Red-and-white striped poles spring up in the vacant lot on my block every year, even before I’ve fully digested Thanksgiving dinner. Topped by floodlights, these oversized candy canes tower over the neighborhood, a blinding reminder that Christmas is coming. Next time I check, the tree sellers will have finished setting up shop there, erecting their bristling forest of dead pines under the dazzling lights.
Paired with the blitz of “Black Friday” and “Cyber Monday” ads that tend to flood my inbox and mailbox, this surreal invasion of my neighborhood always makes me feel like Christmas is breathing down my neck.
How did the commemoration of a homeless baby’s birth turn into this garish and materialistic extravaganza? And how can we start to reel the consumerism back?
All fifty states are buzzing with news about the $4.35 billion in federal education grants now available for school improvement initiatives.
Obama and Duncan announce education grants.
The Obama administration released the final rules for its Race to the Top competition Wednesday, outlining how states can prove themselves worthy of the grant money. States that experiment with charter schools, track student gains over time, use standardized tests to evaluate teachers, and overhaul struggling schools by dismissing teachers en masse are poised to rake in the most money. California and Wisconsin have already sought to become more competitive by changing their laws to allow teacher pay to be linked to student test scores.
It’s great that our executive branch is finally funneling some money toward education — what a welcome change from the last administration! But I can’t help but remain wary of Arne Duncan’s latest exploit, given his track record of inviting the Pentagon into Chicago schools and handing struggling public schools to private contractors.
Here’s what I really want to know: how serious is Duncan when he talks about educational innovation? Might there be an opening for a deep and substantive shift in educational policy right now — a shift away from educational programs that feel oppressive and irrelevant, and toward ones that are instead riveting, joyful, socially engaged, and empowering?
The Religious Right is cheering last night’s passage of the Stupak amendment, which threatens women’s reproductive rights by severely limiting insurance companies’ ability to cover the cost of abortions.
“This is a huge pro-life victory for women, their unborn children, and families,” announced the Family Research Council, a conservative Christian public policy group that lobbied hard for the amendment. “We applaud this House vote.”
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops also played a major role in persuading lawmakers to adopt the amendment, which 64 House Democrats and 176 Republicans voted to attach in their last-minute wrangles over the Affordable Health Care for America Act. John Nichols raised serious concerns about the Catholic bishops’ involvement, writing this in his post for the Nation:
The tortured final negotiations put serious cracks in Thomas Jefferson’s “wall of separation” between church and state, as abortion foes such as Pennsylvania Democrat Jason Altmire openly acknowledged that they would not vote for health-care reform legislation unless they were told it was appropriate to do so by Catholic bishops in their home districts.
The health bill, with Stupak amendment in tow, passed the House last night by 220-215, simultaneously paving the way for the most ambitious expansion of health-care coverage since the creation of Medicare, and for one of the worst federal curtailments of abortion rights since the Hyde Amendment, which has denied abortion access to most Medicaid recipients since 1976.
Many newspaper articles are downplaying the sweeping nature of the Stupak amendment, failing to signal the ways in which it goes far beyond the Hyde Amendment (a version of which is already part of the House bill in the form of an amendment by Rep. Lois Capps, D-Calif.) and could cause masses of women to lose abortion coverage that they already have. Here’s the alarming analysis of the situation that Rep. Jan Schakowksy issued during yesterday’s debate:
In one room, young Muslims, Jews, Christians, Hindus, secular humanists, and others cluster in a circle to learn strategies for facilitating constructive interfaith discussions about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Down the hall, more young people — bareheaded or wearing headscarves or kippot — crowd together to discuss multifaith intentional living communities, learn about the Baha’i faith, create videos about youth-led interfaith activism, and train to volunteer as advocates for undocumented immigrants.
Talk about a rich space for conversation.
All this happened during one morning of the Interfaith Youth Core‘s 2009 conference, which took place October 25-27 at Northwestern University, just north of Chicago. The conference brought high school and college students engaged in interfaith work together with religious leaders, politicians, and authors interested in interreligious cooperation. Speakers included Greg Epstein, the Humanist Chaplain at Harvard; Tikkun Daily blogger Joshua Stanton, who founded the Journal of Inter-Religious Dialogue; Rami Nashashibi, the inspiring director of the Inner-City Muslim Action Network; Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), who has worked with Tikkun to garner support for a Global Marshall Plan; and others.
CNBC interrupted its usual program today for a shocking bit of breaking news: the U.S. Chamber of Commerce had decided to stop opposing the Kerry-Boxer climate bill and instead “throw its weight behind strong climate legislation.”
What great news! Could it be true?
In this case, it wasn’t: the Chamber’s supposed about-face was concocted by the Yes Men, a clever group of activist pranksters whose new movie, “The Yes Men Fix the World,” hits theaters nationwide this week. By snookering numerous media agencies, the Yes Men managed to shift the public’s sense of the possible.
Back in 2001, just after September 11, my college classmates and I traveled to Washington to protest the impending invasion of Afghanistan. We all knew that military retaliation was around the corner, and we dreaded the years of violence and bloodshed to follow. We wanted to tell our government that launching a war was not the way to make us feel safe. And we wanted the United States to think twice before raining bombs on civilians and giving millions a new reason to hate us.
