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Pedagogies of Silence on MLK Day

Jan15

by: on January 15th, 2017 | No Comments »

One of my oldest memories growing up in Haiti under an authoritarian regime is the sound of the phrase, ou konn ki es mwen ye? Whether uttered in a whisper, loudly, with sustained bravado stretched over every syllable, or with a chuckle, the meaning was clear. For the question was simply, do you know who I am? Honestly, I had no concrete sense what that meant until years later when I became conscious of the small ways I was taught what power is, how it operates, who has it, how it was wielded, who abuses it and who dared to challenge it.

There was an ongoing joke among some adults when presidential election results were announced which favored the dictator several millions to one. Who was foolish enough to cast that singular oppositional vote? Everyone knew these numbers were a sham. Some openly voiced their contempt and paid a severe price; many creatively subverted as others remained totally quiet. Daily survival, we knew, depended upon when and how one traded their most precious commodity: silence. It had use, sign, and exchange values that could be accrued.

I was shy, and more often than not, dutiful. The fear I embodied was visible as I bowed my head in the presence of grownups. There were codes by which we all lived knowing the difference between responses that were appropriate and the ones that were not. Some words, once spoken out loud, were not only directives that provided no guarantees of whom would not disappear, or get food to eat, but could also be evidence of troublemaking that no one wish would visit their home.

In the aftermath of migration to this country (also founded on dissent), I began to relish in expressing my freedom to speak. Out. Loud. Part of it surely was teenage rebellion, another was my education — indoctrination by an English as a Second Language curriculum that sold us the American Dream. I bought it and was lucky enough to have also learned this dream, as the great poet Langston Hughes wrote, had been deferred for many — including Black minorities whose ancestors came to occupy this hemisphere by way of slavery. The system, as it were, was stacked against us. As the unstoppable human rights activist, Ella Josephine Baker so rightfully put it, “we who believe in freedom cannot rest until it happens.” I use to imagine I was old enough to join the March on Washington wondering what it would have felt like to be there standing somewhere in that big crowd listening to Mahalia Jackson and being inspired by Martin Luther King Jr.’s I Have a Dream speech.

I often say I have a difficult relationship with silence because I grew up under a dictatorship. So, I never took it for granted that as unequal as we may be in the eyes of others and especially the law, ancestors and elders fought and died for us to have our rights, even though we are still treated unjustly when we use them. Since protest is as American as apple pie, it was in this American spirit that we continue to exercise that right. As fraught as life has been in this system, it remained distinguishable from living under a ruler that demanded total allegiance and loyalty. Though it wasn’t structurally possible for everyone, one could still strive towards individuation and achieve it. As long as we understood “we have as much freedom as we are willing to pay for” according to McArthur genius, choreographer Bill T. Jones. Indeed, the possibilities of participation, at least existed. For democracy, as the old saying goes, is not a spectator sport. It took work. Civic engagement is more than a marker of citizenship, it is manifestation of a sense of duty to self, community, and country.

When the Black-ish episode clip about the recent presidential elections started to circulate days ago, I began to remember how I learned my fears of silence. I grew up in a time and in a country where girls and women were supposed to be quiet. As I meditate on the meaning of MLK today, in this country that I now call my own, I can admit I speak out precisely because silence is a structure of power that I refuse to recreate. I am reminded of his wise words, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” Given our history, we must consciously resist impulses that threaten to further incarcerate us in states of negation.

 

 

Carrie Fisher: A Woman of Many Parts

Jan14

by: on January 14th, 2017 | 1 Comment »

On December 27, 2016, Carrie Fisher died days after suffering a heart attack on an airplane flying from London to Los Angeles. She was sixty and known primarily for her role as Princess Leia and later General Leia Organa in the “Star Wars” movies. However, it is important to note that Carrie Fisher was much more than her portrayal of one fictional character. She was much more than a child of celebrities – Debbie Reynold and Eddie Fisher – living her life and, in the end, dying her death in the light of her mother’s star. (Debbie Reynolds died the day after Carrie Fisher.)
She was a woman of many parts, and she was more than the sum of those various parts.

