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Shoes 0613wrp(Photo: Mike Bitzenhofer / Flickr)


This past Friday in Afghanistan's Ghazni province, Hazara girls joined young Pashto boys to sing Afghanistan's national anthem as a welcome to Pashto men walking 400 miles from Helmand to Kabul. The walkers are calling on warring parties in Afghanistan to end the war. Most of the men making the journey are wearing sandals. At rest stops, they must tend to their torn and blistered feet. But their mission grows stronger as they walk. In Ghazni, hundreds of residents, along with religious leaders, showed remarkable readiness to embrace the courage and vision of the Helmand-to-Kabul peace walk participants. It seems likely that ordinary Afghans, no matter their tribal lineages, share a profound desire to end forty years of war. The 17-year U.S. war in Afghanistan exceeds the lifetimes of the youngsters in Ghazni who greeted the peace walkers.

On June 7th, Afghanistan's president, Ashraf Ghani, declared a week-long halt to attacks against the Taliban. Spokespersons representing an undetermined number of Taliban affiliates accepted the ceasefire on June 9th, with the U.S. also agreeing to suspend attacks against Taliban fighters.

Can the declared cease-fire lead to negotiations and an end to the war? Given the desperate circumstances I saw during a visit to Kabul in early June, it seems clear that a lasting peace will require finding ways to employ people and enable them to provide food and water for their families.

Tuesday, 12 June 2018 07:00

Who Benefits From the "Booming Economy"?


 wittner 6 12 18Soaring wealth and incomes for the few do not automatically translate into better lives for the many. Vital Transparency

Although the US mass media are awash with stories about America's "booming economy," the benefits are distributed very unequally, when they are distributed at all.

Buoyed by soaring corporate profits and stock prices, the richest Americans have reached new and dazzling heights of prosperity.  As of May 2018, the growing crop of billionaires included corporate owners with unprecedented levels of wealth like Jeff Bezos ($112 billion), Bill Gates ($90 billion), and Warren Buffet ($84 billion).  Some families have also grown fantastically rich, including the rightwing Koch brothers ($120 billion) and the Walton family, owners of Walmart (nearly $175 billion).  Together with the rest of America's richest 1 percent, they possess nearly 40 percent of the nation's wealth.

But a great many Americans are not doing nearly as well as the nation's super-wealthy.  That 40 percent of the wealth, in fact, constitutes twice the total wealth held by the bottom 90 percent of the American public (about 294,000,000 people).  On May 17, 2018, the United Way released a study indicating that nearly half of American households could not afford basics like food, housing, and healthcare.  Many of the wage earners in these households were child care workers, home health aides, office assistants, and store clerks -- people who had low-paying jobs and minuscule (if any) savings. 



king 6 12 18Agents of the US government have a track record of aggressively accusing foreign powers of violating chemical and biological weapons conventions and treaties. Veterans Today

The US missile attack on Syrian targets in April was a dangerous escalation of US military intervention in the Middle East. It was described by the White House and US State Department as a response to alleged use of chemical weapons by Syrian government forces in the town of Douma. In assessing the veracity of the US charges, it is useful to review some of the history of US claims of chemical and biological weapons attacks.

Yellow Rain

In 1981 Ronald Reagan's Secretary of State Alexander Haig charged the Soviet Union with using mycotoxins -- toxins produced by fungi -- in Southeast Asia, violating the Geneva Convention and Biological Weapons Convention. The State Department followed up with reports confirming attacks with mycotoxins and press reports appeared of interviews with Hmong residents claiming exposure to "yellow rain" which came down from the skies. 

The Reagan administration used these charges to try to discredit the Soviet Union and also to increase the Pentagon budget for chemical and biological weapons research (always labeled as "defensive" programs).

Drought 0611wrp(Photo: Bert Kaufmann / Flickr)


Here in Kabul in early June, outside the home of several Afghan Peace Volunteers, a large drilling machine is parked on what was once a lovely garden. To this now muddy patch, workers will soon arrive for another noisy, dusty day of digging for water. The well dried up a week ago. As of today, the household has no water.

Ongoing battles between militants, government forces, and international allies have destroyed much of Kabul's water infrastructure, forcing people to drill their own wells.

Across Kabul, numerous households face similar water shortages. With an average annual rainfall of just fourteen inches, Kabul's water table has been falling each year. The current population, estimated around 4.5 million, is expected to reach 9 million by 2050. The estimated groundwater potential is enough to supply only 2 million inhabitants with water.

Alarming reports say that drought now afflicts twenty-one of Afghanistan's thirty-four provinces.

Facebook 0611wrp(Photo: Hamza Butt / Facebook)


Facebook seems to be flailing in hot water these days for selling the personal data of more than 87 million US residents to now-defunct private marketing firm Cambridge Analytica. The firm in turn shared it with the Trump campaign and allegedly with Russians who used it for voter suppression campaigns.

