe for a mass killing but no one is listening to us.”

The speaker is John Glidewell, former chief of police at the Cheyenne, Wyo., VA medical center, who was quoted in a Washington Post story a few days ago. As I read his words, I realized they sounded a far deeper note of desperation than the story was addressing, even though, my God, the events being reported on were the fodder of scandal.

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Partners in Terror

By Robert C. Koehler “Je suis Charlie. Tout est pardonné.” Muhammad in tears adorns the new cover of Charlie Hebdo: “I am Charlie. All is forgiven.” This is bigger than satire. I take a deep breath, uncertain how to write about last week’s insane shooting spree in Paris. My daughter and her husband live there. […]

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Turning Our Backs

Oh, the moral force of a snub.

Several hundred cops turn their backs on New York’s mayor as he eulogizes one of their own, killed in the line of duty, and the media have another us-vs.-them story to report. Bill de Blasio’s in trouble, accused of playing politics with the lives of heroes. And, of course, the story goes no deeper than the dramatic accusation.

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Skulking Away from a Failed War

“The only good Talib is a dead Talib.”

These words, uttered half a decade ago by the head of intelligence for the NATO coalition force in Afghanistan, summon a far earlier American savagery. As the American empire affects to close the door on its war with Afghanistan, the words also serve as a sort of doorstop propping open our further intervention in this broken country.

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Refusing To Wage War

And so we grieve over another national tragedy.

Two New York City police officers, Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos, were shot — assassinated — as they sat in their patrol car this past weekend. Let the needlessness of their deaths rip our hearts open. Let the humanity come first.

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Abolishing the CIA

By Robert C. Koehler The shock resonating from the Senate Intelligence Committee’s CIA torture report isn’t due so much to the revelations themselves, grotesque as the details are, but to the fact that they’re now officially public. National spokespersons (except for Dick Cheney) can no longer deny, quite so glibly, that the United States is […]

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