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BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaHoneyMaid(Photo: Mark Fischer)Love 'em or not, everyone has probably experienced Honey Maid graham crackers sometime in their lifetime. Last month, Nabisco, the company that makes Honey Maid Graham Crackers, and Oreos, Chips Ahoy, Nilla Wafers and an assortment of other well-known cookies and crackers, came up with an extraordinary family positive/gay-positive advertisement. And "traditional values" conservatives went, well, crackers. Ironically, at the end of the day, the graham cracker dust-up may in fact benefit both the folks at Nabisco and its chief critics, the American Family Association's One Million Moms.

The advertisement, which was extraordinarily family-positive, started out with two men taking care of their child, and was followed by a diverse group of families spending time together. The New Yorker's Andrew Solomon described the ad: "It shows a two-dad family, a rocker family, a single dad, an interracial family, a military family. The two-dad household is featured at some length; you cannot be distracted away from it. Most striking is the tagline of the ad: 'No matter how things change, what makes us wholesome never will. Honey Maid. Everyday wholesome snacks for every wholesome family. This is wholesome.'"

The response to the ad – issued earlier this month -- was both heart-warming – many people responded in a very supportive way – and super critical. It was the latter responses that caused the company to put together a second ad, which takes the sometimes super-nasty comments and turns them into an extraordinary and inspirational art project, in which two artists glue together the complaints to spell out the word love in cursive.

Published in Guest Commentary

ROBERT C. KOEHLER FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaEarthrise(Photo: Apollo 8 crewmember Bill Anders)Somewhere between these two quotes lies the future:

"And I would like to emphasize that nobody on this planet is going to be untouched by the impacts of climate change."

"The Judeo-Christian worldview is that man is at the center of the universe; nature was therefore created for man. Nature has no intrinsic worth other than man's appreciation and moral use of it."

The first quote is from Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, summing up the dire and much-discussed findings of its recent report: Human civilization — its technology, its war games, its helpless short-sightedness and addiction to fossil fuels — is wrecking the environment that sustains all life. Time is running out on our ability to make changes; and the world's, uh, "leadership" — political, corporate — has shown little will to step beyond more of the same, to figure out how we can reduce carbon emissions and live in eco-harmony, with a sense of responsibility for the future.

The second quote is from radio talk-show host Dennis Prager, writing recently in the National Review Online. He goes on, in his remarkable rant against environmentalism, to point out that "worship of nature was the pagan worldview" and "for the Left, the earth has supplanted patriotism." Eventually he compares environmentalism to loving wild dogs more than mauled children.

Prager's diatribe isn't my normal reading matter and I only bring it up here because I think it has relevance to the leadership void I've been pondering. The contemptuous dismissal of nature as lacking intrinsic worth — an unworthy competitor with God for human allegiance — may no longer have mainstream credibility, but, like racism, it's part of the mindset that has shaped Western civilization.

Published in Guest Commentary

BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaLeft Behind(Photo: Aragan Jarosalam)Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins are no dummies. And neither is Paul Lalonde. They understand that the first attempts at turning LaHaye and Jenkins' mega-best-selling Left Behind series of apocalyptic novels into a film franchise fell flat. Although three Left Behind films were made, there was little interest -- except amongst the most enthusiastic End Timers -- little buzz generated within the filmmaking community, and not much doing at the box office. Now, in the spirit of "pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start all over again," LaHaye, Jenkins and Lalonde have garnered a multi-million dollar budget, and plucked a box-office legend for the lead role, and are poised to take full advantage of the latest flood of religion-themed films.

If you don't think religion-themed films are trending, consider this: As of this writing (Monday, April 7), Noah, now in it's second week in theaters, has brought in more than $72 million at the box office; God's Not Dead, more than $32 million in three weeks, and Son of God, more than $58 million in its sixth week in theaters.

The Denver Post's film critic, Lisa Kennedy, recently pointed out that "By fall, no fewer than a half-dozen films with religious themes will be aiming for audiences beyond the faithful. Yet it's not simply the number of movies in or entering theaters in the coming months that herald a change in what we've come to know as 'faith-based' cinema. It's the variety, the mix of some things old and some things new."

Jerry Jenkins, co-author of the Left Behind novels, recently tweeted: "Left Behind" [movie] is going to prompt important, life changing conversations. Are you ready? #leftbehindmovie."

Published in Guest Commentary

STEVEN JONAS MD, MPH FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaBallotBox(Photo: Rama)As is well-known, since their triumph in the 2010 elections, not only at the Federal but also at the level of the states, a number one priority for the Republican Party has been limiting the numbers of those voting, especially those who might vote Democratic. Further, they have also focused on limiting the significance of the votes of potential Democratic voters. The first step in this direction was the post-2010 re-districting for both Congressional and state legislative seats.