In her one woman show – “Wishful Drinking” – she describes her birth. The hospital personnel were star struck with her movie star mother and her crooner father. They paid little attention to her.

She says: “When I arrived, I was virtually unattended.” She says she has been seeking attention from that moment. But Carrie Fisher was more than a Hollywood child seeking attention.

She started acting as a teenager with a role in the movie “Shampoo.” At age 19, she landed the role of Princess Leia in the movie “Star Wars.” These movies became cult classics, and people relate to Princess Leia as a brave warrior princess general, mother of a Jedi knight who has been seduced by the dark side of the Force, but even Princess Leia is more than that. She is the feminine divine in the realm of the Force.

In her most recent book, “Princess Diarist”, she writes about her experiences with fans who want her to still look like and to be a young princess. Yet, she is more than this. She knows after all these years that people see her and Princess Leia as one. She reflects upon this in the HBO documentary, “Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds.”

“They love her, and I’m her custodian; and I am as close as you’re gonna get. She’s me and I’m her. They talk to me like I’m Princess Leia who happened to have all these difficult experiences to go through and it’s like me fighting for the Force.”

She has had difficult experiences that many other people have also had except she spoke openly about hers. In the “Princess Diarist” she writes about her relationship with Harrison Ford when they worked on the early Star Wars movies. He was older and married and she was wise enough at that young age to know there would be no happily-ever-after with him. She writes about a love that takes her breath away and of wanting her breath back.

She writes: “If anyone reads this when I have passed to the big bad beyond I shall be posthumorously embarrassed. I shall spend my entire after life blushing.” I suspect that she will not be blushing, but laughing at her young self. I image her free of the pain and embarrassment and filled with nothing but joy.

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Yes We Can

Jan11

by: on January 11th, 2017 | 4 Comments »

In his farewell address, President Obama returned to the basic theme that propelled him to national attention and to the White House – We the People have the power and the duty to make the United States a more perfect union. The audacious challenge comes at a moment when we face a transition of power to a presidency that no doubt will be, charitably put, one of the most unconventional in history.

I say: Now is the time for us to take up this challenge and organize to resist a Congress and a president who will take us backward on any number of issues.

President Obama reminded us that the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness “while self-evident, have never been self-executing.” The work of citizens is to use our freedom to work toward both our own dreams and toward the common good. He spoke of his achievements, and he said they were also our achievements:

“reverse a great recession, reboot our auto industry, . . . unleash the longest stretch of job creation in our history. . . open up a new chapter with the Cuban people, shut down Iran’s nuclear weapons program without firing a shot, take out the mastermind of 9-ll . . . win marriage equality and secure the right to health insurance for another 20 million of our fellow citizens. . . ”

These achievement are a testament to democracy, but President Obama warned of three major threats to our democracy – income inequality, racism, and societal fragmentation along with self-selected facts. He called upon us to stay engaged with the global struggle “to expand democracy and human rights and women’s rights and LGBT rights.”

He warmed us about complacency. He said: “our democracy is threatened whenever we take it for granted.” He spoke of the importance of voting rights, of the “corrosive influence of money in our politics” and the problem with gerrymandered congressional districts. He warned against seeing our political opposition as malevolent rather than misguided.

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Sister Giant Conference – Rabbi Michael Lerner and Cat Zavis to Speak

Jan5

by: on January 5th, 2017 | No Comments »

Rabbi Michael Lerner and Cat Zavis will be speaking at the Sister Giant Conference in Washington, DC February 2nd-4th. For more information about this fantastic event, please see http://sistergiant.com/the-event/. To get you excited we’ve posted a link to their video below!

 

Considering DT’s Love of Professional Fighting, His Tough Talk of a New Arms Race Should Be Unsurprising—Especially to Cardinal Dolan, Scheduled to Lead Inauguration Prayer (or, Why the White House Must ASAP Return to Congress the Power to Declare War)

Jan3

by: Rabbi Chaim Gruber on January 3rd, 2017 | 1 Comment »

On December 23, 2016, after the President-elect’s comments about a new arms race, a surprised media spewed forth a firestorm. To give one example, on the influential Politico website, a Darren Samuelsohn article – subtitled, “The President-elect has upended long-held conventions on nuclear proliferation” – began as follows: “[DT] is alarming critics by … disregarding the basic tenets of world order surrounding nuclear weapons. … [DT has] an interest in vastly expanding the U.S. nuclear arsenal, even if it means restarting an arms race.”

