America on Fire — A Moral Reckoning Arrives

In the countryside, mountain wildfires rage out of control, destroying all life in their path for hundreds of miles at a time. The daytime skies are covered with layers of ash and smoke, and in the evening are lit up by a luminescent orange-yellow glow. Meanwhile, in the cities, mostly peaceful public protests boil over, igniting some local buildings in ferocious flames. The orange-yellow-tinted nighttime skies, punctuated by police helicopter searchlights, radiate with rage and the heat of history.

The United States of America, in the summer of 2020, has been a nation on fire, both in the country and in the city. At first glance, these rural and urban blazes across many different locations may seem to have little in common. But in fact, they do: centuries of officially sanctioned neglect, abuse and violence in the USA — against nature in the countryside and against human beings in the cities, especially Black lives. And as this year continues on, those two sets of blazes edge closer and closer toward each other, signaling an even worse fate to come that will not easily be extinguished.

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Inside the Quake Zone, 25 Years On

We walk the streets of the old neighborhood this afternoon, remembering another place, another time. Our former apartment building is still there on the south side of JR Koshienguchi station in Nishinomiya, but the cozy third-floor unit where my wife, son and I first lived as a new family, apartment #303, is now being rented out to some local business. The family-run liquor shop just across the way from us in the local shopping arcade is still there, as is the old family-run stationery shop, the shelves filled with office supplies and paper that seemed unmoved since 17 January 1995, the day of the big quake.

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Happy Thanks-Taking Day, America

Every year on this day, the fourth Thursday of November, people all over the United States celebrate an almost sacred national holiday called Thanksgiving Day. It is a day when American families from all walks of life across the nation take time out of their busy lives to gather together and celebrate all that they have to be thankful for in life.

Turkey is the main dish served at these sumptuous Thanksgiving Day feasts, evoking long-distant memories dating back to the year 1621, when the early Europeans settlers in the U.S. sat down together with members of the indigenous First Nations and made peace and shared the bountiful harvest of the land.

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America’s Oil Coup in Venezuela

The recent utterance by so-called president Donald Trump of the United States about using a “military option” in dealing with the South American nation of Venezuela has shifted a slow-motion coup d’état into crisis mode, with the very real possibility now existing that the socialist government of Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro could fall in the near future.

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Remembering Judi Bari

Most people in the United States and around the world, it is fair to say, have probably never heard of Judi Bari — or if they have, they may just barely recall a news story about some crazy domestic American eco-terrorists blowing themselves up in a car.

But if such people had ever spent any time on the far northern coast of California in the U.S., they would need no introduction or explanation as to who Bari was. They would already know.

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When Johnny Went Marching Home Again

The recent decision by the U.S. government to put aside for now the plans to build the $3 billion Dakota Access pipeline near the sacred lands of the Standing Rock Sioux nation was a tremendous People’s Victory — a good example of how the forces of nonviolence and “prayerful” spirit-power can stand up to the economic and political bullying of the mightiest nation on Earth, and win.

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Dakota Pipeline: Prelude to a Land Grab

High tensions over the construction of the Dakota Access pipeline in the USA have subsided for the moment, with the recent announcement by the administration of U.S. president Barack Obama and a federal appeals court ruling that temporarily suspended the building of the 1,825-kilometer (1,135-mile) long pipeline from North Dakota to Illinois.

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The Zen of Climate Change

Fifteen of the world’s most well-known Buddhist leaders, potentially representing more than one billion adherents of the spiritual path of Buddhism around the globe, released a public statement on October 29, 2015, calling on world leaders to take urgent, meaningful steps to deal with planetary climate change. Among those those who signed the statement were the renowned Dalai Lama of Tibet and Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh.

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Where is the People’s Tribunal on Fukushima?

Leaders of three powerful nations were being tried in public in Japan in summer 2004, more than a year after the United States invaded the nation of Iraq, and it was an incredible scene to witness. This was no small matter, either: U.S. president George W. Bush, British prime minister Tony Blair and Japanese prime minister Junichiro Koizumi were being charged with crimes against humanity in connection with the Iraq invasion and/or support for that invasion.

I sat transfixed in the audience of a public hall in the downtown Japanese city of Kyoto, astonished that such a scene was playing out right before me. On stage there were prosecuting attorneys representing the public, defense attorneys representing the three leaders on trial and a procession of witnesses — including some Iraqi exiles who had come all the way to Japan just to testify about the tragedy befalling their country.

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Climate Change — in the Skies and in the Streets

The People have spoken and the demand is made, loudly and clearly: We want issues pertaining to global warming and planetary climate change put on the international political and economic agendas. And we want meaningful action taken on these issues — today, right now.

That was the one voice in which an estimated 400,000 people, nearly half a million strong, spoke in New York City on Sunday, 21 September, during the “People’s Climate March”. Tens of thousands more marched in solidarity in cities around the world.

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The Words of ‘Wasteland’

The environmental state of nations is something that is always on my mind, and we’d all like to think that things are somehow getting better despite all the bad news we see about contamination of the land, sky and water that we depend on for our very survival on this planet.

But I recently came across some powerful words on this subject that, for me, raise sharp questions about just how far we have come in dealing with the pollution that we ourselves have wrought on the world. I share these words with you now in the hope that they may move you too.

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Who Bombed Judi Bari?

