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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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Beyond M.A.D.: Reviving Nuclear War

“Some of the key technocrats and scientists of the Cold War say the nation has become overly confident about its nuclear deterrence. The nuclear enterprise, they say, ‘is rusting its way to disarmament.’”

Let’s meditate on this irony — that disarmament, finally, means no more than growing old and weak and pathetic.

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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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