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EUGENE ROBINSON ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaNeedle(Photo: Biggishben)No one who supports the death penalty should have the slightest problem with the way Clayton Lockett died.

Lockett, a convicted murderer, spent 43 minutes in apparent agony Tuesday night as the state of Oklahoma tried to execute him by injecting an untested cocktail of drugs. Instead of quickly losing consciousness, he writhed in obvious distress and attempted to speak. Witnesses described what they saw as horrific.

Prison authorities halted the procedure -- they were going to revive Lockett so they could kill him at a later date, presumably in a more aesthetically pleasing manner -- but the condemned man suffered a heart attack and died.

The state postponed a second execution that had been scheduled for the same night, but I wonder why. We fool ourselves if we think there is a "humane" way to way to kill someone. Sure, the second inmate, Charles Warner, probably would have suffered an equally agonizing death. But isn't this the whole point?

When I read about the crimes Lockett committed, I wish I could support capital punishment. When I read about what Warner did, I want to strangle him with my own hands. But revenge is not the same thing as justice, and karmic retribution is not a power I trust government to exercise. The death penalty has no place in a civilized society.

Published in Guest Commentary

JOE CONASON ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaThomPiketty(Photo: Sue Gardner)It has been a long, long time since Americans accepted the advice of a French intellectual about anything important, let alone the future of democracy and the economy. But the furor over Thomas Piketty's stunning best-seller, "Capital in the 21st Century" — and especially the outraged reaction from the Republican right — suggests that this fresh import from la belle France has struck an exposed nerve.

What Piketty proves, with his massive data set and complex analytical tools, is something that many of us — including Pope Francis — have understood both intuitively and intellectually: namely, that human society, both here and globally, has long been grossly inequitable and is steadily becoming more so, to our moral detriment.

What Piketty strongly suggests is that the structures of capitalism not only regenerate worsening inequality, but now drive us toward a system of economic peonage and political autocracy.

The underlying equation Piketty derives is simple enough: r>g, meaning that the return on capital (property, stock and other forms of ownership) is consistently higher than economic growth. How much higher? Since the early 1800s, financiers and land-owners have enjoyed returns of roughly five percent annually, while economic growth benefiting everyone has lagged, averaging closer to one or two percent. This formula has held fairly steady across time and space. While other respectable economists may dispute his methodology and even his conclusions, they cannot dismiss his conclusions.

Published in Guest Commentary

EUGENE ROBINSON ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaSupremeCourt(Photo: Pine)Affirmative action has opened doors for disadvantaged minorities and made this a fairer, more equal society. The Supreme Court under Chief Justice John Roberts apparently wants no more of that.

This week's big ruling -- upholding a Michigan state constitutional amendment that bans public universities from considering race in admissions -- claims to leave affirmative action alive, if on life support. But the court's opinion, ignoring precedent and denying reality, can only be read as an invitation for other states to follow suit.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor's thundering dissent should be required reading. She sees what the court is doing and isn't afraid to call out her colleagues on the disingenuous claim that the ruling in Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action is limited in scope. It has implications that go beyond college admissions to other areas, such as voting rights, where majorities seek to trample minority rights.

By "rights," I mean not affirmative action but the principle, upheld repeatedly by the court, that the political process should be a level playing field. In Michigan, with the high court's blessing, anyone who wants to advocate for affirmative action is at a disadvantage. Instead of banning the policy outright -- which would at least be honest -- the court paints it with a bull's-eye and strips it of defenses.

Published in Guest Commentary

ERIC ZUESSE FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaWeThePeople(Photo: Bluszczokrzew)The original intent of the U.S. Constitution can most accurately be determined upon the basis of the debates that occurred at the Constitutional Convention that (after preliminaries during the Convention's opening days of 25-28 May 1787) started on 29 May 1787, and ended nearly four months later, on September 17th of 1787. James Madison transcribed those epoch-making, nation-forming, debates.

These debates began with some members of the Convention, especially Misters Randolph of Virginia, Gerry of Massachusetts, Butler of South Carolina, and Dickenson of Delaware, simply assuming that the existing Articles of Confederation would be improved, not replaced; i.e., that no new and single nation of the United States of America would result from their collective deliberations.

The American Revolutionary war of 1775-83 was at that time a mere four years past, and this Convention had been called together for the purpose of replacing the failed existing Articles of Confederation, by some Constitution that would improve upon that existing governing document.

On May 29th, Mr. Randolph started these historic debates, when he listed what he viewed to be the defects in the existing document, and when he then placed before the Convention his "Virginia Plan," to rectify those perceived deficiencies. Randolph said, "Our chief danger arises from the democratic parts of our [existing state] constitutions." He proposed that what was needed "is yet a stronger barrier against democracy, but they [those existing state models for a constitution] all seem insufficient." He proposed "republican Principles," a key one of which was that "the Rights of Suffrage [the right to vote] shall be ascertained by the Quantum of Property or Number of Souls"; in other words, by considering each "soul," while also granting a higher say to the wealthy than to the poor. He proposed a House "elected by the People," and called "this the democratick Branch"; and he also proposed a Senate or "2d. Branch to be elected out of the first — to continue for a certain Length of Time, etc. To be elected by Electors appointed for that Purpose," instead of "by the People."

