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Rainbow flag and blue skiesAs is widely known, Russia now has a national law that bans the spreading of "information about non-traditional sexual behavior" to persons under 18. The law is based on legislation that was originally adopted in St. Petersburg under the sponsorship of its Mayor, one Vitaly Milonov. The law is based on the premises widely held by homophobes that a) homosexuality is an acquired characteristic, "chosen" by homosexuals, b) that a homosexual can therefore either "choose" to become heterosexual or be "cured" of the "sinful" trait (as it has been deemed by the Russian Orthodox Church, now a major Putin ally), and c) that homosexuals "recruit" non-homosexual children to become homosexual. The supposed basis of the law is thus that it deals only with such "recruitment."

Of course the real reason for the law is to enable the authorities to use the criminal sanction to combat the growing gay rights movement in Russia. This is not too many steps away from the criminalization of homosexuality itself. Further, it happens that homophobia appears to be widely spread among the Russian population and thus it becomes a good issue for politicians, from Milonov to the Russian President Vladimir Putin, to use for political purposes. The state-owned All Russian Center for Public Opinion found that 88% of respondents supported the new legislation, even though they had never seen such "homosexual propaganda." Indeed, even on a clear day it is difficult to see something that simply doesn't exist, except in the imaginations of homophobes.

Published in Guest Commentary


TaranisModelFINAL"Pakistani authorities have long denounced the strikes, out of concern that civilian deaths caused by drone strikes inflame the local population, bolster militant groups and violate Pakistan's sovereignty." – CNN, July 26

"Analysts said the administration was still grappling with the fact that drones remained the crucial instrument for going after terrorists in Yemen and Pakistan — yet speaking about them publicly could generate a backlash in those countries because of issues like civilian casualties." – New York Times, Aug. 2

Oh, the serious news! I read it with ever-fresh incredulity. It's written for gamers. It reduces us to gamers as it updates us on the latest bends and twists in the geopolitical scene. We're still playing War on Terror, the aim of which is to kill as many insurgents as possible; when they're all dead, we win (apparently). The trick is to avoid inflaming the locals, who then transition out of passive irrelevance and join the insurgency. They get inflamed when we kill civilians, such as their children.

This is the news: without moral depth or even curiosity. America is carrying out "targeted killings," over and over and over. The government has determined that doing so is necessary to keep us safe and that's all that matters. The mainstream media purvey the data to Spectator Nation, otherwise known as the American public, which goes on about its business. The disconnect seems almost total.

"But because the drone program remains classified, administration officials are loath to discuss it in any detail..."

Published in Guest Commentary
Friday, 02 August 2013 07:37

The Party of (Nutty) Ideas


StraitjacketFINALIt's not your imagination. The Republican Party really does seem to have taken leave of its senses.

The House GOP majority has decided that its final act before the summer recess will be to take its 40th vote to repeal all or part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare. This time, Republicans will vote to prohibit the Internal Revenue Service from playing any role in implementing the law, which would effectively gut the measure — in some parallel universe.

Like all the previous votes to kill, squelch, strangle, kneecap or otherwise incapacitate Obamacare, this one has zero chance of success in the reality that we inhabit. The inelegantly named Keep the IRS Off Your Health Care Act of 2013 could never make it through the Senate. If somehow it did, President Obama would whip out the veto pen faster than you can say "preexisting conditions."

Amazingly, this pointless exercise in the House makes more sense than what Republicans are doing in the Senate. There, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and his tea party-backed allies are threatening to shut down the whole government to strip Obamacare of all funding.

Published in Guest Commentary


Flag of FloridaFINALThat's it. Over. Finished. Done with Florida. Consider our long distance love affair officially at an end. This is not just about the recent verdict by 6 Sunshine Staters sanctioning the death of a young man for possessing Skittles out of season, or for inventing the whole "stand your ground" law in the first place, allowing all this to go down. A tipping point has been reached. No more verticality to be ha

And why just 6 members on the jury? Because Florida can't count? No. The Sixth Amendment guarantees the right to an impartial jury of the State, but neglects to set a fixed number of jurors. 12 was pretty much the norm until 1970, when the Supreme Court ruled in Williams vs. Florida, that 6 is large enough for deliberation. There you go. Florida. Again. Sense the pattern?