We are also now well aware of the 3,000 political ads purchased by Russian operatives on fake Facebook political pages. And we've witnessed CEO Mark Zuckerberg try to convince Congress and Facebook users that the world's most popular social media platform takes the integrity of its product seriously and its responsibility for doing its part to uphold democracy with dead earnestness.

Regardless, more than 2 billion monthly users on all points of the political spectrum remain on Facebook because it has become such an effective tool for building communities, organizing events, and, yes, galvanizing users into political action.

So the company's answer to the question of how to mitigate the threat of Russian influence is at the very least puzzling as it corrodes the very ideal of enhancing and protecting democracy which it seeks to engender.

Friday, 08 June 2018 07:27

How the War Industry Corrupts Congress

MIC 0608wrp"Military Industrial Complex" by Fabian. (Photo: wiredforlego / Flickr)


Former President Jimmy Carter has called U.S. politics a system of “legalized bribery” in which powerful interests spend billions of dollars on lobbying and campaign funding to ensure that members of Congress pay more attention to them than to the general public. With the upcoming midterm elections, we will see the full force of this tsunami of cash washing over our electoral system.

The human cost of this corrupt system has been searingly rammed home since the Parkland school shooting, as grieving high school students determined to curb America’s gun violence have found themselves in a pitched battle with the “gun lobby,” led by the National Rifle Association (NRA), one of the most entrenched and powerful interest groups in the country.

The gun lobby has already spent over $12 million on lobbying and given at least $1.1 million to members of Congress in this election cycle, 98% of it to Republicans.  The gun lobby also wields power over Democrats through lobbying and public relations, and the threat of targeting individual Democrats who take a public stand for gun control. 

But what about the even greater violence of America’s wars and the record military budget that makes them possible?  U.S. weapons makers spend far more money on lobbying and campaign contributions than the domestic gun lobby: $162 million on lobbying and tens of millions in direct funding for members of Congress so far in the 2017-18 election cycle.

Dawn 0607wrp(Photo: NBphotostream / Flickr)


I don't blame all of the planet's ills on the Republican Party, but I find hope in the possibility that it's on the verge of collapse.

I'm not talking politics here. I'm talking deep vision of humanity: a sense of who we are and how we impact Planet Earth and all its occupants. A smallness of mind has a chokehold on American political power and awareness. Maybe what I mean is that it has control over the money.

"The money just isn't there" — to provide universal healthcare, to create environmental sustainability . . . to ensure that everyone has clean drinking water. I could name dozens more "nice ideas" that are financial impossibilities, relegated to the trash bin of wishful thinking. We all could.

PO 0607wrp(Photo: jelm6 / Flickr)


Question: If you inject a stream of raw ignorance into a vat of gaseous arrogance, then jolt the mixture with 1,000 megawatts of malevolence ... what does it produce? Answer: Donald Trump's Executive Order of April 12.

Let's start with the arrogance. King Donald the First has been in a deep pout over negative articles about him in the Washington Post newspaper, which is owned by Jeff Bezos, King of the Amazon.com empire. Trump has fired off several rounds of angry tweets assailing Bezos, including a potshot claiming that Amazon is ripping off the post office by underpaying for the millions of its packages that the postal services ships.

Well, tweets are one thing, but King Donald has the firepower of the federal government at his beck and call, so he is arrogantly using the government power to escalate his personal spat with Bezos. By executive order, he set up a federal task force to conduct a pernicious political inquisition into "our money losing post office," particularly looking at the "pricing of the package delivery market."

Carbon 0606wrpOne metric ton of carbon dioxide gas. (Photo: Carbon Visuals / Flickr)


A groundbreaking study by the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) is the first to map a pathway to limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels without relying on negative emissions technologies that suck carbon dioxide from the the atmosphere, an IIASA press release reported.

Instead, the study published Monday in Nature Energy found that the more ambitious Paris agreement target can be reached through innovations in the energy efficiency of daily activities. Changes to heating, cooling, transport, appliances and technological devices could both limit climate change and meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals to improve quality of life in the global South, the study found.

"Our analysis shows how a range of new social, behavioral and technological innovations, combined with strong policy support for energy efficiency and low-carbon development can help reverse the historical trajectory of ever-rising energy demand," IIASA acting program director and lead study author Arnulf Grubler said in the press release.

Wednesday, 06 June 2018 07:13

Volkswagen Bans Testing on Animals

Ape 0606wrp(Photo: Smithsonian's National Zoo / Flickr)


German carmaker Volkswagen said it will stop animal testing after coming under intense public condemnation for financing experiments on the effects of diesel exhaust on monkeys.

Volkswagen CEO Herbert Diess made the vow in a letter sent to the German branch of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).

PETA publicized the announcement on Monday. The animal rights group said Volkswagen will "never again use animals in testing unless required to do so by law" and will include the new ban in company's code of conduct that will be updated later this year.

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