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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

ROBERT C. KOEHLER FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaPistol(Photo: Augustas Didzgalvis)"It was loaded with meaning and death."

Oh lethal, ticklish topic. So many people love guns and swear by them — many of them people with whom I am otherwise in essential political agreement. And it's not like I relish a debate about "gun control," a tug-of-war about limits that offends most gun lovers and causes weapon-buying sprees after every mass murder.

But the topic is unavoidable. The gun industry is part of the military-industrial complex and its advertising war aimed at the American reptile brain is centered around a permanent state of fear and, even more significantly, helplessness. Most people, or at least most gun owners, think "disarmed" means "disempowered" and the debate, such as it is, ends there.

The quote above is from an extraordinary essay by poet Judy Juanita, which gets at the spiritual dimension of the matter:

"The Gun as steel metaphor carrying the human urge to dominate and lay waste to an enemy or perceived threat. Guns as import and export. Hollywood's Gun, its cinematic ordnance, is the United States' international calling card.

"The Gun is oh-so-social as it erases human inequality. Anyone can obtain one and point . . . shoot . . . kill."

Published in Guest Commentary

BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaRapture(Photo: Phillip Medhurst)If you've been waiting for someone to link the disappearance of the Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 to The Rapture, thanks to the Reverend Billy Graham's daughter, your wait is over. According to Anne Graham Lotz, the disappearance of the Boeing 777 over the Indian Ocean could be a sign that The Rapture might be around the corner.

Ms. Graham Lotz's Malaysian Airlines theorizing, coupled with her brother Franklin's recent declaration of support for the way Russia's Valadimir Putin is dealing with gays in his country, makes one think that March Madness extends far beyond the nation's premier basketball tournament.

Graham Lotz, a Christian evangelist, begins her piece, titled "Malaysian Airliner Disappearance Offers Snapshot of Post-Rapture World Shock," by citing 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17: "For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever."

She then poses a series of questions that many have been asking:

"How could a modern airliner drop out of sight so quickly and completely? What happened to the plane itself? Was it hijacked? Was it blown out of the sky? Did something happen to the pilots so that without guidance the plane plunged intact into the depths of the sea?"

"Bottom line," she writes, "Where are all the people?"

Published in Guest Commentary

EUGENE ROBINSON ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaSoupKitchen(Photo: Skeezix1000)Blaming poverty on the mysterious influence of "culture" is a convenient excuse for doing nothing to address the problem.

That's the real issue with what Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said about distressed inner-city communities. Critics who accuse him of racism are missing the point. What he's really guilty of is providing a reason for government to throw up its hands in mock helplessness.

The fundamental problem that poor people have, whether they live in decaying urban neighborhoods or depressed Appalachian valleys or small towns of the Deep South, is not enough money.

Alleviating stubborn poverty is difficult and expensive. Direct government aid -- money, food stamps, Medicaid, housing assistance and the like -- is not enough. Poor people need employment that offers a brighter future for themselves and their children. Which means they need job skills. Which means they need education. Which means they need good schools and safe streets.

The list of needs is dauntingly long, and it's hard to know where to start -- or where the money for all the needed interventions will come from. It's much easier to say that culture is ultimately to blame. But since there's no step-by-step procedure for changing a culture, we end up not doing anything.

Published in Guest Commentary

STEVEN JONAS MD, MPH FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaPete Seeger2(Photo: Warner/Reprise)Pete Seeger, as almost every reader of these pages will know, passed away at the age of 94 on Jan. 27, 2014. Pete was a great folksinger, explorer of US music, and song writer. In his younger days he was also a great banjo picker, and learned how to play the 12-string guitar (a difficult instrument in its own right) from the legendary Afro-American blues singer Huddie Ledbetter, better known as Leadbelly. He worked with one of the founding US folklorists, Alan Lomax, as well as his with his father, Charles Seeger and his step-mother, Ruth Crawford Seeger (mother of Pete's step-sister, the folk singer Peggy Seeger). And of course he was a close colleague of the iconic Woody Guthrie.

But in this space, I am not going to write about Pete the musician. This column is about Pete and the Blacklist, one of the darkest marks on 20th century US history, and quite different from the current TV show, "The Blacklist." I was lucky enough to have heard Pete in concert in Carnegie Hall, New York City, singing with The Weavers in the late 1940s, before they were blacklisted. I had a brief personal contact with him during the blacklist-time. One way that performers like himself earned a living during that time was to do private performances in the homes of progressives. And so, in the early '50s my mother hired Pete to sing at a birthday party for me, in our home. (Either the year before that or the year afterwards, for my birthday she hired another great, and black-listed, US folk singer, and composer, Earl Robinson. He is perhaps best-known for writing "Ballad for Americans" for yet another great, black-listed personage, the singer-actor Paul Robeson.)

I next saw Pete at one of his "coming-out parties" as the blacklist was fading in the late 50s. He was hired to sing in a dorm living room at Vassar College, where my girl-friend at the time was a student. I have heard him concerts several times since. Finally, by happenstance I went to what was likely his last concert, with Woody's son Arlo, at Carnegie Hall, New York City, on December 30, 2013.

Published in Guest Commentary

EUGENE ROBINSON ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

aaaTwilightZone(Photo: Scifi.com)Let me go out on a limb: The Malaysian airliner did not get sucked into a black hole, vanish over the Indian Ocean equivalent of the Bermuda Triangle or crash-land on the spooky island from "Lost."

Those "theories" were actually discussed on CNN this week. Host Don Lemon dismissed them as "preposterous" before asking one of his assembled "expert" guests -- there were six of them waiting expectantly in their boxes on the screen -- whether, you know, such ideas really were so preposterous.

At which point the nonstop coverage of this tragedy entered the Twilight Zone.

The disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 is pretty close to a pure mystery. The news media -- especially the cable television networks -- have responded with an orgy of what can only be called pure speculation. Far too often, as every journalist knows, the facts get in the way of a good story. In this case, there aren't any indisputably consequent facts except one: On March 8, a jetliner with 239 people aboard went missing.

On second thought, I guess there's one other fact that matters: The mystery is so compelling that people can't seem to get enough of it. CNN has soared to the top of the cable news ratings -- at times besting even behemoth Fox News -- by covering the story ceaselessly, and by that I mean you wonder when the anchors get a chance to go to the bathroom.

Published in Guest Commentary
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