Mr. B’s Great Adventure and the Power of Yes

...Entertainer and activist Harry Belafonte, it is reported through the static of the bus radio speakers, has just created a storm of controversy by criticizing Colin Powell, the secretary of state in the administration of U.S. president George W. Bush. In an interview with a radio station in San Diego, located on the opposite end of California from where I was living at the time, Belafonte had blasted Powell, a fellow Jamaican American, for kowtowing to the wishes of his white boss, Bush, instead of standing up on principle and condemning the dangerous direction the Bush administration was leading the USA post-911.

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Free Peltier — This Time for Real

Six years ago, I joined with many around the world in appealing directly to Barack Obama, president of the United States, for executive clemency for Native American activist Leonard Peltier — the longest-serving political prisoner in the USA. Our appeal was for Obama to use his power of the presidency to set Peltier free. The legal case that the government of the USA constructed to put Peltier behind bars back in 1977 was marred through and through by incompetence and fraud, to put it mildly. It was time to let Peltier go and draw a close to that sad chapter of history.

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Accolades for the Archbishop

It is early morning somewhere in rural South Africa, the sun not yet rising over the horizon. In the dim morning light, through the slowly lifting fog — or is it smoke from the nearby shacks? — I am walking up some makeshift steps on the side of a steep ravine. I look over at the person walking up next to me and study the lines on his face: It is Desmond Tutu, the revered Anglican Church archbishop of South Africa. He is showing me around here, he explains, because he wants me to see how people in South Africa really live, the poverty they still have to face in the land of apartheid.

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Salute to a Soul Sister

Janice Mirikitani and a friend are walking down the sidewalk, as the friend’s recollection goes, in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco, California, USA — one of the city’s poorer and more merciless areas. Coming down the sidewalk toward them is a man of the streets who is making loud barking and growling noises like a dog; he is obviously in need of some help.

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Disinfectant Don & the Magically Downsizing Democracy

A half-year after the greatest crime against the USA that the universe has never seen — to borrow a Trumpish superlative — it bears looking closely at what has been happening since the 6 January 2021 failed coup attempt sparked by the former president of the United States and the inauguration of the legitimately elected president, Joe Biden, not long afterward.

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The Real American Carnage

The violent insurrection on the United States Congress a few days ago in Washington DC, urged on by no less than the Fake President himself, Donald Trump, intended to reverse by force a free and fair election. More than that, the insurrection intended to overturn the system of democratic government in a coup attempt. That attempt failed, though it could easily have succeeded under the circumstances.

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Making America Snakes Again

Now that voters in the United States have politically buried their Fake President, Donald Trump, at the polls by a wide margin, we can all continue popping the corks off those celebratory bottles of champagne into the new year and finally close the book on that unfortunate reign of America’s self-appointed emperor…right?

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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.

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When in Washington, Do as the Romans Do

A damaging impeachment trial, a ravaging global pandemic, a crashing domestic economy and explosive uprisings in cities across the United States: Any one of these factors would be enough to seal the fate of an American president, Republican or Democrat, conservative or liberal, and consign a president’s legacy to the trash heap of history.

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Hamba Kahle to a South African Son

Hamba kahle in the Xhosa and Zulu languages of South Africa is a commonly expressed heartfelt wish for a deceased person to “go well” on their spiritual journey in the Great Beyond. Another commonly heard English phrase at South African funerals is that someone “ran a good race” during his/her lifetime on Earth, having lived a life worthy of praise.

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Thumbs Up at Falling Statues

Incidents of deadly racist violence in the United States — the neo-fascist demonstration in August in Charlottesville, Virginia and the Charleston, South Carolina church shooting of 2015, to name just a couple — have helped to raise public awareness and reignite public protests over the existence of Confederate statues, monuments and memorials throughout the American South that have long been despised symbols of the legacy of racism, slavery and the oppression of African-American citizens.

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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.

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A New Media Storyline for MLK (pt. 1)

Today, 16 January, the people of the United States of America will recognize Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a national holiday. And just as they have for most of the 31 years that the birthday of the late Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. has been a nationally observed holiday, the American news media will basically get the story wrong.

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A New Media Storyline for MLK (pt. 2)

• 1968 — The new year of 1968 begins on a turbulent note with a severe routing of U.S. forces in South Vietnam as part of the successful “Tet offensive” of the North Vietnamese guerrilla fighters, exposing the lies of U.S. military commanders and President Johnson himself that the USA was winning the war in Vietnam. U.S. public opinion against the war rises steadily from this point onward. Rev. King, at this critical time, stands at the forefront of the nation’s anti-war movement. And, as the above editorial cartoon shows, King is being increasingly viewed by white America as a rabble-rouser and a "troublemaker" who needed to be dealt with; U.S. government agencies such as the FBI are treating King as public enemy No. 1.

