Readers Respond: Letters from Spring 2011
A NOTE ON LETTERS TO THE EDITOR: We welcome your responses to our articles. Send your letters to the editor to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please remember, however, not to attribute to Tikkun views other than those expressed in our editorials. We email, post, and print many articles with which we have strong disagreements, because that is what makes Tikkun a location for a true diversity of ideas. Tikkun reserves the right to edit your letters to fit available space in the magazine.
AFGHANISTAN AND THE LOTUS EATERS
What is so striking about the war in Afghanistan is the silence. Barak Obama added 17,000 soldiers in the first month of his administration and then another 30,000 nine months later, all without a serious public debate about the mission and goal for the war, which has led to the American toll of 1,140 dead and 3,420 seriously wounded, as well as 24,000 killed or wounded Afghans. And if the Syracuse Post-Standard is any indication of our national interest, weeks can go by without a serious mention of the war, although over 100,000 U.S. soldiers serve in harm’s way, and we have spent over $370,000,000 to date, with no end in sight.
We call Korea the forgotten war, but Afghanistan is the opiate war. But I say this not because the war is about heroin trade, but because the American public seems to be in a trance and oblivious about the hardships, deaths, and cost of the war. And although candidate Obama said this was a top priority, President Obama hardly mentioned the war in his State of the Union address last year. This is a war without impression or shadow. Shame on us.
What is so troubling about the war is the misunderstanding of its purpose. If you question most Americans as to its purpose, they would say this war is an effort to eliminate al-Qaeda from its original training bases and to prevent this group of terrorists from ever returning to threaten our cities or shores again.
But if one reads newspapers from the Middle East, one would realize that for Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, and India––the major players in the region––the war has nothing to do with al-Qaeda. No one is even thinking, much less talking about al-Qaeda because the group no longer has a presence. They are struggling over the balance of power in the post-U.S. withdrawal from the region and over who will gain control of the politics and the minerals. They are playing a waiting game and performing a Machiavellian minuet, while America plays the punch-drunk sailor in a bar being laughed at by the crowd.
But while we have no public dialogue about this tragedy, the internal dialogue within the administration is even more troubling. If eavesdropping on the president during his internal debate to support a surge should be elucidating, it is not. While debating whether the surge should be 37,000 as requested, or 20,000 as threatened, or the 30,000 as compromised, there was never any candid or rational or practical discussion about aims, objectives, or definitions of success. They just threw more soldiers into the mix to buy more time, and then to balance the politics they called for an arbitrary withdrawal date irrespective of an objective.
In light of our lotus eater mentality, I thought two quotes from Bob Woodward’s book Obama’s Wars were illuminating. When asked, Richard Holbrooke, former Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, said of the surge: “It can’t work.” And when General David Petraeus was asked about the likelihood of success, despite the withdrawal deadline he said, “This is the kind of fight we’re in for the rest of our lives, and probably our kids lives.”
Perhaps the best example of our feckless efforts to date was the widely reported progress supposedly being made, according to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and General Petraeus, in negotiating for months with the Taliban for a peace deal involving power sharing of the Afghan government, only to learn on November 22, 2010 in the New York Times that we were negotiating and funding an imposter who was actually a shopkeeper with no connections to the Taliban. Is it conceivable that the United States could win this war, much less secure peace, if we don’t even know with whom we are negotiating?
So here we sit in silence. Most Democrats and liberals say nothing out of fear of undermining their president, and Republicans generally support the war on the baseless grounds that it is a justified war against terror. The Left cowardly stays silent; the Right stays intellectually dishonest. Both are culpable to the futile, floundering military policy that, though heroic, is unprecedented, except for the charge of the Light Brigade of 1854 and Britain’s mad attempt to conquer the same tribal rage.
Stephen S. Bowman
TRULY PROGRESSIVE GIVING
As a practicing Mormon, I willingly donate about 13 percent of my gross income to the Mormon Church. I’m retired, so my income is much less than when I was a professor of business.
