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HomelessFoodJanuary 8 marked the 50th Anniversary of the beginning of President Lyndon B. Johnson's War on Poverty. What usually happens with anniversaries of this magnitude -- i.e. this past summer's 50th anniversary of the March on Washington -- is that it is recognized and discussed for just about a media minute before other issues reclaim the nation's attention.

Susan Greenbaum, a professor emerita of anthropology at the University of South Florida, pointed out that "Congress is marking the anniversary by ending unemployment benefits for 1.3 million people who have been out of work for more than a year and cutting food stamps for 47 million people who rely on them to eat," In a piece posted at the website of Al Jazeera America, Greenbaum's article, titled "What war on poverty?" noted that "At 15 percent, the poverty rate is the same today as it was in 1965, a year after the so-called war began."

Greenbaum recognized that from the outset the War on Poverty had many obstacles thrown in its way, not the least of which was Johnson's wrongheaded pursuit of the Vietnam War, and his successor President Richard Nixon's launch of a War on Drugs. Both stripped funding and urgency away from a War on Poverty.

However, as The New Republic's Alec Macgillis recently pointed out, poverty "is apparently having its moment, right up there with egg creams and stroller derbies."

Published in Guest Commentary


DustBowlI’ve been writing about the threat of global warming for the last eight years, and although the scientific evidence is well established and alarming—that we are warming the earth more than a full degree Fahrenheit by releasing carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere, it wasn’t until this winter that the threat of global warming became frighteningly real from a personal standpoint.  Here, on the central coast of California, we have had no rain to speak of for over a year, followed by record low amounts of rain in the last few years.  Not only is it the driest year on record—meteorologists are shocked to see that it’s the warmest and driest year in the history of the state.

But that won’t mean much unless you know what it’s like to live in a state threatened by severe droughts. True, the Northeastern regions are experiencing below freezing, Arctic snowstorms that have left residents without electricity, which also threatens life from the other extreme; however, as miserably dangerous as those icy conditions are—the sun will come out, the snow will eventually melt, and spring will flourish from the water.  Droughts, on the other hand, are far more pervasive and threatening in the long run because water is life, without it, life perishes

It’s physically and emotionally painful to see the fields and fresh water lakes reduced to scorched land.  The hillsides are usually a lush jade-green by this time of year, and early wildflowers brighten the pastures with daisies, poppies and violets.  Now they’re dark, parched and dusty like something out of the Dustbowl days. 

Published in Guest Commentary


FrancisPopeIf anyone wonders whether Pope Francis has irritated wealthy conservatives with his courage and idealism, the latest outburst from Kenneth Langone left little doubt. Sounding both aggressive and whiny, the billionaire investor warned that he and his overprivileged friends might withhold their millions from church and charity unless the pontiff stops preaching against the excesses and cruelty of unleashed capitalism.

According to Langone, such criticism from the Holy See could ultimately hurt the sensitive feelings of the rich so badly that they become "incapable of feeling compassion for the poor." He also said rich donors are already losing their enthusiasm for the restoration of St. Patrick's Cathedral in Manhattan — a very specific threat that he mentioned directly to Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York.

Langone is not only a leading fundraiser for church projects but a generous donor to hospitals, universities and cancer charities (often for programs and buildings named after him, in the style of today's self-promoting philanthropists). Among the super-rich, he has many friends and associates who may share his excitable temperament.

While his ultimatum seems senseless — would a person of true faith stiff the church and the poor? — it may well be sincere. And Langone spends freely to promote his political and economic views, in the company of the Koch brothers and other Republican plutocrats.

Published in Guest Commentary


DucksFrom the I-can-see-it-coming-down-the-pike department: Remember Obama's "Beer Date" with Professor Henry Louis Gates and Police Sergeant James Crowley? Well ... Wait for it ... don't be shocked if sometime in 2014, we see a made for TV "Duck Date."

There's been some quacking these days on the Internets that Phil Robertson, the recently suspended and subsequently unsuspended patriarch and star of A&E's "Duck Dynasty" is going to get together for some old-fashioned duck hunting, duck eating, or a duck and cover drill with the likes of Jesse Jackson and/or Al Sharpton.

Is someone blowing smoke, or one of the Robertson family's duck whistles?

By now, unless you've been hiding out in some duck blind in the swamps of the Lower East Side in New York City, you've heard of Phil RobertsonGate. In an interview with GQ magazine Robertson made anti-gay comments and painted a thoroughly unrealistic and un-conscious portrait of life for African Americans in the south during his youth.

