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Debt Trial of the Century in the Hands of Supreme Court

Feb25

by: Andrew Hanauer on February 25th, 2014 | 1 Comment »

Credit: Creative Commons

Last Tuesday, Argentina appealed to the US Supreme Court in its landmark case against predatory hedge funds seeking to collect more than $1 billion in old debts. With phrases like “bondholder” and “sovereign debt restructuring” peppered throughout the news coverage of the filing, following this case may not be as easy as following some of the other high profile proceedings before the court. And that’s a shame. Because for millions of people living in extreme poverty, the implications of this case are enormous.

In 2001, Argentina defaulted on its obligations and reached agreement with around 92% of its creditors to restructure the country’s debts. Some creditors held out, however, including a number of hedge funds that had bought Argentine debt for pennies-on-the-dollar before the default, hoping to cash in later on. These funds were participating in a calculated global strategy of speculative profit seeking that threatens the ability of poor countries to emerge from the burden of high levels of debt – behavior that has earned them their colorful nickname: “vulture funds.”

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Sharon Abreu’s Song for “The Left Hand of God”

Feb25

by: Sharon Abreu on February 25th, 2014 | 13 Comments »

Sharon Abreu

An environmentalist friend of mine whose religion is Christian Science recently sent me a 2010 article from the Christian Science Sentinel. The article is about author John Merritt (called “The Green Baptist” by Christianity Today) and his book Green Like God: Unlocking the Divine Plan for Our Planet. Merritt is quoted as saying, “How can you be a Christian and not care about the environment?”

This question excited me. And, not surprisingly, it brought me back to the Network of Spiritual Progressives, which I joined in 2003 when it first sprang from Tikkun as the “Tikkun Community”. So much of our work since 2003, and so much of Rabbi Lerner’s work over decades, has addressed the question of why so many people seem to vote against their own best interests, which includes voting for candidates who promote natural resource extraction over environmental protection, progressive energy policies, and the health and well-being of the voters who put those politicians in office.

I’ve been encouraged over the last few years to see more Christians speaking out in favor of environmental protection, acknowledging the reality of climate change and the likelihood that human activity is intensifying global warming. I appreciate groups like Restoring Eden and Christians for the Mountains, who understand that the rights of nature and of people are inseparable.

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The Teapot that Saved the World: Art Activism by Ceramist Richard Notkin

Feb22

by: Annie Pentilla on February 22nd, 2014 | 3 Comments »

Richard Notkin. "Men at Work" (2013). Ceramic, glaze, watercolor, copper patina, wood backing 20.25" x 8.5" x 2.75"

For more than forty-five years ceramist Richard Notkin has been exploring the seeds of human conflict through images cast in clay. Abu Ghraib, World-War carpet bombings, Picasso’s Guernica, ears deafened by the aftermath of an atomic explosion – these are just a few of the images Notkin renders in his wall reliefs to reflect on the modern world he sees around him. What Notkin observes in the world reveals a troubling scene: a planet marred by war, genocide and destruction – in other words, the less-than-savory aspects of human existence.

As an artist Notkin’s had quite the career. His reliefs, teapots and tea sets have exhibited world wide, including in the Florida Holocaust Museum, the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., and New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. As he reflects on his life and career, he describes his aesthetic as “art activism.” While it’s taken the span of an entire career to perfect the articulation of his anti-war message through clay, he attributes his passion for activism to a childhood growing up in a Jewish community in the South Side of Chicago.

It was there in Chicago’s South Side, a place rife with religious strife where Catholic and Jewish boys didn’t get along, where he first became aware of the unsettling conflicts between religious and ethnic groups, providing a daily reminder of the kind of tribalism that cause nations to engulf themselves in conflicts like World War II. “We were made very aware of the Holocaust,” Notkin says, recalling members of his synagogue who were survivors, including his dance teacher who had somehow survived Auschwitz as a teenager. “They impressed us with the fact that we needed to be activists, that we needed to be aware and alert and active, and that these things could happen again.” Through his work, particularly those exhibited in the Florida Holocaust Museum, Notkin remains keenly aware not only of the genocide that occurred during World War II, but also the genocides occurring today in Africa and other parts of the world.