About 3 percent of this 13 percent goes directly to helping the poor in our Mormon communities. Also, the Mormon Church gives many millions to the needy throughout the world when disasters of any type occur. We have held special Fast Days to help the indigent. Every first Sunday, we fast and donate the money we didn’t spend for food to the poor. We have a Perpetual Education Fund that makes low interest loans to members in poor countries to help them get out of the poverty cycle. As they get employed, they pay back these loans thus making the fund perpetual. I plan to give 50 percent of my estate to this PEC.
We have workfare farms where we grow food and raise cattle that is sent to the Bishop’s Storehouse for distribution to the poor. Fast Funds are used to ensure that no member loses his or her home or goes hungry. We have a nationwide placement service for people out of work. I could go on and on.
In addition to this, I give money to private charities to help the poor, but these charities must first pass my test; 80 percent or more of their revenue must go to the needy (no more than 20 percent can be used for overhead). Government programs are lucky if 40 percent of their revenue goes to help the poor. And to be forced through taxation to support the poor is not compassion and not free will giving charity.
My point? To be a true progressive means to change your life––in Christian terms, to be born again––so that you realize that everyone is a child of God and thus brothers and sisters to be loved and helped. One of the reasons that God punished ancient Israel was because of its failure to care for the poor and needy. And this was not done through government.
Today progressivism has turned its attention to using government to do what God expects His children to do voluntarily and out of love. Using force to bring about good is not God’s way. In my opinion, the programs you propose have good intentions, but in the eternal perspective, are harmful to the human soul.
May God bless you to achieve your worthy goals using free will, not the force of government.
ISRAEL AND THE VATICAN
I’ve just finished reading Michael Lerner’s brilliant essay––“The State of the Spirit, 2011”–– in the Winter 2011 issue. As always, Lerner tells it like it is and clearly defines what “we” need to do to begin to achieve the goals he has set forth to unite all of humanity under a common banner of love, compassion, and unified caring. It strikes me that [Jews] and [Catholics] are hampered by two organizations that constitute our respective cultural, social, and spiritual backgrounds: the State of Israel and the Vatican State.
Let me explain. Israel and the Vatican are both highly visible and recognized in the planet’s halls of power and in the minds of the elite. Both institutions play to the elite of the world.
In the case of Israel, it has a tradition of spirituality that goes back perhaps 6,000 years, having established on the global scene those many centuries ago the concept of one, universal, compassionate God who cares a lot about His children on earth.
Yet if you look at Israel today, as a nation it seems to have forgotten that tradition, just as the people of that state seem to have forgotten the Holocaust that nearly wiped out the entire Jewish people. I would expect from such a people the greatest example on earth of how to approach the problem of unifying peoples of different backgrounds and aspirations with compassion and justice. Yet it is not so. Israel is one of the most aggressive and bellicose nations on earth, exceeded only by the United States.
Similarly, the Vatican claims to be the successor of ancient Judaism, (having its birth set at just over 2,000 years ago) fostering a religious spirituality that originates in God Himself, as manifested in the personage of Jesus, and is nothing less than the Word of God, the ultimate truth, and the embodiment of compassion, justice, and mercy. Yet all one has to do is study just the surface of Vatican activities over the past few centuries, and especially in modern times, to see that its primary goal is the preservation and enhancement of the power it has as an institution for the sole purpose of assuring its continuation as an institution.
Both Jews and Catholics as individuals do an enormous amount of good on this earth. I don’t need to list names, but Rabbi Lerner would certainly be among them, as would Sr. Joan Chittister. Just imagine what it would be like if we could look toward Israel and the Vatican to be the two banner carriers of the programs espoused by the Tikkun Community. Were this so, the goals of global compassion, love, mercy, and justice could be achieved in our lifetimes.
Lerner asked that we who believe in what the Tikkun Community is doing keep strong for the next twenty-five years. Well, I will do my best, though at the end of that period I would be 103, and while in excellent health now, I doubt I will be around that long.
Richard C. Placone
Palo Alto, CA
GOLDSTONE AND ISRAEL
Letty Pogrebin’s article, “The Un-Jewish Assault on Richard Goldstone,” originally published in the Forward on December 29, 2010 and featured on Tikkun’s website, was a good one, but to whom is she writing––the American public that doesn’t vote or live in Israel? For what purpose then, for we in Israel have already heard this in Haaretz, from A.B. Yehoshua, etc? I assume she’s asking Israelis to do something.