In those states where they had gained both a majority in both Houses of the legislature and the Governor's mansion, they very creatively re-drew both Congressional and state legislative district lines to, wherever possible concentrating potential Democratic votes while expanding the electoral impact of potential Republican votes. Indeed, they had succeeded Karl Rove's early-2000's goal of a "Permanent Republican Majority, which had proved illusory," with the goal-in-fact of creating a Permanent Republican Elected Government, without the bother of having to gain electoral majorities to do that.

Of course they did not put it that way. They used other terminology, like "dealing with voting fraud." Fox"News"Channel and Savagely Levin-itatingO'Rhannibaugh, laid on that one every day to a fare-thee-well. Never mind that voter fraud almost never occurs. It just had to be prevented, using such means as requiring photo ID for registration and then voting. Now if the GOP were really interested in preventing voter fraud, they would, for example, have set up systems in the states in which they were requiring this for registration and voting making acquiring one easy and cheap. They could, for example, have set up numerous photo ID-acquisition centers, at taxpayer expense. Funny. That just didn't happen.

Published in Guest Commentary

HARVEY WASSERMAN FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaSolar(Photo: US Bureau of Land Management)High above the Bowling Green town dump, a green energy revolution is being won. It's being helped along by the legalization of marijuana and its bio­fueled cousin, industrial hemp.

But it's under extreme attack from the billionaire Koch Brothers, utilities like First Energy (FE), and a fossil/nuke industry that threatens our existence on this planet.

Robber Baron resistance to renewable energy has never been more fierce. The prime reason is that the Solartopian Revolution embodies the ultimate threat to the corporate utility industry and the hundreds of billions of dollars it has invested in the obsolete monopolies that define King CONG (Coal, Oil, Nukes & Gas).

The outcome will depend on YOUR activism, and will determine whether we survive here at all. Four very large wind turbines in this small Ohio town are producing clean, cheap electricity that can help save our planet. A prime reason they exist is that Bowling Green has a municipal­owned utility. When it came time to go green, the city didn't have to beg some corporate­owned electric monopoly to do it for them.

In fact, most of northern Ohio is now dominated by FirstEnergy, one of the most reactionary, anti-­green private utilities in the entire US. As owner of the infamous Davis­Besse reactor near Toledo, FE continually resists the conversion of our energy economy to renewable sources. Except for the occasional green window­ dressing, First Energy has fought fiercely for decades to preserve its unsafe reactors while fighting off the steady progression of renewable generators.

FE's obstinance has been particularly dangerous at Davis­Besse, one of the world's most profoundly unsafe nukes. To the dismay even of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and other notoriously docile agencies, undetected boric acid ate nearly all the way through a reactor pressure vessel and threatened a massive melt­down/explosion that could have irradiated the entire north coast and the Great Lakes. FE's nuke at Perry, east of Cleveland, was the first in the US to be substantially damaged by an earthquake.

Both Perry and Davis­Besse are in the stages of advanced decay. Each of them is being held together by the atomic equivalent of duct tape and bailing twine. A major accident grows more likely with each hour of operation.

Published in Guest Commentary

ROBERT C. KOEHLER FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaChildren(Photo: Shkumbin Saneja)A mind is a terrible thing to test, especially a child's mind — if, in so doing, you reduce it to a number and proceed to worship that number, ignoring the extraordinary complexity and near-infinite potential of what you have just tested.

"In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts: they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty."

What if?

What if the American education bureaucracy understood these words of Ralph Waldo Emerson and honored the latent genius of every student? What if it funded teachers and schools with as much enthusiasm as it did corporate vendors? What if, in some official way, we loved kids and their potential more than the job slots we envisioned for them and judged them only in relationship to their realization of that potential? What if standardized testing, especially the obsessive, punitive form that has evolved in this country, went the way of the dunce cap and the stool in the corner?

What if the education process were allowed to move the human race to a higher level of awareness? That is to say, what if it weren't stagnant and political but, instead . . . sacred, in the way that it feels sacred to hold an infant in one's arms?

I know that's asking a lot, but I feel emboldened to pose such questions as I become aware that standardized testing and the all-pervasive political hold it has on education is being challenged at the grass-roots level. Teachers across the country are standing up to the standardized testing system and parents are opting out of it: They're refusing to let their 8- to -13-year-olds take these "high stakes" tests that so many jobs and so much money rides on. And this movement, small as it is, has become news.

Published in Guest Commentary

AKIRA WATTS FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaOverpass Logan International Hannah Bowman(Photo: Hannah Elise Bowman)When we're not actively engaged in killing each other, watching TV, or occupied in other such entertaining diversions, one of humanity's favorite hobbies is imagining that we live in the end times, with extinction lurking around every corner. I've never been a huge fan of this sort of thing. I tend to hold that, as Copernicus explained, we don't occupy a privileged position at the center of the universe, nor do we occupy a privileged position in time, either at the beginning or end of humanity's lifespan. But lately? Perhaps it's because I don't spend enough time perusing sites featuring cats and their regrettable tattoos, or places that promise to ram a positive mood down my throat, but lately I find that voice of imminent doom to be a lot louder and far more persuasive.

