The top ten list you shouldn’t be reading


A new year’s list of travesties:

  1. It costs just 25 cents a day to provide a child with the vitamins and nutrients to grow up healthy, but every hour of every day, 300 children die from malnutrition.
  2. One in seven people on earth goes to bed hungry each night while the top 40 highest-earning hedge fund managers made a combined $13.2 billion in a single year.
  3. Global military spending exceeds $1.7 trillion per year, 100 times more than annual cancer research spending.
  4. 1.4 billion people in developing countries live on $1.25 a day or less, while the global video game market is nearly $50 billion.Continue Reading..

The most important person in the world


You only have power over people so long as you don’t take everything away from them. But when you’ve robbed a man of everything, he’s no longer in your power – he’s free again. ~Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Do some people matter more than others? In a tabloid culture, an inordinate premium is placed on anyone rich or popular, the antics of celebrities and millionaires receiving more attention than the mortal struggles of women and children.

In the U.S., the gap between fame and obscurity, wealth and poverty, power and powerlessness manifests itself most starkly in centers of influence like Washington, Los Angeles and New York.

America is based on the noble idea of equality, but principle and practice are two very different things and some people are more equal than others, with disproportionate privileges and prestige. This holds true across the planet.

Counterintuitively, the most important people in the world are those who have the least, those who are the most oppressed, those who are victims of the worst violence.

We are only as strong and powerful and important as the weakest link in the human chain. When a little girl is gang-raped, when a child wastes away from preventable hunger, when a man is silenced for his beliefs, when a woman dies needlessly in childbirth, when a little boy lives in agony from a preventable disease, we are all weakened, our worth diminished.

When the resources of the rich and famous are put to use to help those in need, it is because the highest moral calling is to give to others, to extend a hand to those who need one.

If character is built on compassion and generosity of spirit, the most important person in the world is the one who most needs our compassion, care and generosity, the person who enables us to improve ourselves by helping them, who gives us value because we value them.

With all the namedropping and idol-worshiping served to us by the media, with the dazzling displays of money and fame and power, let’s never forget who matters most in this world: it is the person to whom we give something of ourselves — and from whom we derive our moral power.

Bill O’Reilly and Juan Williams reveal a terribly warped set of priorities


The blow-up du jour is Juan Williams’ termination by NPR for insensitive comments about Muslims:

NPR has terminated its contract with Juan Williams, one of its senior news analysts, after he made comments about Muslims on the Fox News Channel.

From my perspective, this is the most notable portion:

Mr. O’Reilly said, “The cold truth is that in the world today jihad, aided and abetted by some Muslim nations, is the biggest threat on the planet.” Mr. Williams said he concurred with Mr. O’Reilly.

The biggest threat? Bigger than preventable hunger and disease that kills millions of women and children? Bigger than the scourge of sexual violence and domestic abuse that endangers our mothers, sisters and daughters? Bigger than the wholesale ravaging of our planet and global warming? Seriously?

This reveals a terribly warped set of priorities. I’m not surprised O’Reilly said it. I would have expected better of Juan Williams.

The Age of Denial


America is in an Age of Denial, a time in which intolerable injustices are widely ignored, from preventable hunger, poverty and disease to irreversible environmental destruction to the global oppression of girls and women.

It is an age where wealth disparities are at record levels, where a war based on lies and deceptions that resulted in unimaginable carnage is heralded as a success, where the assault on basic rights and liberties is greeted with a yawn — if not a cheer.

It is a time when a minor celebrity infraction receives more attention than an epidemic of sexual violence in which young girls have their insides shredded with broken bottles and sticks of wood, when a sports game arouses more passion and emotion than a million babies dying.

This denialism afflicts the entire nation, not one party, not one particular group, not one ideology.

Many liberals stand by while a Democratic administration affirms and cements the worst excesses and overreaches of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, authorizing extra-judicial killings, indefinite detention and rendition, among other egregious practices. They stand by as a catastrophic oil spill is purposely scrubbed from public awareness because it has an adverse effect on Democratic electoral prospects. They stand by as the lies and deceptions that led America into Iraq are forgiven and forgotten and the Republican architects and purveyors of those lies are lauded by Democratic leaders. They stand by as obscenely rich bankers are bailed out at the expense of struggling taxpayers.

Conservatives stand by as their leaders callously exploit fear and xenophobia. They stand by – or worse, participate – as rightwing blatherers spew an endless stream of hateful invective across the airwaves. They yearn for war, war and more war against an ill-defined enemy. They traffic in jingoistic soundbites and call it patriotism and stand in defense of a Constitution they haven’t bothered to read. And perhaps more destructively than anything else they say, do or deny, they willfully toy with our future by pretending that the wholesale ravaging of the environment has absolutely no effect.

On the last point, David Roberts of Grist provides insight:

However muted denialism may have gotten in the late 2000s, it has come roaring back … Climate denialism is part of something much broader and scarier on the right. The core idea is most clearly expressed by Rush Limbaugh:

We really live, folks, in two worlds. There are two worlds. We live in two universes. One universe is a lie. One universe is an entire lie. Everything run, dominated, and controlled by the left here and around the world is a lie. The other universe is where we are, and that’s where reality reigns supreme and we deal with it. And seldom do these two universes ever overlap. … The Four Corners of Deceit: Government, academia, science, and media. Those institutions are now corrupt and exist by virtue of deceit. That’s how they promulgate themselves; it is how they prosper.