I appreciate that the readers of Tikkun identify with justice and with saving the whole world, but at this critical moment please save Israel. We are down to nine seats on the Left and are losing these; the demographic realities supersede all rhetoric. Such ideas as “values,” and “conscience” become ingenuous when the bodies themselves are not there to count. You are badly needed. Please come.
Tel Aviv, Israel
You recently ran Uri Avnery’s article commenting on the meeting that Peace Now staff members held with Danny Ayalon, Israel’s deputy foreign minister.
Avnery’s piece was based on a news story that had several inaccuracies and ran under a misleading headline. Avnery wrote his piece without talking to Peace Now’s Secretary General Yariv Oppenheimer, and Tikkun ran the story without talking to Yariv or to us.
Had Tikkun approached us, we would have directed you to the open letter that Peace Now’s Secretary General Yariv Oppenheimer wrote in reply to Avnery’s article.
PROPHETS AND NONPROFITS
Mr. Vradenburg’s three-point plan to transform the world, (which he lays out in “Turning Tikkun Olam into Action,” from the Winter 2011 issue) reminds me of an experience I had some thirty years ago. I had called several of my medical colleges to alert them that “they are going to discuss health care on McNeil-Lehrer tonight!” (There was a time when health care was rarely news.) This roundtable discussion of five or six experts, with a physician conspicuously absent, was summarized at the end by one member with approximately the following statement: “We certainly are all proposing very different solutions, but we seem to agree on one point––that we have started to get a grip on this very vexing problem since we began treating health care as a product.” To me it signaled the beginning of the end.
Once you ignore compassion in the equation of health care, or for that matter, “transforming the world,” and calculate it only by success, you are bound to end up on lower than the twenty-fifth place in the world’s ranking after spending over 50 cents of every dollar invested globally. (See our standing in the world’s health care systems.)
How can Mr. Vradenburg not understand that Tikkun’s transforming the world aims much deeper than success and penny counting? Success may or may not become the fruit, but as soon as we make that our goal, we have lost our aim.
Since prophetic visions are not the prophet’s choice, I hope Tikkun is going to continue to be dedicated to that calling with or without much visible success.
I have to take issue with Rabbi Lerner’s editorial—“Will Obama Stop Betraying His Progressive Base?”—from the November/December 2010 issue. What happened to “loving Obama into doing the right thing,” which we chanted in Washington, D.C. last summer? I agree I would have liked to see Obama out there overtly supporting the progressive agenda, but perhaps he knew what he was doing. I think historians will say that the Obama administration got an incredible amount done during its first two years.
Now is not the time to desert Obama. Understand this: we are not going to get a president better than Obama. There are real life limits to presidential power. Both Kennedy and Roosevelt begged progressives to create a movement to force them to move forward on issues they could not have accomplished otherwise. It’s no surprise Obama cannot do the things progressives want him to without strong populist movements (and polls aren’t movements).
Our response needs to be to build a populist/progressive movement strong enough to force Obama and our government to do what needs to be done. One Nation was a good step toward starting to get civil rights, labor, and progressive/liberal groups working together. Organizing for America, however, has been a dismal failure, diverting resources from more effective mobilization. But we are learning and gathering strength and effectiveness daily. The veterans’ anti-war demonstration at the White House on December 16, 2010 was a spectacular mobilization––and don’t think for a moment that the news blackout on the demonstration in any way diminished its impact.
I am truly encouraged as I see our movement growing with stronger voices and greater impact. Civil society has unbelievable power; the challenge is to organize this power when the entire American establishment is set against us. But when in history was it not thus? We have tremendous resources, including the Internet, which are entirely civil society, if we can learn to use them. And we have a president who we know will be sympathetic if we can get strong enough to allow him to act.
While Democrats lost some ground during the midterm election, progressives stood strong on the issues and generally won their elections. Instead of leaving the Democratic Party, we need to take it over, take it back to its roots and basic democratic principles. This means that we need to use the electoral process to get progressives and liberals elected at every level of government.
