AlterNet Readers' 10 Best Comments of the Week

As part of our ongoing efforts to give AlterNet readers a voice, we're introducing a new feature: your Comments of the Week.

This first collection was chosen by AlterNet's editors, but in the future, it'll be up to you to nominate the most insightful comments by your fellow readers every week. You can either send an e-mail to your friendly neighborhood AlterNet Community Moderator (moderator@alternet.org), or you can use the "report this comment" button featured on each reader's contributions. Yes, until now that's been for reporting bad behavior, but now you can use it to highlight your fellow readers' best contributions.

It's web 2.0, baby! And we've got a lot more of it in the pipeline.

And without further ado, here are this week's best comments …

On Monday, we ran a piece by Julie Johnson titled, "Californians Are Willing to Pay for Cleaner Air". Reader wonkywriter responded that "The solution is national":


Good for Californians for being the first to really see the need for drastic steps to cut greenhouse gas emissions. Yet, buying a Prius or Civic hybrid is not the answer. People think Toyota and Honda are "green" companies. Have you noticed that both are offering larger and larger trucks to their customers? Why do you think this is, other than profits? It's because for every hybrid they sell, they can sell another gas-guzzling truck or SUV and still maintain their Corporate Average Fuel Economy numbers. The only way to realize a net savings on carbon emissions is to cut back on our driving, flying, and home energy consumption. If we don't do it voluntarily, the government will have to apportion energy credits per capita (rationing). There's no other fair way.

Paul Harris' piece asking, "Is the US Heading for 'Developing Nations' Inequality Levels?"drew lots of passionate comments, including this anecdote by ALANHESTER:

Do you have any idea how embarrassing it is to have to explain to people from Canada and Europe about the homeless people in the US? I met an immigrant who put the issue succinctly: "In the UK, there is debate on healthcare, public transportation, the war in Iraq, how to integrate Muslims into society, and other quality of life issues. In America, we dabate about abortion, gay marriage and stem cell research. In short, the British debate over issues that are important to the quality of their lives, while Americans rarely debate about ANYTHING that will improve the quality of life for the populace as a whole. Katrina is instructive on this issue. Most of the debate by Americans is centered on who to blame, rather than how to rebuild New Orleans or how to prevent a recurrence. Meanwhile, the refugees from Katrina sit in armed trailer camps on top of toxic dumps…………….

In response to Chalmers Johnson's article, "The True -- and Shocking -- History of the CIA", Hugh Scott, a former Air force pilot and Vietnam vet, wrote:

In the late 1950s, I served as an Air Force intelligence officer in Washington, DC. My job: collecting radar-targeting information for SAC bombers penetrating Russia at the outbreak of WWIII. The best data came from the CIA, before it moved to Virginia.

One Agency shop I visited contained all U.S. ground intelligence photography…. One day while searching for USSR data, I noticed a single filing cabinet labeled "USA." Mystified, wondering what kind of classified pictures the CIA had collected about America, I finger-walked through the drawers.

Several 5x7 cards showed a Soviet submarine surfaced near Catalina Island, photographed by an undoubtedly awestruck boater. Moments later, it was my turn to be astonished. Incredibly, I had stumbled across two B&W photographs of a UFO. Seriously.

I can still see the startling images in my brain now, 50 years later -- like stills from a Hollywood sci-fi flick. Stamped "Confidential NO FORN," both pictures were captioned "Unidentified flying object sighted over Kansas, circa 1952."

The photos showed a metallic disk hovering several hundred feet above a cornfield. From a telephone pole in the foreground of one pic, I estimated the saucer's diameter at 300 feet. It was flat on the bottom and had a curved upper surface with a small dome on top I figured was the cockpit.

