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RefFINAL Diogenes was a fifth century BC Greek philosopher, and a rather controversial one at that. Also known as Diogenes the Cynic, it is said that he took a vow of poverty and often lived in a barrel. He was a social critic long before social critics became cool. Everything we know about Diogenes is through anecdote since none of his writings have survived the centuries. He is probably best known for a stunt: carrying a lamp during the day and claiming to be searching for an honest man. Which brings me, some 2400 years later, to strapping on a headlamp and searching for an honest rendering of the IRS "Scandal" that has been monopolizing the news over the past ten days or so.

With horse racing's Triple Crown no longer up for grabs -- Oxbow defeated Kentucky Derby winner Orb and seven other horses in the Preakness Stakes -- the mainstream media and conservative media and advocacy groups are in search of a whole different kind of Trifecta.

In the spirit of not letting facts get in the way of a good story, the mainstream and conservative media have glommed onto the IRS "Scandal," trying to link it with the Benghazi screw up (but no conspiracy), and the Justice Department's chilling efforts to spy on journalists, and are reveling in calling it Obama's Scandal Trifecta.

While the crux of the scandal is seen as the IRS being overzealous when looking into Tea Party and other conservative groups applying for 501(c)(4) status, the real scandal might be how ill-equipped the IRS has been to actually ferret out groups that are have been doing political work, not social welfare work as required by the IRS to receive 501(c)(4) status.

Published in Guest Commentary


TeaPartyFINALDarrell Issa appears to be following his stated purpose of opening an investigation a week into sensitive White House matters. At this point it is difficult to determine just what it is he and others are after, except of course pursuing the obvious goal of discrediting the president and the administration. Examining the various talking points, however, takes some doing because they are so often enmeshed in arcane partisan positions. They can nevertheless create stumbling blocks to try the patience of even the most temperate leader.

But to be perfectly frank, Conservatives are far more adept at developing story lines than the other side of the aisle. No matter how they wrap their talking points the result is always the same  - - a partisan blood bath. As the IRS story has unfolded, it has provided chairman Issa with numerous opportunities to exploit right-wing ideology in the guise of "getting to the bottom" of some real or imagined transgression on the part of the administration. It is perhaps a weakness of this president and his team that they failed to pursue the Bush/Chaney stumbles with the intensity that was warranted. And we see now the folly of trying to "play nice" with political opponents for whom ethics and morality have lost all meaning, except as they play out in a destructive form of gamesmanship. Only the most perverse mental gyrations could suggest a comparison between the current "scandals" and Watergate. But we the people are being played for suckers again - - forced to draw conclusions from false premises and partisan rhetoric.

It should be obvious by now that, while it may not be proper to target any group for special attention when they apply for tax-free status, it is just as clear that Tea Party members do not exist simply to educate and provide guidance on constitutional matters. They are in fact as partisan as can be, and the fact that requests for tax-free status among Tea Party faithful increased by an inordinate amount after the recent presidential election was an indication of how the political winds were blowing.  It is probably the case that requests for tax-free status from whatever source should be scrutinized with extreme care. There can be no reason for any group that holds views and supports candidates other taxpayers do not to receive special consideration from the IRS.

Published in Guest Commentary


SEALFINALNow that Venezuela’s larger than life Hugo Chávez has vanished from the political landscape, what does the future hold for South America?  Though Venezuela is only a medium-sized country, Chávez was able to skillfully realign geopolitical faultlines through shrewd use of oil largesse and petro populism.  It is unlikely, though, that uncharismatic Chávez successor Nicolás Maduro, who only won his country’s recent presidential election by the slightest of margins, will be as successful as his protégé in maintaining Venezuela’s carefully crafted system of regional alliances.


As Venezuela fades, Brazil will naturally assume a greater leadership role, thus paving the path for a somewhat unusual three-way contest between the two South American countries and the United States.  Just what form, precisely, is such competition likely to take and where are new geopolitical rivalries going to be most acutely felt?  For answers, look to Brazil “buffer state” Uruguay, a country rife with diplomatic intrigue.