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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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Love the World, America, or Leave It

As the early shock waves from the great earthquake known as the 2016 United States presidential election subside and the world now braces itself for the resulting tsunami waves to follow, it is a good moment for us all to pause and do what the USA, in particular, has always been very poor at doing throughout its history as a young nation: self-reflection.

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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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Time to Reject the Politics of Fear

It was an amazing transformation to see: Here were all these hard-core, politically progressive persons steadfastly maintaining that Bernie Sanders was the best and only viable candidate in the United States presidential election of 2016. And for good reason. He was promising them a revolution, and it looked like he was indeed taking the masses city by city up to the gates of the towering castle, at which point the masses would barge in and seize power from the crooked kings and queens. A new day was indeed coming in which the American people would rule.

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A Pardon for Peltier

Dear President Obama: You have many important domestic and international issues before you at the moment that require your time and attention, and the fate of a 71-year-old man in failing health who has been in prison on U.S. soil for more than 40 years for a crime that, by all credible accounts, he did not commit is probably not among your highest priorities.

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American Dream, Chilean Nightmare

Pedro Pablo Barrientos came to the United States in 1990 to make a new start in life. Leaving his native country of Chile in South America and arriving in the U.S. southern state of Florida with little money and a broken marriage behind him, he managed to get a job in landscaping at first, then worked at a few restaurants and eventually ran his own pizza joint — a sure sign that you have made it in the USA.

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We are Sandra Bland

...In the case of Ms. Sandra Bland, a 28-year-old African-American citizen, the “crime” was a much simpler and thus more insidious one: a very minor traffic violation in Texas in July that led to her being arrested on a major felony charge. She was found to have killed herself by hanging in her jail cell three days later. Bland’s surviving family members do not believe the official ruling that she took her own life while behind bars, and neither do I. Looking closely at all the facts in the case, it's not hard to come to the conclusion that an official police cover-up of some kind was (and still is) in place.

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Apartheid, American-Style

I wondered aloud in a recent blog post how young people in the USA get their hands on high-caliber weapons, often with tragic consequences of innocent people getting killed. But I could just as well ask the same thing about police forces throughout the United States.

Ferguson, Missouri immediately comes to mind, of course, and the shooting death by police of 18-year-old Michael Brown. But contrary to what the apologists might say, we have seen this tragic scenario play out many times over the years in the United States of America, and it goes something like this:

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The Year of Baldwin — Joining the Celebration

When the U.S. writer James Baldwin died at age 63 in 1987, he left behind a treasure trove of writings and a legacy that seemed certain to grow and deepen with the passing of time.

If Baldwin had been living among us today, he would have been heartened, I’m sure, to see his 90th birthday feted just a few days ago on August 2, and his legacy as one of the greatest writers of our time still recognized and warmly embraced.

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No Room for Hate Speech in Japan

In my first few years working as a journalist in Japan in the late 1980s, I immersed myself in covering issues pertaining to the Korean community. It was as good an education as any young, eager reporter in this country could get: One of the hottest issues I was covering at the time was the forced fingerprinting that tens of thousands of ethnic Koreans living in Japan had to go through from age 16, and the identification they had to carry on them at all times.

Never mind that many of these Koreans were born and raised in Japan, yet not allowed to vote under Japanese law or even to obtain Japanese citizenship. They were a kind of stateless minority in Japan, and were tired of being treated that way.

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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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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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One Billion Women Rising...and Rising

If you’ve known women in your life, as I have in mine, who were victims of violent abuse sometime in their lives and are still dealing with the pain, then you know how important the “One Billion Rising” event held worldwide on 14 February was in demanding an immediate end to this violence against women.

One billion is the number of girls or women who are projected to suffer violent physical abuse at some point in their lives at the hands of men. That’s one out of every three girls or women worldwide. One Billion Rising was, first and foremost, a campaign for women to unify, stand up in great numbers and reclaim themselves — physically, mentally, spiritually — and to do it through dance.

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Standing Up to Betrayal

A handwritten placard held up by a First Nations protester in Canada warns: Get Ready 4 Indian Spring, referring to the “Arab Spring” citizen uprisings that have literally redrawn the political maps in several Middle Eastern countries in recent years. Something strong indeed seems to be stirring in indigenous communities in Canada and elsewhere, yet for the most part the story is still underreported (and unreported) by the big news companies of the world.

That may change in this coming spring season. In recent months the “Idle No More” social movement based in Canada has reignited sparks of Native pride, mass action and solidarity, both within and beyond Canadian borders, like few others have in recent times.

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