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Guest Commentary (4465)

by Nikolas Kozloff

If Lord Bertrand Russell were still alive today, the Global North's glaring inaction on climate change would most likely appall him. One of the 20th century's most eminent philosophers, Russell was also an outspoken critic of war and irrationality. In 1966, just as the United States was ramping up the war in Vietnam, Russell helped to establish a novel legal tribunal that condemned war crimes committed in Southeast Asia.

What is intriguing about the Russell tribunal held in Sweden is that, from a legal standpoint it lacked any institutional or political authority. No matter, declared the legendary English philosopher: in the absence of meaningful moral standards in the law, the tribunal would help to foster a new sense of ethics in the international arena. Fundamentally, he hoped to form "a highly representative, independent, and respected" international body.

The Englishman financed the tribunal through loans and proceeds from his autobiography and managed to attract a number of political and intellectual heavyweights as a result of his star power. Luminaries who eventually participated in the Russell tribunals included the philosopher Jean Paul Sartre, social critic Simone de Beauvoir, and writer Julio Cortázar.

by Andrew Lehman

In the United States, there have been three powerful democratization surges in the last 100 years. Each featured an experience by participants of feeling part of something larger than themselves. It continues to astonish me how the one we are experiencing now is almost invisible to folks I know.

In the 1930s, working people were provided a voice and power to affect their lives in positive ways. The commons emerged as a political power as people were able to realize that the process of focusing on shared resources provided a new way of viewing influence. Democratization was viewed as a feature of the commons.

In the 1960s, democratization acquired an almost spiritual dimension as peace and new interpersonal-communication protocols became integral to understanding how the commons operated. Integration and feminization transformed the idea of how working together worked. I felt part of something larger than myself.

Over the last 20 years, there has been growing a third wave of commitment to the commons. Far more subtle than the other two waves, its influence has been exponentially more powerful. Perhaps it makes no sense to separate them; they are all part of the same process. The process features a horizontalization of society as power shifts downward with the realization that what we have in common is more useful and significant than what we can accomplish as independents.

by Jacqueline Marcus

The New York Times reports "that the United States ambassador in Kabul has expressed written opposition to deploying more American troops to Afghanistan, baring the fierce debate within the Obama administration over the direction of the war, even after weeks of deliberations and with the president on the verge of a decision."

The ambassador in Kabul speaks for the people of Afghanistan. When Hillary Clinton was touring the region, she was blasted from students who told her quite bluntly that they never asked the United States to take control of their country, they have no right to be in their country, and most importantly, they want the U.S. to LEAVE! One angry student shouted at her: "How would like it if a drone flew over and indiscriminately killed civilians in their homes?!"

Indeed. The point went right over the Secretary of State's head. Hillary wants war! Send those 40,000 troops!!  

by Bill Berkowitz
If you think that the debate over health care reform has taken some decidedly nasty, and often unexpected, turns, just wait until the issue of immigration returns to the spotlight on Capitol Hill. Imagine rowdier Town Hall meetings and a slew of anti-immigrant tea parties. As Al Jolson, one of the early 20th century's stars of vaudeville, might have put it, "you ain't seen nothing yet!"
While the national debate over immigration may be a ways off, an assortment of evangelical Christian organizations are already at odds over the issue.
In early October, the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) -- which has over 40 member organizations and is made up of nearly 30 million U.S. evangelicals -- passed a resolution endorsing "comprehensive" immigration reform. "The Bible does not offer a blueprint for modern legislation, but it can serve as a moral compass and shape the attitudes of those who believe in God," the NEA resolution stated.

by Carl Finamore

In exactly one month, San Francisco's proud, illustrious Palace Hotel will celebrate the centennial anniversary of its 1909 reconstruction after the city's devastating earthquake three years earlier. At the time of its original construction in 1875, it was considered the largest and most glamorous hotel in the world, hosting for several decades a series of world prominent guests including U.S. presidents, Wall Street magnates and Hollywood's biggest stars.

But there is little to celebrate for approximately 350 hotel employees who face the dim prospect of substantially increased healthcare premiums demanded by owners who brandish the typical impersonal Wall Street investment name tag of Cerberus Capital Management.

The Palace is actually managed by Starwood Hotels and Resorts, a more marketable personal moniker but with the same corporate one-way cash/flow mentality as their Cerberus bosses. Starwood earned $180 million in profits during the first nine months of 2009 and their stock price increased 85% since January.

Yet, following the same pattern as several dozen other premier hotels in the city, the Palace refused to accept a one-year contract offer from UNITE-HERE, Local 2, that the hotel workers' union says will cost less than 2% of payroll.

by Jeff Fleischer

Any good statistician will preach the value of "sample size," of making sure there are enough relevant results before proclaiming a trend. It's why pollsters require a certain number of respondents and why good sportswriters know not to get too excited when a young player has one good week.

In today's politics, unfortunately, hyperbole continues to stick such sober analysis in the corner. And so it was with Election Night 2009, when cable news and both parties tried desperately to tie a few races into some kind of national narrative. Now that the time for knee-jerk overanalysis has passed, it's clear such a narrative doesn't really work.