For years California was the go- to state for the freaky, bizarre and weird. "The granola state. Full of fruits and nuts. Anything loose rolls west and perches on the Pacific." But in the 21st Century, that roll has veered south like a migrating loon. Floriduh has locked up wacky tighter than a two- headed lizard on both ends at a roadside attraction

Remember a little thing called hanging chads? Butterfly ballots? An entire community voting for Pat Buchanan by mistake. For crum's sakes, who votes for Pat Buchanan by mistake? Austrian ex- pats with postage stamp mustaches, maybe. Retired New Yorkers- not so much.

Published in Guest Commentary
Thursday, 01 August 2013 06:58

"Landfill Harmonic": Reverence for Garbage


MusicFINAL"My life would be worthless without music," the girl said.

And the music came, up from the garbage, through her hands and heart and out to the world. My god, she was playing a violin made out of an old can. A boy was playing a cello crafted with more love and ingenuity than I can imagine, from a used oil drum, old wool and tossed-out beef-tenderizing tools.

The brief YouTube video, precursor to a documentary film to be released in January, is called "Landfill Harmonic"; it's about a children's orchestra in a Paraguayan village — a slum — called Cateura, which is built on a landfill. Reclaiming and reselling the trash that arrives every day is the residents' means of survival. Real violins are not to be found in such a place; they're worth more than a family's home.

"There was no money for real instruments when local musician Favio Chavez started his music school in the barrio," according to the movie's website, "so together they started to make instruments from trash — violins and cellos from oil drums, flutes from water pipes and spoons, guitars from packing crates."

Published in Guest Commentary


CommiesFINALThere's a new right-wing super group in Washington, D.C. and it aims to out-conservative any other conservative group currently operational. Groundswell is a newly organized conservative effort to combat progressives, the Obama administration, Congressional RINOs (Republicans in Name Only), and the evil machinations of Karl Rove. As David Corn recently reported in Mother Jones, its participants have "been meeting privately since early this year to concoct talking points, coordinate messaging, and hatch plans for 'a 30 front war seeking to fundamentally transform the nation.'"

What might separate Groundswell from other long-term like-minded entities is its apparent commitment to action. A key to the group's success will be how quickly, broadly and effectively it will be able to craft and dispenses an assortment of messages.

Inadequate messaging and an anemic social media presence were two of the major problem areas outlined in the Republican Party's post-presidential election "autopsy." To reckon with this, Groundswell has brought on board a number of reliably conservative journalists who apparently will help craft anti-Obama memes, themes, and talking points, and distribute them across an assortment of social media platforms.

Published in Guest Commentary


MelencoliaFINALThe pressing question one faces in trying to make sense of the collapsing framework of the American system is how to capture the full crisis afflicting its way of life. Given the signs everywhere of a society in free fall, is there a way to address our deepest fears and still leave a space for optimism and social activism?

Just this past week, economist Paul Krugman of the New York Times took a bold step forward: moving beyond his usual effort to tease out good news from mixed fiscal signals and suggest potential pathways to economic recovery and reform, Krugman acknowledged that deeper and less tractable forces are at work. Admitting the limitations of the social science approach, his essay candidly asserts regarding present political agendas that "We've gone beyond bad economic doctrine. We've even gone beyond selfishness and special interests."

While concerned that, in his words, "I don't fully understand" what such an inquiry would entail, Krugman insists that a viable explanation must account for the present "state of mind." He even resorts to the archaism of "the soul" as he turns to the deeper psychic processes driving American culture today.

Why have we up to now resisted this demanding examination of our "state of mind," our unacknowledged priorities and presuppositions? Aren't we warned off for fear of what we would discover: that the basic structures and incentives of American society are no longer life supporting? We suspect we are entangled day to day in behaviors that methodically drain the will to thrive out of us, and out of our young who are being habituated to carry on as depleted and lifeless spirits.