Lloyd Marcus is taking the possibility of a "Duck Date" seriously. Marcus is a black conservative musician whose claim to fame is having written a Tea Party Anthem. Marcus took the anthem on the road in 2010, headlining the "Tea Party Express III: Just Vote Them Out" bus tour. Marcus must have enjoyed the bus-riding experiences, as he became a regular rider on other bus blasts including the Stop Obama Tour, a batch of Tea Party Express Tours and the Defeat Obama Renew America Tour.

Published in Guest Commentary


ChristmasTreeAnother winter solstice has come and gone, and yes, the annual celebration of the birth of Jesus has once again survived the alleged "War on Christmas." In fact, as of this year, this pretend war may finally be ending — and not because those "defending" Christmas won some big battle, but because more and more Americans are realizing there is no such war at all.

This is one of the key findings of a new poll about Christmas from Fairleigh Dickinson University. In that survey, only 28 percent of respondents said they believe liberals are waging a war on Christmas. That's a steep decline from last year, when a Public Policy Polling survey found 47 percent of Americans believing there is a war against the holiday.

All of this is good news — especially because these welcome public opinion trends are coinciding with a renewed effort by the divide-and-conquer crowd to continue manufacturing division. Indeed, as just one example, Fox News' Megyn Kelly tried to make the "War on Christmas" meme into a full-on race war by insisting that both Santa Claus and Jesus must be depicted as white. Apparently, Rupert Murdoch's cable television empire is still trying to turn the holiday into another excuse to promote conflict. Thankfully, polls show that the ruse isn't working.

Of course, using the word "holiday" in reference to anything around Jesus's birthday is apparently still seen as controversial in many quarters. Yes, in the same Fairleigh Dickinson poll, two thirds of respondents want "Merry Christmas" rather than the more universal "Happy Holidays" used as the season's greetings. Similarly, only about a quarter of Americans believe public schools should host non-religious events instead of explicitly religious Christmas festivities.

This, alas, is the residual bad news in the aftermath of the "War on Christmas," for it embodies a my-way-or-the-highway narcissism that runs counter to the nation's founding principles.

Published in Guest Commentary
Tuesday, 31 December 2013 15:52

William Rivers Pitt | Tonight, I Raise a Glass


LoveTonight, I raise a glass to many upon many, and to many more again.

I raise a glass to those who ran to the sound and the smoke and the screams and the blood on Boylston Street in Boston, to do what they could. I raise a glass to those who survived, and to those who did not. I raise a glass to those with a hole in their life now; I have wept for you and yours more times this year than I can say, and I hold you and yours close to my heart tonight.

I raise a glass to you who have gone to war, and have come home to feel the back of America's hand as you limp on your prosthetic or tremble in disorder. It has been wisely said that a nation which does not care for its veterans, for he and she who has borne the battle, and their widow, and their orphan, has no business making new veterans in new wars anywhere, ever. To you, I raise a glass.

I raise a glass to every man and woman who wants to work but cannot find employment or get assistance because a few people you will never meet have decided it is politically expedient to see you suffer. They will tell you this nation has no money, which is a filthy lie; we have money, lots and lots of money, which is sent to strange and greedy corners because what we lack is not money, but a proper set of priorities. I raise a glass to you, and wish you a better year than the one you have endured.

I raise a glass to the healers, the helpers, the activists arrested trying to defend the right to vote, the right not to be poisoned by a pipeline or a fracking field, the right not to be harassed by police, the right to smoke a joint and make cancer just a bit less of a burden. I raise a glass to you who Occupies, who dares, who risks, who stands for us all.

Published in Editorials


Magnifying-glassIf you're the kind of person reading this column over the holidays, then you're probably the kind of person who worries about the future of American journalism. And you very likely know all too well that the dwindling fortunes of the newspaper industry, the devolution of television news and the rise of Internet news sites have raised big questions about how we will continue to produce quality reporting — especially investigative reporting that takes on the social issues too often neglected in our media.

Exactly how to preserve and promote investigative journalism in a changing world is a complicated problem that has preoccupied publishers, reporters, readers and concerned citizens for years now. But while the news industry financially sorts itself out, solutions are under construction in the nonprofit sector, where advertising, click rates and infotainment don't overwhelm journalistic values.

This is why, during the last few days of 2013, I ask you to consider supporting an important institution that ensures the kind of journalism we value most can thrive: The Investigative Fund. (Here I should disclose that in addition to my other work, I have served proudly at The Fund for several years as editor-at-large.)

With donations from individuals and foundations, the independent and nonprofit Investigative Fund supports the craft of investigative reporting across a broad swath of American media, from magazines like The Nation, The Washington Monthly, Harper's, Mother Jones, The New Republic, Glamour, Elle, GQ, Time and The New York Review of Books, to major broadcast and Web outlets, such as NPR's Marketplace, Slate, The Huffington Post, PBS and Fusion TV to name only a few.