Since this was before the advent of computer graphics and digital manipulations, I had no reason to believe the flying saucer pictures were fakes. Eventually, however, after months of off-duty UFO research, I decided the photos were indeed frauds. […]

Here's the point of my UFO story as it applies to Iraq and the excuses Bush used to start Gulf War 2. From my experiences working with CIA personnel I don't believe they would ever fabricate or distort critical intelligence data. That kind of dishonest behavior simply would not happen, no matter how much pressure came from the White House…

In sum, like all federal agencies, the CIA employs thousands of decent, patriotic Americans who are serving our country with honor. It‚s sad that they have been tarred by the reprehensible actions of a small minority of Agency loose cannons that don't understand what the U.S. Constitution is all about.

Poor Hugh took some heat for letting the CIA off the hook. But it was AlterNet that took some heat for "Fear and Loathing in Middle America," by Sasha Abramsky. This time, I the very insightful words of Grumble-bum:

I find myself coming away from this commentary/review with mixed feelings. This class divide between Americans seems to be difficult, if not impossible, to dissect without falling either into contempt for the "Other" on the one hand, or a certain patronizing romanticism on the opposite. Not unlike even the best-intentioned exploration of the racial divisions that plague us, it presents us with a stacked deck situation where the odds are against anyone ever finding an answer that avoids offense or misunderstanding. […]

Scratch the surface of the stumbling giant of the United States, & you find a wealth of individual experience. I was reminded of this yesterday as I rode in a car through a neighborhood that, in comparison to the one I live in (one thoroughly mixed both racially & economically), might have well as well as been on the other side of the moon. We passed an all-Black biker gathering & barbecue held in a record store parking lot in a blighted section of the city. In attendance were folks who fell into a Hell's Angels, Harley & leather bunch, side by side with a Purple-Rain, gender-bending crotch-rocket contingent. I reflected that these were two distinct sub-sects of the biker culture that would absolutely, positively never coexist in rural White America.

Looking at this eclectic gathering of disparate people, I wondered how they would be "classified" by the sort of people I associate with normally (like the readers of Alternet, overwhelmingly White, "Middle-class", "educated", & in our own ways thoroughly intolerant)?

Likewise, growing up in rural Indiana (a "Northern State" controlled by the KKK during the 20's), I was always fascinated by the contempt that the under-educated, small-town Whites I lived amongst held for their under-educated small-town White counterparts in neighboring Kentucky! Now those people down in Kentucky, man, they were a bunch of Trash, I tell ya! Meanwhile, Blacks, Mexicans & Gays were the scariest people in the whole world… Except, of course, the Gays, Mexicans & Blacks who dwelt amongst us. They were loved & tolerated, in that odd, insular way seemingly unique to small towns around the world.

I guess what I'm getting at here is that the only way to reach understanding between the various divides that separate us, is at the level of the individual. Any attempt to make broad, sweeping statements about the motivations of a particular sub-group seems to be doomed to failure & misinterpretation. May we continue to try to understand, though.

A few quick hits. In response to Martic Hickman's article, "Exposed: The Truth Behind Popular Carbon Offsetting Schemes", Bart Thesc wrote:

The problem [with carbon offsets] is that there is no hard science and, more importantly, no hard accounting behind most of these companies that sell and exchanges that trade greenhouse gas offsets. Ask what you are getting for your money when you buy an offset, then ask for proof of what they are doing. For the first question you will get something very warm and fuzzy. For the second question you will get a blank stare …

I am sure there are companies that are trying to do the right thing, but without clearly defined standards and solid logical science behind what they are doing to remove or sequester these substances there is no reason to believe that money is being spent properly and not just lining pockets.

Next week: Greenhouse offset pricing. Real numbers? Or just figures made up by our marketing department? You be the judge."

And when Greta Christina explained "Why Civil Unions Aren't Enough," jmontars wrote:

…When you hear the argument that if marriage is extended to gay people, then heterosexual marriage will lose something, it's true. It's true in the sense that those who rule the rest of us will lose a tool to pit gays and non-gays against each other while they continue to rob us of our democracy, our commonwealth and our personal wealth. Until Universal Health Care is considered a human right in this country…get the picture?"