Published in Guest Commentary

ROBERT C. KOEHLER FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaPocketWatch(Photo: Alexander T. Carroll)"We cannot afford to lose another decade."

My God. There's more darkness in this quote than the New York Times intended. I winced when I read these words of Ottmar Edenhofer, co-chairman of the committee that wrote the latest United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change IPCC report, which the Times quoted in a recent editorial headlined "Running Out of Time."

Suddenly, ten years felt vital, alive with possibility. Edenhofer wasn't referring to some abstract decade embedded in the history of the human race, or the history of the planet, but ten years gouged out of our own lifetimes and certainly out of our children's lifetimes. We can't afford to lose . . . ten years of breath and heartbeat.

What Edenhofer meant, of course, was that we can't afford to squander another decade politically, with the governments of the nations that comprise Planet Earth failing to come up with an effective treaty to control greenhouse gas emissions, deforestation and other reckless excesses of industrial-growth capitalism, a.k.a., addiction to endless profit. We've got, you know, a fifteen-year window here to act with collective sanity. That's all the time we have left, according to current scientific consensus, to limit planetary warming to 2 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial era.

"Beyond that increase, the world could face truly alarming consequences." So the Times informs us, then, I fear, yawns, shrugs. Oh yeah, these international conferences are "exercises in futility" that so far have produced just one treaty, the Kyoto Protocol, which didn't accomplish much, which the U.S. Senate never ratified, etc. And greenhouse gas emissions keep escalating. Alas, people just don't care about this as much as they used to, the paper concludes, washing its hands of the matter. This is the limit of official concern.

Published in Guest Commentary

EUGENE ROBINSON ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaGabriel2(Photo: Jose Lara)Years before I met him, Gabriel Garcia Marquez changed my life.

"One Hundred Years of Solitude" gave me a new way of looking at the world. The label "magical realism" does not begin to capture the poetry of Garcia Marquez's imagination or the evocative power of his prose. Reading his masterpiece was like stepping through a portal into a Technicolor reality where the streets are paved with metaphor and the air is fragrant with dreams.

Garcia Marquez, who died Thursday at 87, was my introduction to modern Latin American literature. I wanted more.

When I got a Nieman fellowship at Harvard -- a year off to study anything I wanted -- the first thing I did was sign up for a literature course taught by the great Mexican novelist Carlos Fuentes. I hoped someday to read my favorite authors in their native tongue, so I took a Spanish-language course. The novels I was reading referred to unfamiliar events, so I enrolled in a Latin American history course.

Midway through the academic year, I learned that The Washington Post's South America bureau was coming open. I had prepared myself for the job -- accidentally -- and so instead of returning to Washington in the summer of 1988, I moved with my family to Buenos Aires.

In four years of crisscrossing the continent, I felt as if Garcia Marquez were my constant companion. The name of the fictional town where "One Hundred Years of Solitude" is set -- Macondo -- became shorthand for the bizarre, magical-realist things that happened all the time in Latin America but seemingly nowhere else.

Published in Guest Commentary
Tuesday, 22 April 2014 06:58

Put the Move in the Movement

REV. BILLY TALEN FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaExtinction(Photo: Dirk van der Made)Earth scientists are trying to get our attention. Well, that's an understatement – they are apoplectic, waving their arms in the windows of the super mall that our culture has become. Yes, we don't notice them because we're shopping, with iPhones glowing in our faces and white wires in our ears.

The King of the Slow Motion Shoppers is Barack Obama. He's doing the tai chi of total hesitation. He puts off the pipeline. He puts it off until after the apocalypse. In so doing, he encourages all citizens to enter the gradualism of shopping where basic change, structural way-of-life change, is impossible. Shoppers are morphed into Obama-like ditherers, lost in a cloud of alternatives, the product, the packaging, competing prices, warranties, credit, resale value, prestige value, sex life value, status value. Shopping forces upon us its false complexity.

In the last year study after study has been published by a world of natural scientists. The IPCC report from the United Nations is the most famous, but there are many others. These groups of conservation biologists, paleontologists, climatologists, – across the spectrum of disciplines within the natural sciences, add up to an unprecedented gathering of scientists around a single issue, which you might call "Life on Earth."