Over the past year, its grants have again produced stunning stories — including an undercover probe of the sickening conditions suffered by children who work in this country's tobacco fields. Yes, there are kids too young to buy cigarettes who are hired to harvest the killer crop for a pittance — and get poisoned by the nicotine leaching from its leaves under the broiling sun.

Published in Guest Commentary


GayRallyCAWhile Pope Francis is getting most of the media attention related to all things Catholic, a Catholic lay organization that has been around for more than 130 years is starting to be the object of some well-deserved scrutiny. The Knights of Columbus is the largest Catholic lay organization in the world. It is well known for its charitable work. There's a good chance that somewhere in America on just about any weekend, the Knights of Columbus is holding an event to raise money to help the poor, feed the hungry, provide disaster relief, and support families in need. Its bake sales and pancake suppers are events that many communities eagerly look forward to and support wholeheartedly. Unbeknownst to many cookie or pancake enthusiasts, however, is the reality that a portion of the money – read that, millions of dollars -- raised by the Knights is being poured into anti-abortion and anti-same-sex marriage campaigns.

That is a side of the Knight of Columbus that is rarely reported on. According to a new report by Catholics for Choice, "The order has pushed a conservative agenda ranging from the highly specific—a complaint against highschoolers reading Catcher in the Rye—to systemic opposition to reproductive choice and marriage equality through sizable donations to programs run by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and other conservative organizations."

The Knights of Columbus: Crusaders for Discrimination pointed out that the organization "uses its manpower and money to push for legislation that does not match the beliefs of many Catholics or the
 will of the electorate. The Knights continue to wage a decades-long battle against abortion legislation, but what stands out now is the scale of its political expenditures—more than $10 million since 2004—and this does not include funds from the thousands of local fraternity councils and assemblies. The Knights' funding of anti-same-sex marriage campaigns goes towards a cause that is rejected by most Catholics—polling data reflects a stronger support for same-sex marriage among Catholics than any other Christian faith group, or the American population as a whole."

Published in Guest Commentary


FearChildBlue-ribbon panels are often toothless and useless. But the eminences appointed by President Obama to review the out-of-control National Security Agency have produced a surprisingly tough report filled with good recommendations -- steps that a president who speaks so eloquently of civil liberties should have taken long ago.

But before even releasing the 308-page report by his Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies, Obama rejected one of the proposed reforms: ending the practice of having one person head both the NSA and the Pentagon's Cyber Command. So much for hopes that the line between military operations and intelligence programs, deliberately blurred after the 9/11 attacks, might be returned to reasonable sharpness.

The headline recommendation from the five-member review group is that the NSA stop compiling a comprehensive record of all our phone calls. This program of blanket domestic surveillance, revealed by whistleblower Edward Snowden, is the most egregious and controversial of the spy agency's programs that have thus far come to light.

In plain language, the panel lays out just what the NSA has been doing: obtaining secret court orders compelling phone service providers to "turn over to the government on an ongoing basis call records for every telephone call made in, to, or from the United States through their respective systems."

That is a jaw-dropping sentence. No less stunning, however, is the panel's assessment of the program's worth as a tool to fight terrorism: from all available evidence, zero.

Published in Guest Commentary
Thursday, 19 December 2013 07:03

Childhood Sexual Abuse: The Code of Shame


Silence"I'm dying to know what it's like to love somebody — to know what it feels like to be wanted." — Art Corneau

So we need a documentary to break the Code of Shame. It's called A Hard Name and came out in 2009; it ran on Canadian public television. (The film is online but, unfortunately, can't be viewed in the U.S. "due to rights restrictions.") Director Alan Zweig found seven ex-prisoners — five men, two women — and just let them speak. The result was the opening of a raw wound: the public exposure of something so deeply hidden, so wrapped in cynical taboo, I could barely listen without screaming: Why?

I hadn't been aware of the film until Dave Atkins of Prison Alpha Ministry in Ottawa wrote to me about it, in response to my recent column about the Hollow Water First Nation Reserve, in Manitoba, where in the 1980s residents began addressing the hidden matter of childhood sexual abuse that was shattering their tiny community. They began talking about it publicly — they had no choice. The secret stain of it was claiming the lives of their children, who were disappearing into the void of alcoholism and drug abuse.

Burma Bushie, one of the Hollow Water residents, called it "the sacredness of a child teaching you." Some of the residents began holding peace circles and speaking publicly about the secrets of their community; the result was the spread of what became known as the restorative justice movement, in the U.S., Europe and throughout the world.

Published in Guest Commentary
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