Building a movement strong enough to influence our government—the most powerful one in the world––is a daunting task, but history tells us this is the only way we will get anywhere. Perhaps it’s a sign of our own growing strength that our opposition has grown so strong. It seems to me that we invariably question our own strength, when in fact we should be measuring it by the strength of the opposition. Stop believing all the establishment propaganda and stop undermining our own efforts. The economic problems may be working against the Democratic Party, but should work in favor of progressives over the long run by waking people up to their true interests and by getting them off their butts and into action. I suggest we take a second look at the Tea Party people and try to see beyond the Nazi Obamas and Confederate flags to a bunch of rightfully upset Americans who are misguided about solutions and their own interests.
The pendulum is bound to swing back toward the progressive direction by 2012. Our task, as I see it, is to organize a movement capable of capitalizing on this swing to move our government and the Democratic Party forward on progressive issues. In this Obama is part of the solution. I know it’s difficult and daunting but, in the final analysis, organizing strong populist movements to achieve progressive goals is the only thing that has ever worked.
Falling Waters, WV
JFK AND OBAMA
Thank you so much for having the courage and integrity to publish the excellent articles by Jim Douglass, Ched Myers, and John Perkins [in the November/December 2010 issue] on the national security state execution of President John F. Kennedy and its relevance for today. Members of the media who dumb down citizens with ridicule of “conspiracy theory” are either ignorant or deliberately spewing disinformation. As someone who has spent many hours in the National Archives studying recently declassified documents, let me assure you that Douglass’s analysis of the assassination is correct. Though we will never have proof of a mastermind, we can identify CIA operatives who were involved in the conspiracy, and there is plenty of circumstantial evidence clearly pointing to the very highest levels of the CIA.
Most important of all is how the authors relate JFK’s assassination to the current tension between President Obama and his military advisers. It is truly frightening how easily Obama is manipulated and bullied into escalating a war that is so transparently useless. You have performed a great public service by engaging your readers on this vital subject.
Steven G. Jones
Unfortunately my current financial situation is that of most Americans: dismal. Despite this, I’ll be able to donate in the coming year. I have a few suggestions that would broaden your base though, and would result in less alienation of audiences while still retaining the important themes and topics your independent press provides. You should be after $2 from 250,000 individuals instead of $500 from 1000 individuals.
1. You need to quit openly pandering to liberal/progressive/spiritual etc. demographics. It prevents potential readers from even making it past the cover, especially in predominantly Republican states. Yet your messages transcend both parties, and in general represent 90 percent of the public’s best interests. Why would you willingly lose half of that audience for the sake of slapping a political label on the cover/articles? It would make more sense to replace liberal/progressive/spiritual with “common man/average American/common citizen.” I find that this specific designation more than anything costs you readers, even when an intelligent individual like myself attempts to pass the articles along to trusting friends. People simply don’t want to hear more politics, especially ones claiming to be Democrat/Republican/progressive/populist/any other mainstream label. Labels are one of the most powerful weapons of the mainstream media.
2. Make modifications to the Environmental and Social Responsibility Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (ESRA) and push it in every single issue, particularly the CEO-base worker pay ratio. 10-1 will never work and is far too extreme for a society where every person is encouraged to “dream big.” And former CEOs control most of Congress. There should be a more measurable way of deciding pay, like increasing pay increments based on positions between the top and bottom worker. In other words, if there are 50 places of rank between worker and CEO, the CEO’s pay should be 50 times greater, but capped at 60 times base worker pay. Just a thought. Other than that, this amendment is by far the most beneficial political work to our society as a whole that has been considered in recent history. I recommend you write a column/article in every single issue of Tikkun about this amendment’s importance and what its future effects on American society would be so that people may better imagine a different world.
You are right to argue for a new bottom line, but having a “Jewish-labeled liberal press” and asking for donations and urging the rethinking of money isn’t going to fly when so few are financially sound and do indeed need money. You must be sure to specify always that the common man has every right to want back the wealth that has been unwillingly stripped from him via inflation.