The idea that two gubernatorial races -- state, not federal offices -- were inherently referenda on the Obama presidency never made much sense regardless of their outcomes. You wouldn't know it from watching Fox, whose over-the-top glee was well parodied on "Saturday Night Live" the following weekend. In The New York Times, Gail Collins gently mocked the "semiconsensus across the land that the myriad decisions voters made around the country this week all added up to a terrible blow to the White House." Treating a few scattered races in an off-year election with low turnout as a national trend is just bad punditry.

Which isn't to say Republicans don't have reason to celebrate their victories in Virginia and New Jersey, or that Democrats lack potential reasons to worry.

by Bill Berkowitz

If Bill Robinson gets his way, Wakita, Oklahoma, a small town near the Kansas border consisting of 380 residents, will be the home of the first all-Christian prison in the U.S. Robinson, who runs a Dallas-based outfit called Corrections Concepts Inc. (CCI), hopes to have the facility up and running within 16 months.

Located in Grant County and founded in 1898, Wakita (pronounced Wok-ih-taw) was "featured in the 1996 blockbuster movie 'Twister' starring Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton in which [the town] was destroyed by an F4 tornado …," according to Wikipedia.

OneNewsNow, a news service of Donald Wildmon's American Family Association, recently reported that while there are a number of prisons with "Christian or faith-based units," no prisons have "an all-Christian staff." "All of the employees will be Christians," Robinson said. "We have an opinion letter from the [Equal Employment Opportunity Commission] that says we can do that." Christian guards and staffers would supervise volunteering inmates.

by Sabrina Shankman and Olga Pierce of ProPublica

Using results from a questionnaire we did with American Public Media's Public Insight Network , we're looking at how the proposed health care reforms will actually affect people facing common health care coverage situations. This is the second in a series (Part 1).

Fairfield Lighting and Design, Office Manager Barbara D'Agostino

Location: Fairfield, Conn. Employees: 12 (10 receiving health insurance) Sales: $2 million annually Payroll: $384,000 annually

Fairfield Lighting and Design co-owner Sandy Zemola provides insurance for 10 out of 12 employees, but the economic downturn has made it difficult to pay those bills.

Their story:

Fairfield Lighting and Design has been in business since 1972, but it is struggling to cope with tough economic times. It has 12 employees, whose average wage is about $20 an hour. Because of the recession, opportunities to work overtime have dwindled, and the regular hours of some employees have been cut.

The recession has also made it difficult to keep paying their health care costs: Fairfield offers health insurance to 10 of its employees, at a company cost of $550 per employee each month.

The costs to each employee are relatively low. They pay only 20 percent of the premium, or $110 per month. Their co-payments are $15 to see a doctor or $500 for a hospital, and medications cost them $15, $25, or $50, depending on the type of drug.

by Bill Berkowitz

The Rev. Sun Myung Moon-owned The Washington Times fired three top executives on Monday, November 7, "amid reports that the paper's top editor might also be leaving," The New York Times reported. However, despite billion dollar losses, a series of editorial shakeups over the past few years, the tough economic climate for newspapers in general, and ownership by the controversial Moon, it doesn't appear that the paper will cease operations anytime soon.

The dismissed included Thomas P. McDevitt, the president and publisher who was a former pastor at Washington's Unification Church, Keith Cooperrider, the chief financial officer, and Dong Moon Joo, the chairman. Jonathan Slevin, a former vice president of the paper, was named acting president and publisher, and the paper retained the business consulting firm, Tatum, according to the NYT.

(In October, The Washington Times' Julia Duin reported that Moon had "turned over day-to-day control of the church and financial empire he founded to a daughter and three sons." Hyun Jin "Preston" Moon, 40, is chairman of News World Communications, the parent company of The Washington Times, United Press International, and other media properties. In addition, he leads The Washington Times Foundation.)

The newspaper also reported that the paper's executive editor, John Solomon, who came over from The Washington Post in early 2008, is weighing whether to step down.

by Richard A. Stitt
The charge by all too many Republicans that Barack Obama is a Muslim justifies the hatred that spews from their racist, right-wing, paranoid mob of teabaggers and birthers. It feeds into the vitriol that keeps the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq going on precisely because they perceive these wars to be religious battles between the righteous, the Republicans, and those who disagree with them, the infidels.
We heard this proclamation early in the Iraq War when General William Boykin, dressed in full uniform, stood behind a church lectern and stated, "George Bush was not elected by a majority of the voters in the United States….he was appointed by God." In denouncing Islam, Boykin added, "My God is bigger than his God. I knew my God was a real God, and his was an idol."
Thus, their mission was stenciled in place for the justified torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay. They, the Islamic people, were inferior people whose god was an idol. Therefore, the God-appointed G. W. Bush became the Crusader-In-Chief with unlimited, divinely endowed authority to kill whomever he so desired. And kill he did.

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