While some report that the President-elect’s comments may have been taken out of context, nonetheless, such a development, or a similar one in the future, should come as no surprise considering DT’s love of professional fighting and boxing (he is even, due to once making Atlantic City the world’s boxing capital, an inductee to the NJ Boxing Hall of Fame). After all, and in the way that humans, as well as animals, chase after objects of desire, it is almost a no-brainer that any individual who likes to watch and promote fights, would be, were such a person in charge of a military, more likely to stir up trouble than an individual whose excitement was derived from more civilized pursuits. Moreover, and as a cohort of mine commented about my psychological assessment, such “might help explain why [the President-elect] supports the use of torture by the various police and surveillance forces of the United States.”

[From the previous, readers should not at all conclude that I, the author, am against the concept of a justifiable war. Also, and for instance, I am aware that the dreadful destruction of Aleppo may be largely the result of Obama’s lack of appropriate military action. However, I make the point that someone with a passion for fighting would be the type to jump the gun when it comes to the use of force. Also to consider in the case of DT, who is a renowned egotist, is that anger comes from the bruising of an egotist’s ego (Esther 3:5); and, from anger can more readily spring violence.]

One of the people who should be the least surprised by the President-elect’s inflammatory remarks about a new arms race is Cardinal Timothy Dolan: in November, a week after the American presidential election, at the Catholic Archdiocese of NY headquarters, I had a few meetings, including with a Vice-Chancellor. On that fateful November day (when the moon was at its closest to the earth in 69 years), I also spoke to Fr. Brian McWeeny, the Archdiocese’s Director of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs. We got into a chat about the President-elect and the evils of casino ownership.

(Of course, while casinos are not all bad, nonetheless, casino owners necessarily break God’s all-important law to “Love Thy Neighbor As Thyself”: unlike other businesses that, ideally, always provide a fair service or good in exchange for money, casino owners’ greater benefits come from putting their clients into greater financial miseries. How many limo rides of the Donald were funded by the losses of desperate individuals convinced by flashy and distorted advertisements to blow their much-needed resources in a Trump casino? How many people committed suicide after a loss at one of his casinos? And, to those readers who claim that any individuals who lost their money were free to choose, I respond that Eve, too, was free to choose. However, she chose wrongly – after she was deceived by the snake.)

To this disapproving conversation about casinos, Fr. McWeeny responded with, “It’s not as bad as boxing!” Of course, I agreed. After all, from a Jewish, theological perspective, there are numerous divine commands to protect the body’s health and integrity (from a Christian standpoint, “The body is the Temple”).

That day, to Cardinal Timothy Dolan’s office, I relayed this conversation along with other concerns regarding the President-elect, such as his being a fan of professional fighting – which can be more violent than boxing. I continued this dialogue in a letter to the Cardinal, excerpts from which follow:

“Regarding his [DT's] love of fighting, it was widely reported that the President-elect did not go to the recent Ultra Fighting Championship (UFC) league fight in Madison Square Garden only due to security issues that the Secret Service felt that it could not overcome. (Although, like father, like son, Donald Jr. attended – to celebrate his wedding anniversary!) To understand the grotesque nature of UFC [very different, say, from wrestling] … months prior to one fighter, Charlie Ward, being signed to the UFC, he killed another fighter in a caged match run by another fighting league! …

“That the President-elect is a fan of fighting, that is, that he gets satisfaction out of seeing persons both being physically hurt and hurting others, is not only sickening but immensely troubling considering that he is scheduled to be our national military’s commander-in-chief in about a handful of weeks! … one does not need a PhD in social science to recognize that anyone who enjoys fighting would, by nature, be a less peaceful person than someone repelled by fighting. Meaning, someone [who enjoys fighting], who is also in charge of an army, may decide to use armed force instead of diplomacy – just because he likes to!”