The right’s project over the last 30 years has been to dismantle the post-war liberal consensus by undermining trust in society’s leading institutions.

The decline in trust in institutions has generated fear and uncertainty, to which people generally respond by placing their trust in protective authorities. And some subset of people respond with tribalism, nationalism, and xenophobia. The right stokes and exploits modern anxiety relentlessly, but that’s not all they do. They also offer a space to huddle in safety among the like-minded. The conservative movement in America has created a self-contained, hermetically sealed epistemological reality — a closed-loop system of cable news, talk radio, and email forwards — designed not just as a source of alternative facts but as an identity. That’s why conservatives catch hell when they’re skeptical of climate skepticism. They’re messing with tribal cohesion and morale.

It’s a species of theater, repeated so often people have become inured, but if you take it seriously it’s an extraordinary charge. For one thing, if it’s true that the world’s scientists are capable of deception and collusion on this scale, a lot more than climate change is in doubt. These same institutions have told us what we know about health and disease, species and ecosystems, energy and biochemistry. If they are corrupt, we have to consider whether any of the knowledge they’ve generated is trustworthy. We could be operating our medical facilities, economies, and technologies on faulty theories. We might not know anything!

Roberts captures the frightening implications of denialism, a breakdown of trust in our basic institutions, an ideological war against facts and science, a kaleidoscopic skewing of national priorities. This is America in the Age of Denial.

What’s most troubling is that when you confront a denier, they’ll deny that they’re in denial.

UPDATE: Bob Herbert writes about the denial of our economic reality:

The movers and shakers of our society seem similarly oblivious to the terrible destruction wrought by the economic storm that has roared through America. They’ve heard some thunder, perhaps, and seen some lightning, and maybe felt a bit of the wind. But there is nothing that society’s leaders are doing — no sense of urgency in their policies or attitudes — that suggests they understand the extent of the economic devastation that has come crashing down like a plague on the poor and much of the middle class.

The American economy is on its knees and the suffering has reached historic levels. Nearly 44 million people were living in poverty last year, which is more than 14 percent of the population. That is an increase of 4 million over the previous year, the highest percentage in 15 years, and the highest number in more than a half-century of record-keeping. Millions more are teetering on the edge, poised to fall into poverty.

More than a quarter of all blacks and a similar percentage of Hispanics are poor. More than 15 million children are poor.

The movers and shakers, including most of the mainstream media, have paid precious little attention to this wide-scale economic disaster.

UPDATE II: The spiking of the Deepwater Horizon spill — the ultimate example of today’s denialism — comes full circle with this jaw-dropping story:

While BP plans to permanently abandon its stricken well in the Gulf of Mexico, with little but a plug left at the top, it may yet make use of the reservoir of oil and gas that the well tapped into.

Experts say that there are no technical or commercial reasons why BP — or another company if BP is wary of the political or public-relations repercussions — could not eventually produce oil from the formation, which BP once estimated contained about 50 million barrels of oil. The well spewed only about one-tenth of that amount, according to government estimates.

“The bottom line here is that this reservoir still remains a target for further production,” said Tadeusz W. Patzek, chairman of the department of petroleum and geosystems engineering at the University of Texas.

Dr. Patzek said he thought the formation might contain even more recoverable oil and gas, “but whether it’s 50 million or 100 million, that’s still a pretty decent target,” with potential revenues in the billions of dollars.

Through a spokesman, BP said it was too early to say what would become of Mississippi Canyon Block 252, the nine-square-mile plot about 50 miles off the Louisiana coast where the well was drilled. But in August, Doug Suttles, the company’s chief operating officer, while saying the stricken well and two relief wells would be abandoned, left open the possibility that the company might drill in the area again.

“There’s lots of oil and gas here,” he said at the time. “We’re going to have to think about what to do with that at some point.”

The world’s to-do list and the risk of “the greatest collective failure in history”


Ted Turner describes the Millennium Development Goals as the world’s to-do list. Watch this video and you’ll see why:

Oxfam’s Joel Bassuk writes:

In less than a week world leaders will meet in New York to review progress on the Millennium Development Goals, including the goal to halve world hunger by 2015 (MDG1). Governments are no closer to achieving this goal today then they were ten years ago. But the genuinely good news is that it is still possible to halve hunger in the next 5 years.

Oxfam’s new report, ‘Halving World Hunger: Still Possible,’ points to countries such as Vietnam and Brazil as evidence of what is possible. By supporting poor food producers and providing social safety nets for people who cannot produce or buy enough food, Vietnam and Brazil have dramatically cut hunger at home. For instance, Brazil has reduced malnutrition by 73 percent in the last six years.

If more governments – north and south – work together to deliver the right policies and the necessary investment the success stories of Brazil and Vietnam can be replicated across the globe.

World leaders meeting at the MDG Summit in New York must show they haven’t given up on the Millennium Development Goals. They must put their weight behind a global action plan that will bring all countries together to tackle hunger.

The intro to the Oxfam report states:

Unless an urgent rescue package is developed to accelerate fulfillment of all the MDGs, we are likely to witness the greatest collective failure in history.

In most discussions of right and wrong, sins of commission tend to get more attention than sins of omission, but not doing something that could save lives is still ethically reprehensible. If we can spare millions of children the ravages of hunger, poverty and disease and we don’t, then it is indeed an epic collective failure.