January 9, 2010

At the commencement ceremony held on the Bloomington campus of Indiana University on Dec. 19, 2009, the speaker was honored with the degree of doctor of humane letters and upheld as an exemplary individual before the assembled hundreds of IU graduates. One might have thought that the recipient of this signal distinction was some large-hearted benefactor to the human race.

Maybe a scientist who had dedicated many years of selfless toil to the discovery of a cure for a killer disease. Or a humanitarian who had established schools and hospitals in underserved parts of the world. Possibly an apostle of peace who had worked tirelessly to resolve a festering international conflict. Someone whose heroic efforts had prevented loss of life amid present and future generations of concerned parties in a prolonged conflict.

Unfortunately such reasonable expectations are wide off the mark in regard to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, the invited speaker at the winter commencement. The secretary has been best known since 2006 as a prominent enabler of the wars that have ravaged life and society in Iraq and Afghanistan. His most conspicuous recent achievement was advocating the escalation of a merciless war waged in Afghanistan by a powerful, technologically superior military against a country whose essentially defenseless population is innocent of complicity in perpetrating attacks on the United States.

January 9, 2010

Another holiday season has come and gone, and here we are at the dawn of a new year and a new decade. Regardless of religious, social or philosophical differences, it seems that nearly everyone celebrates the holidays in some way and for one reason or another. But even with the various views of importance placed upon the holidays we do share one common aspect as individuals as demonstrated by our annual nostalgic review of the previous year with high hopes for a better one to come.

We wonder is each year so bad or disappointing that we persistently hope for the better? If that's true, then what are we doing so wrong that each year is a disappointment? Our own philosophy is such that we try to live in the moment and enjoy what we have rather than seeking fulfillment in time yet to arrive.

December 26, 2009

Of all the irritations that come with making a living as a university professor, and there are quite a few, the inability to do much in the way of "reading for pleasure" during the school year is at the top of my list. I'm talking minor irritants, mind you. Don't get me started on the major league indignities that come with working in academia. In any event, at this time of year I like to kick back and catch up on some reading: fiction, nonfiction, it's all good.

One item I've been meaning to read for some time now is Canadian journalist Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. I've read any number of Ms. Klein's essays for The Nation, Mother Jones and other progressive publications. What's more, I've heard her speak on many occasions -- most recently during Democracy Now!'s exceptional coverage of the climate change meeting in Copenhagen earlier this month. However, this is the first time that I've sat down to read one of her books.

December 26, 2009

It is a bitter cold Friday afternoon, and three people stand bundled up against the wind on a downtown Indianapolis street corner, silently holding signs pointed toward the rush-hour traffic. Two of the signs are in blue and white, with the words "War is not the answer" printed next to a drawing of a dove. The other sign reads, "Peace is patriotic."

This presence across from the Minton-Capehart Federal Building has been a weekly vigil since shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, when President George W. Bush chose to respond to tragedy with warfare.

A few folks driving or walking by wave at the demonstrators; a peace sign is flashed. Most just stare and move on.

December 20, 2009

BLOOMINGTON, IND. - Data from local school and federal public health officials suggest that children in Monroe County, Ind., are diagnosed with autism at nearly double the epidemic rate that afflicts the nation.

On Dec. 18, 2009, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a new report that put the incidence of autism in the United States at 1 in 110 for children born in 1996, or 0.9 percent of the population. A survey, sponsored by the Maternal and Child Health Bureau of the Health Resources and Services Administration and published in the journal Pediatrics in October, showed 1 in 91 children between the ages of 3 and 17 had autism.

According to figures submitted by the Monroe County Community School Corp. (MCCSC) to state and federal governments last year, one in every 60 students, or 1.7 percent, had an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) diagnosis in December 2008.

December 12, 2009

It's apocryphal, but the urban legend goes that Albert Einstein was once asked for his opinion of mankind's greatest invention, to which he curtly replied "compound interest." Compound interest, the underpinning of economic exponential growth and an utterly necessary device for the proper functioning of any economy hardwired for exponential growth, the simultaneously simple and devilishly complicated instrument that is the beating heart of the industrialized world.

Every economic transaction we make is colored by compound interest. We borrow a couple hundred grand to buy a house, make a two grand a month payment on it, yet still owe more than a two grand difference between this and the last payment. Why?

Compound interest.

December 12, 2009

Hunger, homelessness and pestilence stalk the land. We are not talking here about Afghanistan, the Gaza Strip, Iraq or Pakistan. The territory in question is distant from the occupied, war-ravaged regions of the world where cruise missiles and ordnance have turned once proud cities into rubble and devastated the economic infrastructure of nations and where the wretched of the earth, the living dead, the maimed or injured survivors of aerial bombardment and ground battles -- orphans, bereaved parents, wives, husbands and other victims of violence -- crowd in their millions or are herded into refugee camps.

This country situated thousands of miles from the theater of war in West, Central and South Asia is none other the United States of America, the wealthiest country in the world.

December 12, 2009

In a week marked by a series of contradictions that could make your head spin, Barack Obama accepted the Noble Peace Prize by channeling none other than George W. Bush. Not only did Obama repeat the Bush-era mantra that al-Qaida is evil incarnate, he snubbed the Norwegian royal family with Bush-like insolence.

And in a move that would make Karl Rove blush, the Nobel Peace Prize winner refused to attend a "Save the Children" concert. According to a story in the Christian Science Monitor, a cardboard Obama stood in for the president at the charity event. Add another item to this week's WTF list.

When Obama was named this year's Peace Prize recipient, conventional wisdom had it that the Nobel Committee selected Obama for one reason and one reason only: he's not George W. Bush. An important distinction to be sure, but hardly prize worthy. Or is it?

December 12, 2009

On a cold and rainy Dec. 2, while the Senate in Washington was slogging along debating health reform, a remnant troupe of public-option-supporting Organizing for America stalwarts stood outside the corporate headquarters of WellPoint, Inc. in the center of downtown Indianapolis. Minutes before their demonstration started, three single payer activists slipped in and out of the WellPoint office dropping off a shareholder resolution for next May's annual meeting.

WellPoint, also known as Anthem or Blue Cross, is the perverted spawn of what was once a charitable venture known as Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Indiana. From the '40s up into the '90s Blue Cross of Indiana was like all the other Blues around the country, non-profit with a charitable mission. Its board of directors included physicians, hospital administrators and labor and community leaders, and it existed to serve the needs of patients.

December 12, 2009

Private suffering, especially by the poor and the sick, does not often become a political issue. Usually, our powers-that-be are transfixed by property taxes, corporate concerns and electoral power struggles, where well-connected folks with a few dollars in their pockets can make their voices heard.

But in the spring of 2008, the pain of Hoosiers hurt by the privatization of Indiana's welfare program slowly transformed into a hot topic. Governor Daniels' $1.34 billion contract with IBM had led to a rash of incorrect denials of food stamps and health care assistance. In many Indiana communities, emergency food pantries began running out of stock, and private charities found themselves under siege.

In response, simple handbills were circulated to announce a public meeting in Anderson about the privatization, and a handful of people were expected to exchange views. To the surprise of the organizers, a crowd of 200 packed a union hall. Five hundred more went to a subsequent meeting at the convention center in Muncie, many lining up for hours afterward to get a few minutes to share their problems with a state agency representative.

"The Muncie hearing was a game-changer," says John Cardwell, a longtime Indiana health care activist and lobbyist. "After that, I had legislators coming up to me and saying, 'This is the real thing, isn't it?'"

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