When the amendment is appropriately repackaged in a non-political press, you will find that the amendment itself will be the dividing and selling factor, rising above prior political preferences that people might have. The average American, regardless of party, would stand behind any candidate backing the ESRA because even if they are Republican/Democrat/libertarian, etc., their ideals are still aligned with the people as a whole; as opposed to that of the establishment elites who have held power based on accumulated wealth since around 1900.
3. The Federal Reserve System in America deserves much more attention than you give it. It is quite possibly the most powerful institution on earth and is wholly responsible for all of the recessions/depressions of the past 100 years. I could give you accurate information on this so abhorrent you would find yourself vomiting with disgust. So many believe today that we are more intelligent than we were 100 years ago, yet this is only true in a technological regard. In terms of basic economics, the average farmer
of 1900 was far more involved in the concept of currency and markets than today. The central banking Federal Reserve System deserves an audit, and dismemberment in my opinion. They knowingly rescue their closest companions (big banks/corporations) at the expense of the average American every time a “crisis” occurs, with the “crisis” itself having been engineered behind their closed doors. If the American people ever
wish to have power back in their hands, dismantling the Federal Reserve System and banning all central banks in the United States is critical. ESRA would be meaningless without a clause addressing this.
Within the coming year I will be able to financially assist this magazine, but will only do so if you can legitimately give thought to these suggestions. I am not being critical of your ideals, just the manner in which they are presented. For an American society, a perfect package is the only way to entice the greatest number of individuals, otherwise your magazine will continue to be just another “left-wing set of who-hahs” or “overly liberal propaganda.”
P.S. Quite possibly addressing the Federal Reserve in open press is a death wish, but avoiding it altogether would be much the same as medical treatment in our “modern” society: you might relieve symptoms temporarily and even appear to recover, but at the end of the day the ailment remains and you are poorer for it.
EVOLUTION AND THE SPIRIT
Michael Lerner’s instinct to bring a spiritual approach to evolution, which he articulated in the November/December 2010 issue, is aimed in the right direction, but even so there are problems. For one thing, he seems to confuse spiritual with supernatural. There are many values that can legitimately be called spiritual that have nothing to do with the supernatural and are open to anyone of good will whether an atheist or a believer in God.
Also Lerner is too hard on scientists. Ayer, the founder of logical positivism, was a philosopher, not a scientist, and his claims about value terms being meaningless has been refuted by the very same argument Lerner uses. However, Ayer could have been correct if he had said that value terms have to be properly defined if they can be made subject to empirical study. Take the statement, “caring for other people is an ethical imperative.” Social scientists have reported on societies that became extinct because they did not care for each other. Again it is philosophers who claim one can’t get an “ought” from an “is.” No climate scientist would first predict the destructive effects of climate degradation and global warming and then not say that we ought to do something about it. If human survival is an important value, then of course we should. Defining and measuring the benefits of mutual love and mother love is more difficult than rocket science, but social scientists can eventually work out techniques. Our problem is not with the scientists who warn of environmental or nuclear disaster, but with the business and governmental leaders who try to deny their warnings.
His accusation that biologists put too much emphasis on conflict is misplaced. It is simply true that all species are in a struggle for survival. It is also probably true that without previous massive extinctions, such as that of the dinosaurs, mammals would not have had the opportunity to develop into humans. Evolution by natural selection is a messy and bloody process. Yes, Lerner is basically right. We have developed into a species capable of destroying not only itself, but most other life as well. We have to transcend Darwinian evolution by consciously putting in the spiritual values that both he and I hold. We can’t deny Darwinism; we have to go beyond it.
Peter B. Denison
TOWARD A JUST ISRAEL
Twenty-five years ago when many of us thought a Jewish vision for a just and compassionate society was losing its power to persuade and inspire, Tikkun magazine voiced a clarion call to do just that! And for these twenty-five years it has persisted in pushing us, pestering us to think and to act, and to fight injustice; to demand equality; and to mend the terrible injuries inflicted on women, the poor, and the marginalized. It has urged us to save the environment. In the spirit of our great prophetic tradition, Tikkun has been passionate. It has empowered the powerless and has spoken truth to power. Tikkun magazine has given voice to voices not heard. It has raised unpopular issues with politicians and leaders that we’ve supported who have fallen short of the mission they preached. It has been unwavering in its support for an Israel that must recognize the suffering of Palestinians and reach a solution so that Israel can flourish as a democratic and Jewish society.