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The Language of Cancer

Feb21

by: Allen B. Saxe on February 21st, 2014 | 11 Comments »

Open any local paper and you are likely to read the following headline: “Survivor Loses Battle with Cancer.”

We have adopted the language of war. Those with the disease are described as heroes. Finding a cure is a war. Our medical community leads our forces. Everyone must join the fight.

I challenge this metaphor. My former wife, Barbara, died from cancer, and my current wife, Jessica, has faced her second form of cancer.

Barbara was diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer at the age of 34. She wanted to fully understand her disease, and she undertook every medical advance available.

The problem with the warrior metaphor is that it focuses less on life than death. The “courageous warrior” suggests toughness, certainty, and strength.

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Female Rabbis at the Tent of Meeting?

Feb21

by: Rabbi Galina Trefil on February 21st, 2014 | 1 Comment »

Credit: Creative Commons

The female rabbinate is a progressive sign of equality between the sexes; a bold, new stroke written out in the history of Judaism, whose pages have always been male-dominated…or so it is frequently assumed. As the old adage goes though: there is nothing new under the sun. While, at one point, a female rabbinate was unthinkable, its ever-growing numbers are giving rise to the question if the position is indeed new or if, instead, modern Judaism has decided to come full-circle. Is there evidence that professional female spiritual leadership ever existed in the Torah?

“He made the basin of bronze and its stand of bronze, from the mirrors of the ministering women who ministered in the entrance of the tent of meeting.”–Exodus 38:8

It is a sentence that packs a spiritual punch so subtle that it seems many don’t even notice its potential revelation. Once attention is drawn to it, one might then question what the position of these women entailed; expect some immediate follow-up giving details. However, this is where such curiosity will meet with strict disappointment, as this mention stands alone. Not only was this particular passage vague, but the Tannakh as a whole remains so. Only once more are these women ever referred to at all, in Samuel 2:22, where it states: “Now Eli was very old and heard all that his sons did unto all Israel and how they lay with the women that assembled at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation.”

Analysis of the simple math shows that, if they existed from the time of the Exodus to the time of Eli, the position the women played in relation to the holy sanctuary stood steady for several hundred years.

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We Want to Have a Common Language: Carolina Jews for Justice Stand Out in the Moral Mondays Crowd

Feb21

by: Amy B. Dean on February 21st, 2014 | No Comments »

Credit: Carolina Jews for Justice

It can be isolating to be a progressive Jew in North Carolina. In a state where just 1% of the population identifies as Jewish, it can be tough just to find a religious community, let alone a politically active one. Although older Jews who may have been activists in the civil rights movement of the 20th century still live there, it appears their coordinated work for justice ended along with that era. There is no sustaining, Jewish-identified organizational infrastructure that today’s generation of younger North Carolina Jews could revive and harness for today’s fights.

But recently one Raleigh-based Jewish group has tapped into a wellspring of political passion among Jews, and is mobilizing them across the state to challenge the Republican takeover of the legislature. Through building coalitions with other faith and community-based groups, turning Jews out to the Moral Mondays rallies at the state capitol, and organizing laypeople and rabbis to take action, the members of Carolina Jews for Justice (CJJ) are speaking up for the political changes they want to see in North Carolina.

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Leaving Auschwitz

Feb20

by: Jerome Richard on February 20th, 2014 | 7 Comments »

A statue of Dimitar Peshev, who saved 50,000 Bulgarian Jews from deportation during WWII. Credit: Creative Commons

On November 14, 2013, a street in Washington D.C. was renamed Dimitar Peshev Plaza in honor of a man credited with saving the lives of 50,000 Bulgarian Jews from deportation during World War II. Peshev had been recognized as “Righteous Among the Nations” by Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust Memorial so the honor appeared to be, if anything, overdue.

Bulgaria has long been lauded for saving its Jewish population, but the U.S. Holocaust Museum used the Peshev memorial proposal to point out that while no Bulgarian Jews were deported, over 11,000 Jews from Macedonia and part of Greece, then occupied by Bulgaria, were sent to the camps.