In the summer of 1999, during my first-ever visit to the North Coast of far-northern California in the United States, her name was still fresh on people’s lips and her memory alive and well.

Judi Bari had passed away two years before, but the local people still seemed to be speaking and writing about her with a sense of reverence, respect, humanness and humor — in the way that you would go on talking about a dear friend or family member who had died in the present tense, as if they were still alive. I didn’t know a thing about the well-known environmental activist Judi Bari, but I was soon to find out that summer in California.

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A World That Can Say NO — to Monsanto

Back in 1989, a provocative book titled ‘No’ to Ieru Nihon was co-published by Shintaro Ishihara, then the minister of transport in Japan and a rabid right-wing nationalist. The book’s English-language translation, The Japan That Can Say No: Why Japan Will Be First Among Equals caused a big stir for its bluntness at the height of U.S.-Japan trade and economic friction.

Ishihara asserted in the book that it was time for Japan to stop being America’s “yes-man” (or “mistress,” as he sometimes put it) in economic, political and military matters, and for Japan to chart its own course in the coming 21st century. Despite his rhetoric, which often bordered on the extreme, Ishihara had some valid points. He was both adored and despised at home by the Japanese public.

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Two Films, One Planet

I have come upon two new documentary films that tackle urgent problems facing humanity, though they do so from different angles. Both films reinforce, for me, the basic idea that we are all one family living on one planet — and that we need to work together even more closely to get these problems solved for the future.

Let me share a bit about the two films with you, and with an encouragement for you to look into them yourself and arrive at your own judgments.

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Shut the Frackers Down

I had been not following environmental issues in the United States all that closely for awhile, so when I finally did find out about the issue of deep underground drilling of natural gas within the borders of the U.S., my reaction was one of disbelief: Are we still raping the Earth for profits and exploitation? Is this for real?

It was, and it is. Taking the time to inform myself on this issue, I found that hydraulic fracturing — or “fracking,” as it has become known — involves inserting pipes deep underground that shoot high-pressure streams of water, sand and toxic chemicals into the earth. This fractures or breaks apart the solid rock so that the oil and natural gas can be essentially sucked up to the surface and from there, taken by private energy companies to do with as they please.

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Of Soil, Soul and Society

Last night in Kyoto I had the humble honor of being in the presence of one of the great philosopher-activists of our time, Mr. Satish Kumar of India. He is currently on a speaking tour of Japan, and I was fortunate to have attended his lecture here to several hundred Japanese audience members. It was a real spiritual boost for me, offering much inspirational food for thought and shining a light of hope in these uncertain times.

Kumar, a former monk of the Jain religion in India and follower of the nonviolence teachings of Mahatma Gandhi, is perhaps best known today as a peace activist, ecologist and editor of the magazine Resurgence based in England, where he lives with his family.

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Protecting Mr. Monsanto

As a candidate for president of the United States back in 2007, Barack Obama made a bold promise to the U.S. public about the controversial issue of labeling of food products that have genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in them:

“Here’s what I’ll do as president: I’ll immediately implement ‘country of origin’ labeling because Americans should know where their food comes from. ...We’ll let folks know whether their food has been genetically modified because Americans should know what they’re buying.”

Six years later, not only has Obama as president broken that promise about GM labeling of foods, but he went a step further this week by signing into law a bill with provisions that would allow major legal protection to multinational biotech corporations like Monsanto that deal in controversial GM seeds and crops.

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Green Party in Japan

As a journalist I have always had a natural suspicion and wariness of political parties, and a hesitation to join or outwardly support any one party. Maybe that comes from my education in journalism school while a university student, in which I understood that I was to be an objective third party in reporting politics, not a part of the news story itself.

But that’s the ideal. In reality, journalists on all points of the political spectrum — right, center, left — vote for political parties. They support the party they think will best represent them and other citizens like them. Sure, their news reporting as journalists has to be balanced, fair and held up to high standards of public scrutiny. But when it comes to personal values, is being “objective” really preferable...or even possible?

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The 21st Century’s New ‘Silk Road’

President Barack Obama is today basking in the glow of being the president who will end what he calls the U.S. “war of necessity” in Afghanistan, which was waged by U.S. president Bush from 2001. Two days ago, Obama, in his important “State of the Union” address, however, mentioned the word “Afghanistan” only four times:

“Tonight, we stand united in saluting the troops and civilians who sacrifice every day to protect us. Because of them, we can say with confidence that America will complete its mission in Afghanistan and achieve our objective of defeating the core of al Qaeda. [applause]

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A Happy 100th Birthday

Here in Japan today, February 2, the life and lifework of an extraordinary figure is being humbly honored and celebrated: farmer and philosopher Masanobu Fukuoka. The 100 years of his life are being commemorated today at The Museum of Art, Ehime, in the southern Japanese city of Matsuyama — not far from the family farm where Fukuoka lived and worked most of his life — with a symposium, musical tribute and video messages.

Though I can’t be there for that official event, I would like to commemorate Fukuoka on my own this weekend by reflecting on his life and remembering how, in his way, he helped changed the world. It would be no exaggeration to say that at least in the field of agriculture the world over, certainly in the so-called “organic farming movement” that has grown so dramatically the past few decades, Fukuoka has been a leading light and a huge inspiration to many people.

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