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The Moral Rabbit Hole

By Robert C. Koehler And down the moral rabbit hole we go. The New York Times reported last week that U.S. soldiers still fighting the war in Afghanistan — 14 years on — are under orders to be “culturally sensitive” regarding different attitudes among our Afghan allies about, uh . . . the sexual abuse […] more

Learning How To Dance

“Native Americans have to concede that rain dances don’t work.”

Yeah, snort. How funny can you get? It’s the New Rules segment of “Real Time with Bill Maher” and the host has just tossed his gag tomahawk at the First People. A picture fills the screen: Indians in full regalia, dancing. The caption below it says “Tribal Thumpers.” He pauses, straight-faced, eyeballs rolling in sarcasm. There’s a trickle of laughter amid the awkward silence, then Maher turns away from the camera, presumably toward the crew back stage, and calls out in his fake shame-on-me voice, “Are you making fun of Indians, Bill?” more

The Squirming Buddha

The world hemorrhages. Refugees flow from its wounds.

Is there a way to be innocent of this?

People are washed ashore. They die of suffocation in humanity-stuffed trucks. They flee war and politics; they flee starvation. And finally, we don’t even have sufficient air for them to breathe. more

Humanity Washed Ashore

Who are all these people?

Here’s another global problem — this flow of refugees — that national governments are apparently incapable of dealing with in a long-term, cooperative, globally responsible way. As with climate change, as with war and disarmament, they retreat into insularity in the face of such matters and become protective of their short-term, individual “interests,” which mostly concern the bureaucratic sacredness of their borders and an obsessive distinction between us and them. more

Climbing Denali

Renaming a mountain is better than beheading it.

And the pseudo-uproar from Donald Trump and other Republicans over the presidential renaming of the continent’s highest mountain, Denali — “the great one” — is so much yammering in a cage. more

Rewriting the Human Story

Oh sacred planet.

The terror of climate crisis is a long time in the making. As I read about the mass mobilization forming around the upcoming U.N. climate change convention, which is likely to accomplish far too little — because what’s needed is change at the roots of civilization — I feel a desperate impatience, a tearing at my soul. What can I do that’s bigger than anger, bigger than a demand for governmental and corporate entities to make changes they are essentially incapable of making? more

The Donald’s ‘Inclusive’ Racism

The central assumption of democracy — beyond the assumption of fair elections, which is disturbingly questionable — is that voters are the possessors of their own “interests,” and vote for the candidate most sympathetic to them.

But of course those interests are fair game for advertising, bombast and propaganda — and the psychology of fear. more

A Wedge for Nuclear Disarmament

“Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith . . .”

What if words like this actually meant something?

This is Article VI of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, which the United States signed in 1970. It continues: “. . . on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.” more

Nuclear Disarmament: If Not Now, When?

Oh plaintive cry for justice, for change, for the world we must create, welling up from a tiny island nation in the Pacific Ocean. I can only pray: Let there be an authority large enough to hear it.

My first reaction, upon learning that the Republic of the Marshall Islands — former U.S. territory, still ravaged and radioactive, the site of 67 H-bomb tests between 1946 and 1958 — has filed lawsuits against the nine nations that possess nuclear weapons demanding that they eliminate their arsenals, as per the provisions of the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, was cringing disbelief. Are they serious? I couldn’t imagine an action more futile. more

Taking Down the Flag

The flag in front of Home Depot was at half-mast and I felt myself wondering why in an awkward, despairing way.

The nation and the news cycle were still thrashing in the wake of the Chattanooga killings and I figured, oh, it’s for the soldiers — but all that realization did was intensity the troubled feelings the spectacle had aroused. This is America, where you can shop and mourn . . . but it wasn’t just that. more

Armed Insecurity

“. . . no real security, just powers of retaliation.”

This was Norman Mailer, four-plus decades ago, writing in Miami and the Siege of Chicago about the obsessive security measures – “helicopters riding overhead like roller coasters, state troopers with magnums on their hip and crash helmets, squad cars, motorcycles” – at the Democratic and Republican national conventions, which . . . uh, didn’t actually provide security, but sure allowed us to get even afterwards. more

Soulless Economics

Austerity, the tool of neoliberal capitalism, stands up to Greek democracy and stares it down. Oh well.

We’re remarkably comfortable with soulless economics.

Pope Francis, speaking this week in Paraguay, cried to the nations of Planet Earth: “I ask them not to yield to an economic model . . . which needs to sacrifice human lives on the altar of money and profit.” more

The Collateral Damage of Austerity

“Officials in France and in Brussels said on Monday that they were unhappy and dumbfounded with the no vote, but let it be known that they would hold the door open to the possibility of a compromise between Greece and its creditors.”

Dumbfounded? Why? Because the godlike power of the creditors was insulted? more

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. more

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. more

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.” more

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. more

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. more

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.” more

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. more

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 […] more

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.” more

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?” more

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.” more

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. more

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. more

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. more

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. more

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 […] more

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. more