It is deeply painful, eight years later, to witness not the end but the escalation of this war. In his op-ed in today’s San Francisco Chronicle, Tikkun editor Michael Lerner lays out a compelling case for why we should end the war:
The escalation of war in Afghanistan may be only a stalking horse for an even larger war in Pakistan as the United States seeks to secure the nukes there that might fall into the hands of terrorists. These newly proposed wars are only the Obama phase of what is likely to be an endless 21st-century crusade called “the war on terrorism.”
Yet what we justifiably fear — terrorists acquiring a nuclear weapon and detonating it in the United States — cannot be prevented by the United States imposing itself on one country after another in the Middle East or elsewhere. A more plausible strategy is to address the grievances and problems that lead people to want to strike out against the West in general, and the United States in particular …
Tonight is Erev Rosh Hashanah, the eve of the Jewish New Year. Here in the San Francisco Bay Area, Rabbi Lerner’s synagogue will spend the evening romping indoors and out, singing, dancing, doing inner spiritual work, and yearning toward political and social transformation. It’s not your typical Rosh Hashanah service.
Rabbi Lerner leads a service.
No matter what your faith, it’s worth visiting one of Beyt Tikkun’s High Holy Day services to experience one of theseÂ emotional neo-Hasidic “Jewish Renewal” services. Inspired by Rabbi Zalman Schacter-Shalomi, the Jewish Renewal movement has inspired many initiatives and congregations, most of which can be located through the organization Aleph. Rabbi Lerner describes the renewal movement in his book Jewish Renewal as also breathing through the work of social justice organizations like Peace Now, gay and lesbian synagogues, and Jewish feminist collectives, as well as through activism that is happening within all the different movements (Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist, etc.) of Judaism.
The Rosh Hashanah services today, tomorrow, and Sunday, and the Yom Kippur ones on September 27 and September 28 are Rabbi Lerner’s principle annual opportunity to do traditional Jewish services infused with a radical transformative take on Judaism: the idea that the Torah issues a prophetic call to create caring societies rather than ones built around profit motives and competition for power. Those who take this call seriously, he argues, must work for drastic changes in foreign policy, the domestic economy, the corporate business world, education, the law, our religious organizations, and theology.
Helen Keller dances with Martha Graham, circa 1954. Photo courtesy of the American Foundation for the Blind.
I stumbled on a moving story the other day — a story that disrupted my humdrum mood and reminded me of the radical wonder of life in this world.
At the time I was searching for videos of Merce Cunningham, the brilliant and playful modern dance choreographer who passed away on July 26. Having trained seriously in Martha Graham’s modern dance technique as a teenager, I’ve always thought of Cunningham as some sort of immortal uncle. I was feeling sad about his death.
Just imagine how it would affect this country if Religious Left radio became as popular as the many broadcasts of the Religious Right …
I know it’s unlikely, but I let myself envision that scenario for just a second after meeting radio host Chuck Freeman, a minister from the Live Oak Unitarian Universalist Church in Austin, Texas. As the co-founder of the Austin chapter of the Network of Spiritual Progressives and the founder of the Free Souls Project (a nonprofit organization that aims to use mass communication tools to open new conversations about spirituality, democracy, and ethics in the public square), Chuck is on fire with excitement about creating new spaces for spiritual progressive speech. I just listened to his interview with Islam Mosaad and I’m looking forward to checking out more podcasts from his radio show (click on “free podcasts”). Here’s a bit of text from his website about the mission of Soul Talk Radio:
We live in a culture where words, and specifically religious teachings, are often used to harass and bludgeon us, thus slamming the door of “the kingdom” in our faces. We will offer a distinct contrast to this style of engagement; restoring joy, play, and expansion to the spiritual mix. In lieu of fear, manipulation, and judgement, Soul Talk Radio aims to traffic in openness, and wonder; reveling in the myriad expressions of the Divine Source.
At the Netroots Nation conference, Chuck and I talked about the possibility of creating a massive online portal to bring together links to all the various radio shows, podcasts, blogs, magazines, websites, online social communities, etc. that form the rag-tag reality of the Religious Left. Perhaps we should start this project as a Wiki so that the community as a whole can collectively aggregate these links. Let me know if you have any ideas about how best to proceed!
Every time a journalist refers to “post-racial America” and our “post-racial age,” a wave of anger and sadness hits me. How can they say the United States has moved beyond race in this age of anti-immigrant violence, racial profiling, residential segregation, school funding disparities, and the mass incarceration of black and Latino men?
We aren’t going to make any progress in fighting racism if we aren’t able to acknowledge that it continues to exist on both the interpersonal level and the structural level.
Overt, interpersonal racism is on the decline in many places, but it’s far from dead. At a recent Netroots Nation panel on this topic, blogger Annabel Park shared the following video about anti-immigrant organizing in Manassas, Virginia. I’m worried that overtly hate-filled scenes like this may increasingly erupt across the country as demographics shift and white folks find themselves suddenly in the minority in certain areas. Please share this video with anyone who thinks this kind of racism never happens anymore: