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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

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
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