Dear Readers, please, remember the U.S. Constitution’s Preamble: “We the People … in order to form a more perfect union.” As peace is inclusive, while war, with opposite sides, is exclusive, more peace makes any union more perfect, while conflict imperfects any union. Hence, were any warmonger in charge of our nation, such would go against the primary purpose for our government’s existence.

“… Because [the Messiah] is the Prince of Peace [Isaiah 9:6] …of course, Rev. Lorenzo [Reverend Lorenzo Ato, whom I had met and who was earlier mentioned in the letter, is the Archdiocese's Director of both Pastoral Ministry and Hispanic Communications], [your office manager] … and … Fr. Brian [McWeeny] agreed that those who enjoy fighting are satanic [see next paragraph]. To quote Rev. Lorenzo, he said that the professional fighting of the UFC was ‘no good!’ and ‘evil!’”

Dear Readers, to remove hype and to make plain, theological sense of a term, “Satan” is a Hebrew word, appearing, for instance, in the Book of Job (1:6, etc.). From an Orthodox-Jewish perspective, Satan is a force of destruction. From a Christian/Catholic perspective, Satan is what destroys (in contrast, Jesus saves); and, Jesus rightly called Simon Peter “Satan” when Simon Peter was doing something destructive (Mt.16:23, etc.).Meaning, traditionally and simply, satanic behaviors would be the doings of even the otherwise best people were such people engaged in destructive activities.

“Despite this discussion [of the President-elect], and regarding another comment of Fr. McWeeny – that [DT] was God’s preferred choice over Hilary Clinton – I, paradoxically, agreed that the Donald was God’s preference. … [I knew that] had Clinton won, in four or eight years down the road, the nation would have been steeped in even worse anti-establishment fervor so that the backlash against the ruling political system would have been even more dramatic. Thereby, a candidate even more abrasive than [DT] would have been riled up to victory. …

“… On page E1604 of the December 6th, 2016, Congressional Recorder, House Representative Alan Grayson (FL) made the following remarks: For fear of a president becoming like a monarch with dictatorial power, the Constitution gave to Congress the power to declare war. However, ‘starting in the 1950′s, Congress began authorizing the President to make the determination for war.’ This was how ‘the president was allowed to determine war in Vietnam in 1964 and again in Iraq in 2003.’ Rep. Grayson brought to the House knowledge of a 2011, Rutgers Law Review article, titled, ‘Restoring the Congressional Duty to Declare War,’ by Alfred Blumrosen [an eminent scholar, RIP] & Steven Blumrosen. The article “challenged the constitutionality of all U.S. Wars fought since WWII.”

“I mention this House speech because, considering the conversations at the Archdiocese that are detailed in this letter, that is, conversations about the [President-elect's] propensity to enjoy a fight, I think that you should please use your enormous influence to make sure that Congress does not unconstitutionally continue to invest war-making powers in a president.”

(Note: Congress reconvenes January 3, 2017. Therefore, dear U.S. Readers, PRESSURE your senators and representatives to heed Rep. Grayson’s warning! Considering that intelligence reports claim that Russia interfered with the American election, Congress, in fact, may be, now, more amenable to the idea of not allowing a future president to determine war.)

It was a week after the sending of my as-of-yet-unanswered letter to Cardinal Dolan that the world’s media ignited with headlines of nuclear experts being caught off-guard by the President-elect’s surprising tough-talk about a new arms race and a reinvigoration of America’s nuclear arsenal. But, I was not surprised – and neither should have been Cardinal Dolan, who, as America’s most-prominent Catholic, I should think is ethically compelled to use the full force of his office to bring attention to these critical matters of world importance.

With that in mind, I was, again, unsurprised by the President-elect’s comments about a new arms race. However, I was stunned when, on December 28, after concluding a what-I-thought-to-be-a-final version of this article and readying it for an email to my editor, I made an online discovery. Namely, only “26 minutes” prior it was reported that the prayer service at January’s Presidential Inauguration would be led by Cardinal Timothy Dolan – in whose office there was clear agreement that DT’s behavior, regarding both his love of fighting and his casino ownership, was “satanic”!