In a world and at a time when our planet is so vulnerable, when our Jewish world needs a mission to restore its faith and commitment to our legacy of tikkun olam, Tikkun magazine opens the conversation, spreads the word, and marches on world capitals when necessary.
I hope and pray that Tikkun continues to be the vehicle moving us toward a redeemed world, igniting our hope, and fighting despair.
As I struggle to keep Jerusalem shalem (whole), home to the three monotheistic religions, open to Jews of all streams, and to build a State of Israel that will indeed be a “light to the nations,” I know that Rabbi Michael Lerner and Tikkun echo these hopes and envision these dreams.
Rabbi Naamah Kelman
ON LOVE, KINDNESS, AND GENEROSITY
I have been trying to recuperate from a bad fall and subsequent operation. I am confined to my home and can get around only with the aid of a walker. The only activities that keep me going are my attempts to read, keep abreast of what is happening in our sad world, and evaluate the proposals of serious thinkers like Michael Lerner for rescuing humankind from self-destruction. I want to react briefly to some of Lerner’s articles on the application of kindness, generosity, and love to the creation of a humane world.
I have no fault to find with the picture of the ideal world Lerner paints, but will the path to that world be hewn out in the manner he describes? I am afraid we are at least centuries away from the program he recommends. Here are a few thoughts on the subject:
1. The virtues of kindness, generosity, and love should certainly be injected into the hearts of the millions of men and women to whom they are foreign. How do you propose to perform that task? Any proposal would necessarily entail a revolution in the world’s educational systems. I have spent some 70 years of my life trying to make a minute contribution to that endeavor. I think I have batted about .300, which is a good but inadequate average. And I, like Lerner, have worked and continue to do so with “civilized” human beings. How can we reach the backward majority?
2. War is evil, and the dream of Isaiah and Micah should long ago have become a reality. Yes, American armed forces should not be in Afghanistan. What happens when they leave without a solution to the civil war? Who is to bring about peace in that forlorn country? Will the American troops in Iraq bring about real peace between the Muslim sects? I have lived in Israel since 1961. Believe me, I am a peacenik. From my Hillel days until the present, I have fought (by peaceful means) for the equality of all Arab citizens. In my book, The Reunion of Isaac and Ishmael, I record some of the ways in which even the Hebrew University has failed to carry out its educational and moral responsibility for bringing about Arab-Jewish understanding.
3. How do we eliminate poverty in Africa? With all the good will in the world, can we feed the continent without violence against the tyrants who are at least partially responsible for the misery? I do not recommend going to war against the oppressors, but I do not see how we can bring about the social revolution without a reordering of Western civilization and a determined but necessarily slow education of the poor, unfortunate hundreds of millions of people in the less developed areas of Africa.
4. I certainly support Lerner’s calls for peaceful solutions to international and intergroup conflicts of all kinds. But I think that each conflict has to be treated on its own terms. For example, ever since I came to Israel as an oleh in 1961, I have fought for the democratic values that should be the basis of the Israel polity. In 1967, after the Six-Day War, I was one of those who spoke out against the irredentism that led to the current problems on the West Bank. I cite this merely as an indication of the complexity in trying to solve problems in the most moral and sensitive fashion. I am afraid we are engaged in a struggle that will long defy our efforts. Yet there is no way out of our responsibility. So let’s keep plugging away.
5. As I close this letter, all of us are facing a new, vexing, and complicated problem. How shall we react to what is happening in Egypt? In another hour, one of my granddaughters, I hope, will board a plane in Cairo and return home after a short stay in Egypt. She went with a group of young men and women to become acquainted with our neighbor and to improve her Arabic. Maybe she will be able to shed some light on the atmosphere in the west of Sinai. But we in Israel shall have to learn the rules of the new ball game. How and to whom in Egypt should we Israelis extend our love, kindness, and generosity?