Radu Ioanid, a director of the U.S. Holocaust Museum, said “The callous and devious attempts to distort the history of Bulgarian Jewry is insulting to the victims of the Holocaust and is damaging to the image of Bulgaria…”

It was like interrupting a memorial service to announce that while the deceased was a splendid fellow his brother was once arrested for manslaughter.

Bulgaria’s ambassador to the United States, Elena Poptodorova, was insulted by what she called the museum’s “very rude” response.

There are thirty-six Holocaust museums in the United States, including the major one in Washington D.C. There are five in New York State, four just in Los Angeles. There are Holocaust museums in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and Terre Haute, Indiana. Many more in other countries. Isn’t that excessive, even to commemorate such a monstrous crime as the Holocaust?

Of course, a full and accurate account is essential for an understanding of history, but there seems to be something else going on here. The proposal, after all, was to honor one individual. Why use that to tarnish the whole country’s reputation? It smacks of what someone said when asked if another Holocaust museum was needed. “Yes,” he replied. “We should rub their noses in it.” By they he meant the whole non-Jewish world.

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Moving to a Different Rock

Feb20

by: Roger Breisch on February 20th, 2014 | 3 Comments »

Years ago, my brother-in-law, a retired geophysicist, invited us to join him on a trek across the lava on the island of Hawai’i so we could see red-hot flows making their trek toward the ocean – nature’s way of making the Big Island even bigger.

The hike was several miles without the aid of a trail. Having spent many hours on the flows, my brother-in-law had many words of advice as we prepared, but it was his final admonition, as we came within a few feet of the blazing river of lava, which lodged itself in some deep crevice in my brain. Since even the “cooled” lava had been molten not long before our visit, he warned, “If your feet get warm, move to a different rock.” There’s wise but useless counsel, I thought. Who would stand motionless in life as the soles of their shoes begin to burn?

I wonder if the same is true for humans as a species. To believe we can continue on our current path is folly. Our collective feet are getting warm – as is the global environment. How long can we keep from being scorched by an economic system based on digging up resources we turn into temporary trinkets to use briefly, discard and bury? How will we continue to feed 7 billion people, even as we become 12 billion, as farmland is increasingly turned into strip malls and housing developments? But then, to save corporate mega-farms is to preserve a different kind of ecological disaster. How long will Mother Nature – Pachamama – put up with a species that shows so little regard for the delicate balance required to support all life? At what point might she call a halt to our self-centeredness?

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The Young Friends Pleasure and Benefit Society

Feb15

by: Eileen Pollack on February 15th, 2014 | 5 Comments »

Until last May, I had never visited the cemetery where my mother’s parents lie buried. My grandfather died before I was born. My grandmother helped to raise me; I loved her dearly, but she died while I was living abroad, and I didn’t attend her funeral. All I knew was that the cemetery was called Mount Zion, one of those never-ending seas of graves you glimpse to one side of the BQE or the LIE as you are hurrying to LaGuardia.

“Promise me you’ll never go there,” my mother said. She seemed to believe that if I attempted to find it, I would end up lost, or dead, or both. But how could I live my life without once visiting my grandparents’ graves? And how could I die without knowing I had said goodbye to my beloved Grandma Pauline? Every time I traveled to New York, I vowed I would find Mount Zion. And every time, I had too much to do, or I chickened out.

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Imagining a Moral Economy

Feb15

by: Christine Boyle and Seth Klein on February 15th, 2014 | 1 Comment »

Credit: Creative Commons/The Value Web

Rarely are we invited to consider ethical questions of right and wrong in matters of economic development, particularly in times of economic fragility, when jobs and investment are in high demand.

But as any society debates core economic and policy ideas, the battle for moral leadership matters. And so, at this critical time, it is vital that progressives reclaim some of that language.

For too long, we’ve been told that our values must take a backseat to the imperatives of economic growth and the associated promises of job creation; that what best serves the interests of large corporations will ultimately benefit the rest of us.

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