Also, Rev. Lorenzo Ato, regarding character traits shared by the President-elect, commented, “Satan, yeah.” [Regarding these assessments of DT's character by those in the Catholic Church, this article's lack of any mention of a concurrence from the Archdiocese Vice-Chancellor, who was briefly discussed at this article's start, is not due to him having stated that he felt otherwise. Rather, the Vice Chancellor's comments, here, are being omitted because our meeting pertained to a different topic.]

The same day that it was announced that Cardinal Dolan would lead prayer services at the Inauguration, the President-elect appeared, in his first formal press conference in half-a-year, side-by-side with controversial boxing promoter Don King, who, 50-years ago, killed a man that owed him $600. Bizarrely, Mr. King, who was recently still promoting boxing, commented that DT could help negotiate peace in the Middle East.

I wonder, for what will Cardinal Dolan pray at the Inauguration? Considering that DT, as past U.S. presidents, is expected to have continual access to a nuclear launch device from a short time following the oath of office, I would think, regarding the Inauguration, that the Cardinal should be praying from well before.

Although, and to conclude with some true gallows-humor, perhaps his Eminence plans a public adjunct to the Inauguration’s prayer service? Heeding a, unquoted above, lighthearted-but-still-serious-enough request in my letter to him, maybe Cardinal Dolan plans to perform on the Donald an exorcism!… Thereafter, and as God, Creator of all, wants everyone to repent, were the exorcism successful, and returning to mention of Simon Peter, as he, Simon Peter, repented of his satanic activity to become the much-venerated namesake of Saint Peter’s in Rome, the Donald, of his satanic wrongdoing, also, of course, could repent. (Fake news site, thespoof.com, ran a New Year’s Eve story titled, “Democrat’s Last Hope: Trump Exorcism.” The author of this spoof piece, obviously unaware of my serious-enough, true request to Cardinal Dolan, fantasized that “Vice-President Joe Biden … took time … to talk to Governor Martinez about an idea … to have an exorcism performed on Donald Trump. … The governor … wants to be in step with what other GOP lawmakers are doing to address any possible demonic possession of the President-elect.” Meaning, in a truth-is-stranger-than-fiction moment, this spoof piece is not far from the truth at all.)

 

Bio: Rabbi Chaim Gruber, ultra-Orthodoxly ordained in Jerusalem while also schooled in Berkeley, CA, is often, paradoxically, a left-wing Biblical literalist. He specializes in creating peace from the instances of unmistakable overlap among the three Abrahamic faiths and logic. The Rabbi can be contacted via VeryEasyToRemember.com and BreakTheCycleOfViolence.com.

 

Pedagogies of Freedom

Dec31

by: on December 31st, 2016 | 1 Comment »

On New Year’s Day, at home and abroad, Haitians and Haitiphiles are all about soup joumou. A squash based consommé laboriously made with chunks of beef, cabbage, carrots, potatoes, some kind of pasta, seasoned with epis-that concoction of Haitian spices, which was hopefully brought to perfection by an expert who uses enough scotch bonnet pepper without overshadowing the fragrant aroma. This soup is traditionally consumed to commemorate Jean-Jacques Dessalines’ proclamation of Haitian independence from France on January 1, 1804. Thirteen years after the only successful slave revolution started that abolished colonialism and slavery, Haiti became the first Black Republic in the world, second only to the United States.

For many of us, the soup is as much about its gastronomic delight as it is about redressing history. Under French rule, the enslaved population was specifically forbidden to eat this delicacy. As the story goes, that fateful day, Dessalines’ main squeeze Marie-Claire Heureuse Felicité Bonheur, outdid Marie-Antoinette and declared, Let them eat soup! Indeed, “the antidote to dehumanization has to be rehumanization,” culinary or otherwise, as Zingermans’ Ari Weinzweig has said.

As a child, I enjoyed avoiding those sprigs of parsley and rosemary to gobble up this annual staple. Here we were on Christmas talking soup plans, George Michael was dead, none of the family members could relate to my state of gloom. “Who?” “Wham! Don’t you remember ‘Wake Me Up Before You Go-go?’” I sang to no avail. A couple bars of “Everything She Wants” — no response. “Careless Whisper” got me some I-feel-sorry-for-you hums while other lyrics did not resonate at all.