Published in Guest Commentary


AbortionTruckFINALOver the past few decades, there have been numerous attempts by both Religious Right leaders and Republican Party officials to woo Catholic officials and Catholic voters. These days, while the GOP is still paying attention to winning Catholic votes, the Religious Right is spending more time focusing on forging alliances with high-powered Catholic Church officials.

In a new essay, veteran journalist Frederick Clarkson maintains that, "Evangelicals and Roman Catholics have found common ground — and the motivation to set aside centuries of sectarian conflict — by focusing on these issues while claiming that their 'religious liberty' is about to be crushed. The movement is mobilizing its resources, forging new alliances, and girding itself to engage its enemies. It is also giving fair warning about its intentions. It may lose the long-term war, but whatever happens, one thing is certain: It won't go down without a fight."

This time, common ground is being forged through a little known document issued in November 2009, called The Manhattan Declaration: A Call to Conscience. The New York Times religion reporter Laurie Goodstein described it as "an effort to rejuvenate the political alliance of conservative Catholics and evangelicals that dominated the religious debate during the administration of President George W. Bush."

Published in Guest Commentary


SnowdengraffitiFINALAs whistle-blower Edward Snowden releases more and more sensitive National Security Agency (N.S.A.) files, the public is gaining unique insights into Washington's underhanded foreign policy in South America. It's no secret that both the Bush and Obama administrations have viewed Venezuela as a threat, but Snowden's disclosures suggest that Washington has a bead on Chile, too. Indeed, according to an article appearing in Brazilian newspaper O Globo, the N.S.A. spied on Chile by employing a data mining program called PRISM.

News of the spying program has led to something of a political firestorm in Chile, and recently Santiago condemned what it called "spying practices, whatever their origin, nature and objectives." Moreover, the government reiterated its commitment to international conventions and rejected "any violation of the privacy of communications networks and will continue to work with competent international bodies to establish clear rules of behavior of states, in order to guarantee the rights of citizens and the sovereignty of nations." In addition, Santiago has asked the U.S. to account for its reported espionage.

Given that Chile is very pro-corporate and has strong diplomatic ties to the U.S., recent news of covert American espionage comes as something of a surprise. As revealed in secret U.S. State Department cables, former president Michelle Bachelet sided with Washington behind closed doors. During a meeting with U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Arturo Valenzuela, Bachelet exclaimed that not all Latin American leaders were fire breathing populists or identical in political orientation. Fortunately, Bachelet remarked, there were many moderates in Bolivia and President Evo Morales was very different from Venezuela's Chávez.

Published in Guest Commentary


BorderFINALAs is well-known, the modern Republican Party was born in the 1850s when the then Whig Party, one of the two majors of the time, split over the matter of slavery. Rather, it split primarily over the matter of the degree of expansion of slavery into the Western Territories that should be permitted, and under what conditions that expansion would take place. The Slave Power, represented primarily by the Democratic Party, wanted unlimited expansion.

The Southern Whigs were willing to make some compromises on that question, but not too many. The Northern Whigs, for the most part, wanted to limit that expansion almost in its entirety. Abraham Lincoln certainly belonged to that wing of the Whigs: no interest or intention to interfere with the institution of slavery in the then-present slave states, which after all had been ensconced in the Constitution, but with every intention of preventing its further expansion westward. So the Northern Whigs were the main component of the new party.

However, there were other components as well. One was the "Temperance Movement," which campaigned to bring down the level of alcoholic beverage use if not ban its sale altogether. This strand of thinking has remained in the Republican Party down to this very day. The GOP was the principal force behind the adoption of the Prohibition Amendment to the Constitution which went into effect in 1920 and was repealed in 1933. There was a strong element of religious/ethnic prejudice underlying this movement from its beginnings: originally rural Protestants against Catholics: Irish (whiskey), Italians (wine), and Germans (both Catholic and Protestant, beer).

Published in Guest Commentary
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