I'm not a betting man, but if I had to choose the horse that our destruction will ride in on, I'd go with climate change (if you want debate the for vs. against of climate change, look elsewhere; that debate involves everyone yelling the same thing over and over. I will treat the notion of climate change as the settled science that it, you know, is). And here's the thing about climate change: while we tend to focus on the big, sexy, Hollywood disasters – the IPCC's latest includes fun things like increased global conflict, health catastrophes, and mass extinction - the climate can kill us in ways that are far more prosaic and even a little boring.

Published in Guest Commentary

BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaObjectivist(Photo: Michael Greene)If you've been following politics over the past few years, you are undoubtedly familiar with the political machinations, maneuvering, and the ongoing efforts by the conservative billionaires, Charles and David Koch, to bend democracy to their will and turn the political landscape into their own personal playground. The Koch Brothers' major league funding of right-wing candidates and campaigns (big and small) across the country, have become one of the most toxic elements on America's political scene.

Chances are, however, you do not know anyone who actually knows any of the Koch brothers. You are even less likely to know anyone who, as a teenager, actually spent some time with one of the Koch Brothers in their hometown of Wichita, Kansas.

By the rules of "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon," I should acknowledge my link to the man, who, as a teenager, hung around the John Birch Society bookshop in Wichita, and met Charles Koch!

Meet Gus diZerega, blogger, political theorist, and author.

I met diZerega while we attended the University of Kansas in the 1960s. It was a long time ago, but if I remember correctly, we clashed – politically, not physically -- a few times during our college years. There were some heated exchanges. Our relationship these days, which is via e-mail exchanges, is not only civil, but also enjoyable and informative; at least I feel informed by his writing.

In a post titled "A Meditation on Charles Koch, Classical Liberalism, and Global Warming," diZerega wrote that he first met Charles Koch while he was in high school in Wichita, Kansas: "I had become a young conservative attracted to right-wing conspiracy theories. One afternoon I was in the American Opinion Bookstore, a John Birch Society operation filled with books on the Communist conspiracy."

Published in Guest Commentary

PAUL BUCHHEIT FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaSchool(Photo: M. Rehemtulla)The education privatizers are trying to convince us that parental 'choice' will solve all the problems in our schools. But the choice they have in mind is to dismantle a once-proud system of education that was nurtured and funded by a society of Americans willing to work together.

The wealthiest among us seem to have forgotten how important it is to cooperate, as most Americans did in the post-WW2 years, in order to forge new paths of productivity and inventiveness. A vibrant society makes great individuals, not the other way around. Education must be at the forefront of such cooperative thinking. Here are four good arguments for it.

1. Equal Opportunity is an American Mandate

In the 1954 Supreme Court decision Brown vs. the Board of Education, Chief Justice Earl Warren said that education "is a right which must be made available to all on equal terms." Equally eminent future Justice Thurgood Marshall insisted on "the right of every American to an equal start in life."

But now, as The Economist points out, "Whereas most OECD countries spend more on the education of poor children than rich ones, in America the opposite is true." Poverty, of course, is of all colors, but it's disproportionately black. The Civil Rights Project at UCLA shows that "segregated schools are systematically linked to unequal educational opportunities," while the Economic Policy Institute tells us that "African American students are more isolated than they were 40 years ago." New York City is the best example of that.

Charters and vouchers are the 'choice' of the free market. But the National Education Policy Center notes that "Charter schools...can shape their student enrollment in surprising ways," through practices that often exclude "students with special needs, those with low test scores, English learners, or students in poverty." Stanford's updated CREDO study found that fewer special education students and fewer English language learners are served in charters than in traditional public schools.

Published in Guest Commentary

EUGENE ROBINSON ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaBerlinWall(Photo: Noir)I had no idea so many Republicans were nostalgic for the Cold War. President Obama should dust off the zinger he used in a campaign debate against Mitt Romney: "The 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back."

Poor Mitt. It seems he never got over Obama's putdown of his view that Russia is the "number-one geopolitical foe" of the United States. Since Russia's seizure of the Crimean Peninsula from neighboring Ukraine, Romney has been crowing "told you so."

Other hawkish GOP luminaries, either out of ideology or opportunism, are loudly echoing Romney's criticism. Speaking of hawks, Sen. John McCain of Arizona accused the president of conducting a "feckless" foreign policy. And speaking of opportunists, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas said the United States has "receded from leadership" in the world and speculated that Russian President Vladimir Putin is "openly laughing" at Obama.

I think it's much more likely that Putin finds humor in all the armchair generals who fail to suggest a single course of action that would have prevented him from snatching Crimea -- or a course of action that would make him give it back. Loud, content-free bluster can be amusing.

Obama's words and actions matter, however, and his handling of the Ukraine crisis has been firm, steady and realistic. These are not the 1980s and this is not the Cold War. I believe most Americans realize this, and perhaps someday the hawkish wing of the Republican Party will catch up.

Published in Guest Commentary
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