Minutes before, the speakers had been blaring our beloved Kompa rhythms. Not quite my thing, which is enough to get one’s Haitian authenticity card revoked by diehards. Blame it all on migration, as if we have never been plural. Depending on where you lived, resources, and what you had to spend, there were variations of the soup. In keeping with our diasporic tendency to rename things, according to Miami-based reporter Nadege Green, it has been dubbed “liberty soup” or “freedom soup” by younger Haitian-Americans. Dudley Alexis has a documentary in the works about it. Perhaps the greatest honor of all is the brand new Afro-beat mixed-genre soup joumou anthem by Alize Music featuring Paul Papi.

Lately, I have been meditating on notions of freedom and our not so common principles as presidential elections in my birth and adopted countries collided my worlds. Having grown up under a dictatorship, ironically, I feel primed to soon be living under an authoritarian regime. “All we have to do now/is take these lies and make them true somehow.” Yes, I know George was talking about his battles. I had my own. A Black woman who refused to be docile, I was struggling to complete my dissertation in an historically white institution, “Freedom 90″ was my personal anthem. “All we have to see/is that I don’t belong to you and you don’t belong to me.” In the aftermath of migration, it was music that guided my path to individuation. That’s why I lamented his passing. Decades later, the song still resonates. And in these times, it matters now more than ever. “Freedom/You’ve gotta give for what you take.” Someone in the kitchen knew the words. I wasn’t singing alone.

These days, you can find vegetarian and gluten-free soup joumou recipes online. I have been flirting with the idea of a pescatarian version as I imagine my aunt, a caterer, vigorously shaking her head at this sacrilege. Would it still be soup joumou? That depends, has nationalism ever really recognized its inherent differences? Haiti’s L’Union Fait la Force and the United States’ E Pluribus Unum are mottos built on contradictions from brutal colonial histories that have steeped the past in the present, yet remain unknown. Unity, under such conditions, is improbable without complicity in white supremacy, as well as our silence and absolute negation. For belonging is fundamentally based on a hierarchical system of ownership. The chains of slavery were broken long ago, but there remains unfinished business.

Happy 213thBirthday Haiti Cherie. Now, off to go get some salmon!

Photo: Andy Vernon-Jones

 

 

 

 

 

Santa Says Give Your Children Squeeze Hugs

Dec22

by: on December 22nd, 2016 | No Comments »

It was one of those cold, grey December days that makes me happy that I work from home. Ordinarily, it would have been a day when I made myself a hot cup of coffee or cocoa and snuggled under the covers with a good book or magazine. But, not on this particular day. This was a day when I had to get up and out, cold or not, and buy a gift that I needed to get in the mail if there was any hope of it arriving at its destination before Christmas. The things we do for love.

Getting dressed in the winter is a pain, and the older I get the worse I hate it. To stay warm, you must layer. So there is the long underwear, then the regular clothes, then the sweater on top of that then a scarf and coat and hat and gloves. I drag my bundled up self out to sit in a cold car. I wait a few minutes and then drive slow until the car warms up.

I buy my present, but while I am in the mall, I decide to go to the Hallmark store for more Christmas cards. I walk the length of the mall, get to where the store once was only to discover that it is no longer there. So, I drag my layered self the length of the mall again. I tell myself with every weary step that this is a good for me. I need the exercise. I am way behind on my 10k steps a day. The only good thing is, on my trip back, while I am telling myself that this walk is a good thing, I see Santa. The real North Pole Santa. Not the store helper, the real Santa.

Someday I will tell you the story about the first time I met Santa, the North Pole Santa, but not today. When I pass, he is off the throne talking to a young mother holding a child who seems to be about six-months-old. There are no children in line which is not surprising for mid-day on a week-day. I wave, he smiles and gestures for me to wait.

When he is finished we hug. “What are you doing here?” I ask.

“You know I sometimes visit in person. I like to see for myself how things are going. I’m glad I ran into you because I heard you were not coming north this year.”

