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Slavery, War and Presidential Politics

As I watched “unity” take hold of the Democratic Party this week, the believer in me wanted to imbibe it — bottoms up.

Michelle Obama ignited the crowd. “That is the story of this country,” she said. “The story that has brought me to the stage tonight. The story of generations of people who felt the lash of bondage, the shame of servitude, the sting of segregation, who kept on striving, and hoping, and doing what needed to be done.”

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Volatile America

In a flash I thought, oh God, the civil war has started.

Then the headlines shifted and, for the moment, “normalcy” returned. It’s a Trump-sated normalcy that’s anything but, of course, and the most recent heavily reported violence (at least as I write these words) — the murder of three police officers in Baton Rouge — blends into the endlessly simmering turmoil known as the United States of America.

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The God of War

There’s Mars, the god of war, perched in a parking garage in Dallas, annihilating the enemy with utter impunity. Mars, you sicko! Just listen to President Obama:

“By definition, if you shoot people who pose no threat to you — strangers — you have a troubled mind. What triggers that, what feeds it, what sets it off, I’ll leave that to psychologists and people who study these kinds of incidents.”

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The Illusion of Security

“Please be gentle.”

The story is too easy to believe. At the Memphis airport, a confused, nervous teenager sets off the metal detector — possibly because she has sequins on her shirt — and is told she needs to come to a “sterile area.” Armed guards show up to escort her. She’s terrified.

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The Right To Bear Courage

Behind the “right to bear arms” lies concealed the right to make money. You know, a lot of it.

The right to . . .

I pause here, torn apart by the political sacredness of these words. We have the right to speak freely and worship the God or our choosing or none at all, the right to reasonable privacy, the right to choose our leaders, the right to fair and equal treatment under the law. These rights are inscribed in the national bedrock: the Constitution. They activate our humanity; without them, we’re so much less than our fullest selves. Without them we’re perpetual victims, forced to live in fear and secrecy.

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Hair-Trigger Alert

I feel the finger on the trigger. I also feel it on the button.

“Dear President Obama,” the letter begins. It goes on to remind him of something he said in his 2008 presidential campaign: “Keeping nuclear weapons ready to launch on a moment’s notice is a dangerous relic of the Cold War. Such policies increase the risk of catastrophic accidents or miscalculation.”

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Mass Karma

This won’t be the last.

Half a week into the Orlando tragedy, this reality remains pretty much unacknowledged, as cause-seekers focus on security and ISIS and the specific mental instability of Omar Mateen, who, as the world knows, took 49 precious lives and injured 53 others at the nightclub Pulse in the early hours of June 12.

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School Days and Grenade Launchers

Come on, they aren’t tanks, they’re armored rescue vehicles. And the, uh, grenade launchers would only be used to launch teargas canisters. When necessary. And the M-16s? Standard police issue.

What a journey these Los Angeles teenagers, and the civil rights group Fight for the Soul of the Cities, had, to get from there — the ho-hum justification by (good Lord) the city’s school district police force, for the accumulation of surplus Defense Department weaponry — to here:

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Poverty, Militarism and the Public Schools

What’s the difference between education and obedience? If you see very little, you probably have no problem with the militarization of the American school system — or rather, the militarization of the impoverished schools . . . the ones that can’t afford new textbooks or functional plumbing, much less art supplies or band equipment.

The Pentagon has been eyeing these schools — broken and gang-ridden — for a decade now, and seeing its future there. It comes in like a cammy-clad Santa, bringing money and discipline. In return it gets young minds to shape, to (I fear) possess: to turn into the next generation of soldiers, available for the coming wars.

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A 10-Minute Debate on War

“Look, nuclear should be off the table. But would there be a time when it could be used? Possibly, possibly . . .”

This is — who else? — Donald Trump, flexing, you might say, his nuclear trigger finger in an interview with Chris Matthews, who responds in alarm:

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Rethinking Criminal Justice

“For over forty years our criminal justice system has over-relied on punishment, policing, incarceration and detention. This has ushered in an age of mass incarceration. This era is marked by sentencing policies that lead to racially disproportionate incarceration rates and a variety of ‘collateral consequences’ that have harmed our communities and schools. . . .”

In this time when our self-inflicted troubles seem so obvious but the possibility of change — that is to say, political transformation, through awareness, compassion and common sense — feels more illusory than ever, something extraordinary, that is to say real, is on the brink of happening in Chicago.

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Quiet War, Sleeping Nation

And the race goes on. So does the war, but you’d never know that the one had anything to do with the other.

Even when the mainstream media trouble themselves to acknowledge that the primary season remains open on the Democratic side, that Bernie Sanders — and his millions of supporters — are still in the race, the Bernie revolution is never portrayed as addressing foreign policy and the still-failing, still-catastrophic war on terror.

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Cowardice and Exoneration in Kunduz

“The people are being reduced to blood and dust. They are in pieces.”

The doctor who uttered these words still thought the hospital itself was a safe zone. He was with Doctors Without Borders, working in Kunduz, Afghanistan, where the Taliban and government forces were engaged in hellish fighting and civilians, as always, were caught in the middle. The wounded, including children, had been flowing in all week, and the staff were unrelieved in their duties, working an unending shift.

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Opening the Closed Political Culture

The headline, from the Los Angeles Times, hit me like a sucker punch: “Voters’ ‘Bernie or Bust’ efforts persist despite Sanders’ vow not to be another Ralph Nader.”

Actually, it was worse than that. When my brain cleared, I realized I was, once again, caught in a media straitjacket.

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The New Enlightenment

What remains endlessly hinted at about the 2016 presidential race, but not fully articulated, is that something enormous — bigger than politics, bigger than America itself, perhaps — is trembling and kicking just below the surface, struggling to emerge.