Each of these learned researchers is reporting the mass death on the island of life that they are studying. Each professor's specialty is dying before her eyes. Thousands of scientists are shouting to us from their coral reefs, wetlands, glaciers, cloud forests and mountain streams, from every conceivable eco-system. They all conclude their reports with the same thundering pronouncements, like a secularized Book of Revelation. "Super storms that will overwhelm economies..." "Migrations from the coastal cities and global south..." "Methane levels like the Permia Extinction of 250 million years ago..."

Published in Guest Commentary

BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaBloodMoon(Photo: Roadcrusher)Harold Camping, the Oakland, California-based preacher who wrongly prophesized the coming of the End Times is now gone, but there's no shortage of End Timers out there in America. Anne Lotz Graham, the daughter of the Rev. Billy Graham, recently wrote a column claiming that the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 could be a sign of the coming of The Rapture; a reboot of the Left Behind movie, based on Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins' mega-best-selling Left Behind series of apocalyptic novels, is due in theaters in early October; and now, Pastor John Hagee, the master of his multi-million-dollar domain in San Antonio, Texas, is peddling an End Times book directly linked to "blood moon" eclipses.

Before your head explodes at the thought of yet another story about an End Times-inflamed preacher, consider this. Not only does Pastor Hagee preside over the mega-church, Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, but he also heads a multi-million-dollar medias empire. Not only is he a powerful political player within the Republican Party, but he has established significant political connections in Israel. The faithful have lapped up many of the more than 30 books he has written, including: "Earth's Final Moments," "From Daniel to Doomsday: The Countdown Has Begun," "Can America Survive?: 10 Prophetic Signs That We Are The Terminal Generation" and "Jerusalem Countdown," which was made into a not-very-well-received movie. I think you get the general themes of Hagee's oeuvre!

Perhaps his most significant accomplishment, however, came in 2006, when Hagee founded what is now the largest pro-Israel religious-based lobbying group in the world, the 1.3 million member Christians United for Israel (CUFI).

Published in Guest Commentary
Thursday, 17 April 2014 07:08

OK, Humanity, It's Time to Grow Up

ROBERT C. KOEHLER FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaEvolutionEarth(Photo: NASA)OK, mankind, it's time to grow up, and I see a good way to start: Change the wording of Genesis 1:26.

Change one word.

Last week, I quoted that Bible verse in a column about the increasing velocity of climate change: "And God said . . . let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air," etc. Dominion! Nature belongs to us, to suck dry and toss away. And thus we moved out of the circle of life and became its conquerors, an attitude at the core of the Agricultural Revolution and the rise of civilization. The momentum of this attitude is still driving us. We don't know how to stop, even though most people now grasp that we're wrecking the environmental commons that sustains life.

Addressing the verse and the idea of "dominion," Phil Miller, a minister, wrote: "Some of us understand that word to mean 'stewardship' or 'responsibility.'"

And David Cameron wrote: "One has to wonder what would have ensued had the translation said 'stewardship' rather than 'dominion'? Almost incomprehensible that our future and the future of so many and so much may have hinged on that one word."

If in one of the most defining religious-political texts of the human species we'd been charged with stewardship of the natural world, not some sort of adolescent, consequence-free control over it, what sort of spiritual understanding would have evolved over the millennia? What sort of technology? What would our civilizations look like if we believed in the depths of our beings that they were not distinct from but part of nature? What if, instead of organizing ourselves around the concept that we have enemies to subdue — "survival of the fittest" — we explored the complexity of our connectedness to one another and the whole of creation, even when the connections were barely visible?

Published in Guest Commentary

EUGENE ROBINSON ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaACA(Photo: Pete Souza)It's all over but the shouting: Obamacare is working.

All the naysaying in the world can't drown out mounting evidence that the Affordable Care Act, President Obama's signature domestic achievement, is a real success. Republican candidates running this fall on an anti-Obamacare platform will have to divert voters' attention from the facts, which tell an increasingly positive story.

A new report by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that, despite all the problems with the HealthCare.gov website launch, 12 million people who previously lacked insurance will obtain coverage this year. By 2017 -- the year Obama leaves office -- the CBO predicts that an additional 14 million uninsured will have managed to get coverage.

Why was the Affordable Care Act so desperately needed? Because without it, 54 million Americans would presently have no health insurance. Within three years, according to the CBO, Obamacare will have slashed the problem nearly in half.

We should do better, and perhaps someday we will. Most industrialized countries have some kind of single-payer system offering truly universal coverage. But if you have to work within the framework of the existing U.S. health care system -- which involves private health insurance companies and fee-for-service care -- the Affordable Care Act reforms are a tremendous advance.

Many Republican critics of Obamacare know, but refuse to acknowledge, that the reforms are here to stay. Does the GOP propose to let insurance companies deny coverage because of pre-existing conditions, as they could before the ACA? Does the party want to reimpose lifetime caps on the amount an insurer will pay? Tell young adults they can no longer be covered under their parents' policies?

I didn't think so.

Published in Guest Commentary
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