I ought to explain that since my children are now adults, I sometimes go to the North Pole to help out. My job is usually to help Santa locate children who have moved. Some years it is a hard thing to do when there have been wars and natural disasters that displace people. This year, I had not planned to go because I am working on a Christmas novel, and I am behind schedule. I did not speak to Santa directly, but I left a message with Mrs. Claus. She understood.

I think part of me was using the book as an excuse not to go because I am just not feeling Christmas this year. I am still suffering serious Trump trauma. I still cannot believe that a vulgar reality show celebrity will be the next president of the United States of America. And worse, when I think I am about to get to a place of equilibrium, I hear the news of one of his cabinet appointees, and the Trump funk returns.

Santa smiled with a twinkle in his eye. “I know you are still getting over the election.”

“Sorry to say that I have not yet recovered.”

“Let’s get some coffee.”

His helper put up the out to lunch sign, and we walked around to the Starbucks. After we ordered our coffees, we talked.

We talked about the perfect storm that hit Hillary Clinton in the final days of the campaign – ACA premium increases, the Comey letter, Trump acting for a minute as if he had some sense. We talked about the Russian hacks of the DNC and the drip, drip, drip of information that no doubt left many Bernie Sanders supporters feeling as if the system were rigged against their man. God only knows how many of them decided they just could not vote for Hillary and went to a third party candidate.

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Don’t Make A Mystic into a Martyr: Fethullah Gülen as Peacebuilder

Dec21

by: Jon Pahl on December 21st, 2016 | 2 Comments »

Editor’s Note: The following essay was originally published in July by the University of California Press blog, but given the known business connections that raise conflict-of-interest questions between the U.S. President-elect and the Turkish regime, among others, and given the increasing pressure by the Turkish regime to extradite Fethullah Gulen from Pennsylvania, the argument remains pertinent:    

A man sipping from a teacupI can’t speak to the causes of the recent failed military coup in Turkey—although there is certainly precedent for coups in the history of the Turkish Republic (1960, 1971, 1980). But I can speak to the accusations by journalist Mustafa Akyol and the Turkish government that an imam living an ascetic life of prayer and teaching in a Pennsylvania retreat center was somehow “behind” the most recent military uprising: they’re preposterous.

For the past four years, I’ve been researching a biography that focuses on Fethullah Gülen’s life and theology. I’ve been to the impoverished rural village in Northeastern Turkey where he was born. I’ve visited the mosques across Turkey where he preached and taught—in Edirne, Izmir, and Istanbul. I’ve spoken with hundreds of people inspired by him, and some who simply hate him. And I’ve read nearly everything he’s written that’s been translated into English (over two dozen books, and countless sermons), and I know the vast literature for and against him.

My conclusion? He’s a mystic in the Sufi tradition of Islam. And like other famous mystics in history—notably Gandhi, or Rumi—from whom Gülen draws deeply, Fethullah Gülen is a peacebuilder. And history teaches us that peacebuilders are likely to be misunderstood, vilified, and targeted. It would be tragic if once again historical forces conspire to turn a mystic into a martyr.


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The Obama Doctrine and the Limits of Violent Rebellion

Dec19

by: on December 19th, 2016 | No Comments »

I say and say again that the Obama doctrine of foreign policy is just peace pragmatism.

I know that President Obama eschews the notion that there is a theory or a doctrine that provides a structure for his foreign policy and lends it coherence. He sees a messy and unpredictable world in more detail than most ordinary people. He knows that each situation is unique, that as commander-in-chief of the largest, most powerful military of the most powerful nation on earth, he cannot be constrained by the contours of abstract theory. The most he is willing to say regarding a defined doctrine is: Don’t do stupid stuff.

However, President Obama pronounced a doctrine consistent with just peace theory in his 2009 Nobel Lecture. I wrote about that then, so I will not repeat that analysis except to say that the fundamental elements of just peace theory remain evident in his thinking. (http://www.tikkun.org/tikkundaily/2009/12/10/an-expanded-moral-imagination/)

In remarks on his administration’s approach to counter-terrorism delivered at MacDill Air Force Base, President Obama explained seven key points in a counter-terrorism strategy: perspective; no over reach; values and the rule of law; fight terrorists in a way that does not create more terrorists; transparency and accountability; diplomacy; and upholding civil liberties.