Venezuela: Last Hurrah in Southern Cone?


Feeling threatened and diminished by recent political reversals, Maduro is doing his utmost to shore up alliances in the Southern Cone.  Shortly after his election, the Venezuelan traveled to Uruguay, a small nation in the region sandwiched between Argentina and Brazil.  Historically, Chávez enjoyed warm ties to Montevideo where former Tupamaro guerrillas hold sway within the leftist Broad Front or Frente Amplio.  


In 2005, Uruguay turned to Chávez in an effort to secure vital energy resources from Venezuela.  The populist leader from Caracas was all too willing to oblige, sending oil to Uruguay on preferential terms in exchange for meat and milk.  The ailing Chávez also apparently hoped that Caracas and Montevideo might consolidate military ties: last year, over 200 Venezuelan military personnel traveled to Uruguay to participate in joint exercises.


Published in Guest Commentary


KeystoneKopsFINALLet’s all work together to stop terrorism!

 The Palm Beach County, Fla. Sheriff’s Office has a new video out urging local citizens to call them if something smells bad or seems a little weird, like, oh, a tourist is taking a picture of a bridge but there’s no one in the foreground — no spouse, no grinning kids, just . . . a bridge.

 If it seems suspicious, call — because, I guess, if everyone is vigilant (“Hello, I want to report two young men carrying backpacks”) and we work with the authorities, America will be safe as pie in no time.

 This program is called Community Partners Against Terrorism, though I’m tempted to call it know-nothing security — the kind based on stereotypes, unexamined fears, self-righteousness, external projections and an us-vs.-them social organization. Terrorists are bad people with inscrutable motives. All we need to know is that they’re out to get us. This is the message of the terrorism “experts,” who leverage their authority from their ability to keep us scared and vigilant.

 Security is a real need, of course, but know-nothing security flaunts that need, often enough both ignoring and aggravating the real dangers we face while, at the same time, inflicting massive inconvenience on people innocently caught in its web, i.e., those on the wrong side of our society’s color and ethnicity divide.

 For instance, when I read about the CPAT initiative, I thought about an incident 11 years ago that garnered its 15 minutes of national attention and neatly encapsulated all the problems with know-nothing security.

Published in Guest Commentary
Wednesday, 15 May 2013 07:47

The Batty Battalion


CrazyFINALYou do realize that Washington DC is not the real world, don’t you? It’s a state of mind. An altered state of mind. Where you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. Slammed when you stand and rammed when you run. Berated if you lie and lambasted for the truth. Where even the slightest of breeze can carry the pollen of disaster. And the pack on top knows the best way to avoid getting a face full of disaster pollen is to spread the dried residue of other exquisite catastrophes first. Ream or be reamed.
And as far as DC stories go, a lack of misfortunes is no good reason not to speak of them. So now the Washington punditry has banded together to float the notion that President Obama’s second term agenda has stalled. That he’s such a lame duck the presidential limousine should be sporting a blue placard hanging from the rear view mirror. Best thing to do is to burrow deep and lie low. Give up and crawl into the overhead compartment of Air Force One and eat marzipan in the dark.
Now. Already. 4 months in, with 44 left to go. Holey moley, guys. You left the movie before the opening credits rolled. More stuff happens after the overture, you know. Have you ever made it through an entire entrée? Would hate to be your date at a baseball game; you sound like the kind of people who leave between the top and bottom halves of the second inning. Must be Dodger fans.
It takes a special kind of degenerative myopia to craft these precocious accusations. First off, you need to be blind as an Oedipal bat to ignore the exhaustingly recalcitrant House Majority, including leader John Boehner, who would rather be seen washing skid mark undies in a Congressional hallway water fountain, than work with the President.
Published in Guest Commentary


OilFINALUpdate to Big Oil May Destroy World's Largest Rain Forest and Accelerate Global Warming :


An unedited version of Ann Curry’s excellent report on Ecuador’s plans to plunder the last pristine rainforest on earth for petrodollars aired on NBC Rock Center.  Unlike the edited version for NBC Nightly News, it includes astonishing footage of this beautiful Eden, and the devastating impact from oil pillaging.