I have a name to suggest for this hypothetical phenomenon: the New Enlightenment. Nothing less than that seems adequate.

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Creating Resilient Communities

“Conflict happens in isolation.”

Wow, that’s it. A sense of awareness ignited as I listened to Kristin Famula, president of the National Peace Academy, make this seldom-acknowledged observation. When we feel wronged, violated, disrespected, suddenly we’re alone with our careening emotions.

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Democracy Free-for-All

Here in America, we celebrate democracy by staying in touch with the lack of it. What better way to honor our ancestors’ struggles to win the right to vote — and have that vote counted — than to have to struggle ourselves for the same thing?

Considering that, as I wrote four years ago, “democracy is nothing if not a perpetual nuisance to the powerful,” and that apathy is the national curse, I remain amazed that we’re having a presidential race this year that cuts so deeply — to core human values — and is worth enduring a sort of bureaucratic totalitarianism to participate in.

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Playing with Guns

You shouldn’t play with guns, unless you do it the way “Jim” apparently did.

His gun play — a (seemingly) satirical petition at change.org — has enveloped the looming Republican National Convention in Cleveland this summer in awkward surrealism and forced the three Republican presidential candidates to duck for cover from their own words.

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Recovering from Militarism

The pols cry glory and revenge. They cry security. They cry greatness.

Then they stick in the needle, or the missile or the rifle shell, or the nuclear bomb. Or at least they imagine doing so. This will fix the world. And they approve more funding for war.

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This Is What Democracy Looks Like

By Robert C. Koehler The snaking line was more than a mile long. Thousands of us had been waiting for hours in the bitter cold to get into Chicago’s Auditorium Theatre to hear Bernie Sanders speak. It was Monday night. The Illinois and four other state primaries were the next day and, as has been […]

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Politics and the Golden Rule

“What I’m not trying to do is just pass legislation. I’m trying to change the face of American politics.”

Pull these words out of the context of “the news” and let them pulse like the heartbeat of the future.

The words are those of Bernie Sanders, of course — engaged last week in a confrontational interview with Chris Matthews. Free college tuition? Matthews loosed his skepticism on the presidential candidate, who pushed back:

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War, Peace and Bernie Sanders

It’s the day after the big vote and I’m doing my best to dig Tulsi Gabbard’s endorsement of Bernie Sanders out from beneath the pile of Super Tuesday numbers and media declarations of winners and losers.

As a Boston Globe headline put it: “Clinton and Trump are now the presumptive nominees. Get used to it.”

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Finding Peace at the Heart of Grief

A young, much-beloved woman was gang-raped three years ago on a bus in Delhi and a culture exploded.

The documentary India’s Daughter, which addresses the horrific rape-murder and its aftermath, is part of that explosion of awareness, aimed straight at the heart of India’s cultural dismissal of women as full-fledged members of society and full-fledged human beings. It opens up a world where people can still say: “A decent girl won’t roam around at 9 o’clock. A girl is far more responsible for a rape than a boy.”

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Beached America

For at least the last four decades now I feel like I’ve been living in Beached America: a nation that has lost its values, even as it writhes in violent agitation, inflicting its military on the vulnerable regions of the planet.

It does so in the name of those lost values . . . democracy, freedom, equality. These are just dead words at this point, public relations blather, silently followed by a sigh: yada, yada, yada. Then we send in the drones.

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Confronting Our Toxic Legacy

Maybe if we declared “war” on poison water, we’d find a way to invest money in its “defeat.”

David Rosner and Gerald Markowitz, writing at Tom Dispatch this week about what they called “The United States of Flint,” make this point: “The price tag for replacing the lead pipes that contaminated its drinking water, thanks to the corrosive toxins found in the Flint River, is now estimated at up to $1.5 billion. No one knows where that money will come from or when it will arrive. In the meantime, the cost to the children of Flint has been and will be incalculable.”

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Four Horsemen of the Democracy

“It was also a shock to the system that a candidate universally known in Iowa, with deep pockets and long experience, could come close to losing to a relative unknown who was initially considered little more than a protest candidate.”

Just think of it! The tiny, tightly controlled consciousness that calls itself The World’s Greatest Democracy got all rattled and discombobulated by the behavior of Iowa caucus participants this week, because a large number of them — virtually half of the participating Democrats — cast their vote for an old socialist, well outside the zone of official approval.

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Presidential Politics and the American Soul

When I want to believe that America is a democracy — indeed, to feel so deeply this is so that my soul trembles — I turn to Martin Luther King, who gave his life for it.

He cried out for something so much more than a process: a game of winners and losers. He reached for humanity’s deepest yearning, for the connectedness of all people, for the transcendence of hatred and the demonization of “the other.” He spoke — half a century ago — the words that those in power couldn’t bear to hear, because his truths cut too deep and disrupted too much business as usual.

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Evolution: The Candidate

“And finally, how can we make our politics reflect what’s best in us, and not what’s worst?”

The president asked the right question in his State of the Union address last week. What if he’d actually answered it – or at least addressed it honestly?

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Kayla’s Legacy

She had so little and she had so much.

I didn’t know her, except for the tiny piece of her life that was revealed in the 2013 documentary Hear Our Voices, directed by David and Patricia Earnhardt, but her candid, gutsy presence in that film was sufficient to pull her into my heart.

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Taking on the Nuclear Goliath

“Just as we stood for freedom in the 20th century, we must stand together for the right of people everywhere to live free from fear in the 21st century. And . . . as the only nuclear power to have used a nuclear weapon, the United States has a moral responsibility to act. We cannot succeed in this endeavor alone, but we can lead it, we can start it.

“So today, I state clearly and with conviction America’s commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.”

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