We do. Another piece getting a lot of attention from commenters this week was Jeanine Plant's interview with author Daniel Brook, "Why Progressives Are Selling Out to Corporate America." It elicited these thoughts from a reader with the handle, "american" (who we're guessing is not from Toronto):

… I have been saying pretty much the same thing for some time now. Being in the middle class is now like climbing an escalator that is going in the opposite direction. It used to be like walking up a flight of stairs. Things that have made it like this have become hardened into our econo-society. They have become institutionalized. The drivers for this are the Reagan/Bush policies that are basically designed to transfer national (no world) assets- not just money wealth - to the select few. The fundamental cause though, is the groups and the allowance of the groups that put them into office. It sure as heck wasn't the rednecks. To accomplish the ill deeds that have been accomplished requires lying, cheating, and stealing because, as was pointed out, the vast majority of people do not want what they have been getting. In a word, capitalism is throttling democracy. […]

The evidence is in … capitalism doesn't accomplish what its proponents say it does, first because social and environmental costs are left out, and secondly, because the power set will not acknowledge its failures. We've just got to change our paradigm: we are not riding an economic engine; we are riding an economicsnake.

On Thursday, Salim Muwakkil's piece, "The Squandering of Obama", caused anothername to weigh in, this time with a numbered list:

1) Obama, Clinton, and Richardson, just like the white male candidates, are most familiar with the people of their heritage. The key will be for Obama, Clinton, and Richardson to demonstrate they can reach beyond the Black, the woman, and the Hispanic affiliations. Unfortunately, we don't hold the white men to the same level of demonstrating that they can reach beyond privileged white male heritage.

2) Look at who pulled Obama into the presidential contest. It was a white Hollywood producer and a white Wall Street investor. From the very beginning of his presidential campaign, Obama has been representing wealthy, white male America.

3) Once again, Obama is presented as having a vision. Yet, nobody can tell me what that vision is. I was at one of his recent campaign stops in an early state and a local saw me taking notes and gave me an aside comment that Obama is still not saying anything. Moreover, I found it interesting that one of the examples of current conditions that Obama used was what one of his main backers has been saying. That is Warren Buffet talking about his 15% tax on dividends while his secretary pays 28% on salary.

4) Obama is not a descendent of slaves, at least not slaves in America. There is a different heritage between African Americans who came to the U.S. after 1900 and those whose ancestors were brought here on slave boats. When I call my credit card company and talk with somebody in India, I can understand the words but the person does not understand my frustration. When Obama hails a cab that does not stop or gets into Harvard, he may bring recognition to the African American/Black community but does he understand the generations of struggle and refusal for admission or access that descendents of slaves in America feel?

And in response to AlterNet staffer Steven Rosenfeld's article, "Today Is D-Day for Electronic Voting Machines", paul_revere shared some experiences voting-by-mail:

I am in Oregon, the first and only state to vote exclusively by mail. Oregon had the highest percentage of registered voters to cast ballots. In 2002 we had 81% participation by registered voters. In 2004, it was up to 83%.

My wife and I sat at our table, readied our pens and then cast our votes. We were able to discuss the issues with the information books at hand, and, along with our own convictions about the candidates, make decisions and mark our ballots. Then we placed the ballots in the appropriate envelopes. We could have mailed the ballots, but we opted to drive over to a designated drop box at a County Elections Office. It was one of the easiest things we have ever done.

Imagine if voters did this on Election Day? They would feel empowered because they could take part in our electoral process without taking off work or standing in the rain.

Finally, Joshua Holland's piece on the Minnesota bridge collapse rang true for HeroesAll:

The drone of politicians bleating "lower taxes" is tiresome enough: the neglect of infrastructure is particularly stupid. Well, infrastructure, health care, social responsibilities, and so on: all the factors that go toward making a society, rather than a gang.

It's also part of the worship of the 'hidden hand of the market', since some people (largely Republicans and idiots) seem to believe that said hidden hand is all-powerful and perfect. Rather like a 20th century god.

Remember to nominate the best comments you see by using the "report this comment" link or by e-mailing moderator@alternet.org. And if you have any suggestions about how we can make this new feature better, let us know in the comments!

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