(Q: Is it a strange coincidence that NBC executives axed Rock Center after this story aired? Big Oil pays Big Bucks for positive PR ads, including their demand to censor reports on the growing threat of global warming.)


The full report gives a visual tour of how oil drilling reduced the Amazon forest to a barren wasteland, marred by black gooey pools of toxic oil.  It’s shocking to see how anyone could be evil enough to destroy such a sacred rainforest teeming with life; more mammal, bird, amphibian and plant species than any other spot on earth: parrots, monkeys, butterflies, panthers, and the gorgeous tapestries of ancient trees pillaged by oil drilling and deforestation over the last four decades. 


The Amazon flourished for centuries but in our lifetime, a continent of forests has been effaced under the satanic wheel of insatiable greed.


Read Robert Kennedy’s How Big Oil Uses the Republican Party to Subvert American Democracy.  In the absence of wise and moral leadership, the oil oligarchs and their government collaborators have no vital relationship with the natural world or spiritual world of nature. They never see what they destroy. They think nothing of clear-cutting our last beautiful forests for a private jet or $30 million dollar yachts, regardless of global warming or the hell they’re creating for our children.

Published in Guest Commentary


CoverFINALRace to Incarcerate, Marc Mauer's 1999 authoritative book on America's criminal justice system, has been reimagined as a work of graphic non-fiction. In Race to Incarcerate: A Graphic Retelling, painter, comic book artist, and illustrator Sabrina Jones transforms Mauer's history of the criminal justice system into a powerful true crime story -- accessible to young readers and people of all ages.

Mauer is the executive director of The Sentencing Project in Washington D.C., and Jones is the author and graphic artist of Isadora Duncan: A Graphic Biography and a number of politically focused comics.

"If current trends continue, one of every three black males and one of every six Latino males born today can expect to find themselves at some point behind bars," according to a press release issued by the New Press announcing the publication of Race to Incarcerate: A Graphic Retelling.

America's criminal justice system hasn't always been completely oriented to a "lock 'em up and throw away the key" approach. In fact, despite periodic surges of criminal activity, the number of prisoners in the United States remained relatively stable through most of the 20th century. In the 1970s, however, things began to change: In 1972, there were 300,000 prisoners behind bars in the country; by 2010, that number had skyrocketed to 2.3 million. At 730 prisoners for every 100,000 citizens, the U.S. rate of incarceration is the highest in the world, outstripping Russia, Iran, China, Brazil, Japan, Britain, France, and Germany. Young black and Latino men have been disproportionally the target of this rush to incarcerate.

Published in Guest Commentary


FeedingFINALYou’re strapped to a metal table, unable to move. They stick a two-foot plastic tube up your nose, then down the back of your throat into your stomach. They squirt in the liquid protein. You gag, bleed, vomit. It’s unbearably painful.

The practice of involuntary force-feeding is condemned by most medical organizations, including the AMA. It’s banned by most governments. It’s torture.

When I read about the process by which authorities are breaking the hunger strike at the Guantanamo Bay detention center — a process that’s also used regularly in U.S. federal prisons, by the way — I was struck by the utter efficiency of it. The “food” is transmitted directly from bureaucracy to digestive system, bypassing the consciousness of the individual hunger striker. The human being inhabiting this body is completely irrelevant; he only dies when we say so.

Just think about how powerful we are. Just think about how secure we are.

In the overall context of the war on terror and the harm it has unleashed on the world, the Guantanamo hunger strike, involving 100 of the 166 detainees still being held at the facility — about two dozen of whom are now being force-fed — is a fairly small matter, perhaps. But the symbolic significance of it is beyond description, not only because of the hatred it foments against the United States and the combatants it recruits, but also because of the obvious common decency and common sense it flaunts.