In my interpretation of just peace theory there are three main pillars – truth, respect, and security. When we keep terrorism and terrorists in perspective, when we realize that terrorism is an asymmetrical tactic of warfare used by the weaker force, we are looking at the situation with true eyes. When we are transparent about our own actions and hold ourselves accountable for our actions, the power of truth becomes a benefit.

Further, in a post-truth, post-fact, political climate, it is more important than ever that we are honest with ourselves and with the world. Facts do not stop being facts because they may or may not cohere with our ideology or the political spin we want to put on an issue. Wisdom teaches us that the truth will out. Thus, policy ought to be driven no only by the right perspective on the capabilities of terrorists, but it is important to recognize facts and the limitations that constrain even great powers.

Respect, the second pillar of just peace theory, means a respect for the dignity of human beings, nature and creation. Such a respect requires us to maintain the best of our values of equal justice and the rule of law. We know what justice is because we know what injustice is. Little children know this when they say: “it’s not fair.” I believe that we could solve most of the problems of the world in the morning if we would only treat every person the way we ourselves would want to be treated, if we allowed everyone a full measure of fairness.

This also means that we remember that the fight against terrorism is a means to an end and not an end in itself. President Obama told us that in using drone strikes against terrorists that there is a possibility of civilian casualties and that precautions are taken to prevent this. Yet, the hard truth is that drones are no different than any other weapon. The missiles they fire do not have a particular individual’s name on them. They are indiscriminate. Sadly, they are sometimes necessary for security’s sake.

While we correctly think about the nation’s security in terms of armed police and military force, security also comes through diplomacy and civil liberties. It is imperative for a nation and its leaders to be secure in themselves in order to stand with confidence before the world and seek peace, not through a power-over logic, but through a power-with logic. Diplomacy, therefore, is not weakness, and the call for universal human rights and civil liberties across the globe is another way to insist upon justice.

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Cops of the Pacific? The U.S. Military’s Role in Asia in the Age of Trump

Dec16

by: Tim Shorrock on December 16th, 2016 | No Comments »

Despite the attention being given to America’s roiling wars and conflicts in the Greater Middle East, crucial decisions about the global role of U.S. military power may be made in a region where, as yet, there are no hot wars: Asia. Donald Trump will arrive in the Oval Office in January at a moment when Pentagon preparations for a future U.S.-Japan-South Korean triangular military alliance, long in the planning stages, may have reached a crucial make-or-break moment. Whether those plans go forward and how the president-elect responds to them could help shape our world in crucial ways into the distant future.

Shinzo Abe with red lighting and flags in the background

Shinzo Abe

On November 18th, Shinzo Abe, Japan’s most conservative prime minister since the Cold War, became the first foreign head of state to meet with Donald Trump after his surprise election victory. The stakes for Abe were high. His rightist Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which has run Japan for much of the last 70 years, has been one of America’s most reliable, consistent, and subservient allies. Yet during the campaign, Trump humiliated him, as well as the leaders of nearby South Korea, with bombastic threats to withdraw U.S. forces from both countries if they didn’t take further steps to defend themselves.

Even more shocking was Trump’s proposal that Japan and South Korea develop their own atomic weapons to counter North Korea’s rising power as a nuclear state. That left the governments of both countries bewildered – particularly Japan, which lost tens of thousands of lives when the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were incinerated by American atomic bombs in World War II. (Hundreds of Koreans in Japan died in those attacks as well.) Trump made these statements despite the LDP’s ardent support over the decades for American wars in Korea, Vietnam, and Iraq, and the Japanese government’s payment of around $2 billion annually to maintain a string of U.S. bases, primarily on the island of Okinawa, which host over 48,000 American soldiers.

Abe apparently got what he wanted. During an hour-long meeting at Trump Tower on New York’s Fifth Avenue, he and the president-elect agreed that their military alliance was stable and capped their discussions with a friendly exchange of golf equipment. “I am convinced Mr. Trump is a leader in whom I can have great confidence,” Abe declared to a gaggle of mostly Japanese reporters. The president-elect, he said, had established the trust “essential for the U.S.-Japanese relationship.”


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