Could anything be plainer? The ruling consensus of the United States is desperate for an enemy, any enemy. There is not the least bit of self-reflection involved.

Published in Guest Commentary
Tuesday, 07 May 2013 10:43

A Gun in Every Christmas Stocking


ChristmasStockingsFINALOne explanation for the country’s failure to accomplish reasonable, fair-minded goals may be the inability of our leaders to negotiate in good faith about national priorities. Or, as Congressman Elijah Cummings of Maryland put it, “It’s about politics, not people.” Politicians tend to talk around issues and rarely address them head on. What may seem a simple matter by regular folks is described in the media and by pundits as complicated and fraught with mysterious gray areas that require endless explanatory interludes as opposed to the plain, unvarnished truth.  Often lengthy comments leave a listener as uninformed as ever, except as a tutorial in how politics shapes our lives.

It is fascinating in a way to hear some of the wildly improbable reasons for legislators’ "No" votes on expanded-background gun checks and amazing to see how little it takes to elicit cheers and produce standing ovations at events such as the NRA convention this past week. "We will never give up, never give in," blared Ted Cruz, Joe McCarthy’s love child. Cruz had vowed to filibuster any attempt to tinker with the Second Amendment, or as those on the right characterize the issue, endanger our “freedom” and destroy our God-given right to own firearms. When exactly did gun ownership become synonymous with freedom in any case? Kelly Ayotte, for example, tried to make the case that her negative vote was out of a fear that passage of any new gun regulations could lead to a national gun registry, although that particular outcome is explicitly forbidden in proposed legislation.

 Ayotte exemplifies the danger of thinking that soft-spoken, reasonable-sounding people are what they seem to be. The shouters and desk-pounders may appeal to some voters, but the most dangerous members of the Congress and our national parties are the stealthy back-benchers, newly arrived, who gum up the works of a well-regulated political process and roil the partisan brew. And of course, it doesn’t hurt to be on the right side of the NRA no matter how hyper that organization‘s arguments. Ayotte’s audience at her recent town halls, whatever their affiliation, couldn’t understand why there would be any objection to more rigorous background checks.

Published in Guest Commentary


rainforestFINALPlease watch this video clip that aired on NBC Nightly News about the plans to obliterate 8 million acres of Ecuador’s pristine Rainforest for oil in exchange for the debt Ecuador owes from loans: Tribes in Ecuador will fight Rainforest auction, NBC’s Ann Curry reports.


The Wauroni tribes, who live in the forests of Ecuador, are getting ready to challenge the Ecuadorian government’s plan to sell as much as 8 million acres of Rainforest for oil drilling, saying they are prepared to fight to the death (with pea-shooters) to protect the land.


If I were Bill Gates, Larry Ellison, Michael Bloomberg, Warren Buffet, George Soros…, I would implore my wealthy friends to do the most monumental rescue plan of their lifetimes: End this Faustian bargain by paying Ecuador’s debt to China, and whatever else they owe, (estimated $5-7 billion dollars) and save the last pristine Rainforest for the preservation of our existence.  They could probably write it off as a charitable contribution.


Naïve? Perhaps, but does anyone else have a better idea?  The clock is ticking.  It’s a lot of money, granted, but to put this in perspective, the U.S. government spends that much a month on military operations.  Money is the answer.  And so asking billionaires to ban together to save Ecuador’s Rainforest from oil exploration and pollution is worth a shot.  It’s worth contacting the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the George Soros Foundation to protect rare medicinal plants for incurable illnesses unique to Ecuador’s Rainforest, and the Clinton Foundation Climate Change the former President devotes 70 percent of his lecture time on solutions to global warming, Michael Bloomberg has acknowledged toxic water problems from gas drilling (fracking).  The Google team has invested heavily in green technologies—the list goes on.  There are affluent members of our society that are responsible citizens; believe it or not, those two assertions are not always mutually exclusive—unless you’re talking about insanely greedy thugs such as the Koch brothers.


Published in Guest Commentary
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