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Archive for the ‘General News’ Category



Why Everyone Should Care about NYPD’s Surveillance of Muslims

Mar4

by: on March 4th, 2014 | 2 Comments »

Last week the U.S. District Court dismissed a long-standing case against the NYPD for their secret surveillance of Muslims in New York and New Jersey in the years after 9/11. Yet few Americans outside of the American Muslim community spoke out against the judgment, and not all newspapers carried the news. For the average American of a different faith, this wasn’t really too newsworthy. Here’s why they are wrong.


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Why 83% of U.S. Jews Support Marriage Equality

Mar1

by: on March 1st, 2014 | 1 Comment »

A survey published this week by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) confirmed what several other polls have shown: that a majority of Americans – 53 percent – now support marriage equality.

However, perhaps the most interesting finding in PRRI’s survey was this: a staggering 83 percent of Jewish Americans support marriage equality, more than any other religious group in the United States. (White Roman Catholics are next in line, at 58-percent support, while all Protestant denominations are below 50 percent.)

Why do Jews overwhelmingly support marriage equality, particularly given that most negative views on homosexuality in our culture originate from the Hebrew bible? On the surface, one could point to Pew’s recent survey of Jewish life in America, which reveals that 62 percent of Jews feel that “being Jewish” is more about culture/ancestry than religion.

One could also point to American Jews’ historic liberal leanings, with 70 percent of Jews today identifying as Democrats (versus 22 percent who identify as Republicans).

However, the truth on this issue goes much deeper, and is far more interesting than these relational figures. It has to do with how Judaism has radically reinterpreted the biblical view of gay sex, which on the surface seems unequivocal and cringe-worthy. Allow me to briefly explain.


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Is Haiti our Next Iraq? American Exceptionalism and Botched Reconstructions

Feb20

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

A U.S. soldier oversees Haitian workers unloading relief supplies in Port-au-Prince, Haiti in 2009. Photo/Wikimedia Commons

Following the earthquake in Haiti and the invasion of Iraq, U.S. policymakers turned to America’s traditional sources of strength to reconstruct these countries. They deployed the private sector, the military and huge amounts of money. In both cases, relying on these strengths simply hasn’t worked.

The failures of U.S. efforts to reconstruct Iraq have been well documented, and the recent upsurge in violence speaks for itself. Despite areas of progress in Haiti since the earthquake, the U.S. recovery effort there has in many ways been a similar fiasco.

Last month, on the fourth anniversary of the devastating Haitian earthquake, roughly one out of every six people in Port-au-Prince still slept in a tent camp. The country remains poor; its place on the UN development index has fallen by 16 countries since the earthquake. Despite Bill Clinton’s call to “build Haiti back better,” both Haiti and Iraq show the limits of what the United States can accomplish with its customary methods.

The most overreaching application of American power in these two countries has been the unrestrained use of the U.S. private sector. In Haiti, 48 percent of USAID funds following the earthquake went to contracts for U.S. for-profit companies. Granted, many Haitians institutions were literally flattened by the quake, but a 2013 USAID study showed that Haitian NGOs had received less than 1 percent of aid.

As with the reconstruction in Iraq, the billions designated for recovery in Haiti haven’t been spent transparently. In December, the House of Representatives passed a bill authored by Congresswoman Barbara Lee that would require a comprehensive report on spending in Haiti. Barbara Lee’s role may sound familiar: she also fought to uncover murky spending in Iraq.

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The Feminine Divine in “The Monuments Men”

Feb12

by: on February 12th, 2014 | 3 Comments »

Credit: Creative Commons

When we think of the casualties of war, we think of the physical death of human beings. We think of the physical, psychological and moral injury warriors suffer. We think of the collateral damage of non-combatants killed, thus making the idea of a just war an impossibility. We may sometimes stretch our imaginations to include an injured earth, a wounded natural world where animals die. In the movie “The Monuments Men”, directed by and starring George Clooney, we see other casualties of war – fine art. We see a dedicated quest for a particular piece of art, the Bruges Madonna and Child, a representation of the feminine divine.

The movie is based on the real-life Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives Task Force, a group of trained art historians, architects and designers whose purpose was to protect important monuments, buildings, and fine art if possible. They were to also locate and seek to return art stolen by the Nazis. The central question of the movie is whether or not a piece of art is worth a human life. Commanders in the field are loathe to risk the lives of their men over a work of art. If the decision comes down to bombing an important building considered a monument worth protecting and winning the battle, the battle takes priority.

The Allied forces destroyed many monuments during bombing campaigns, even when they were told of their artistic value. This story along with the story of the real-life Monuments Men are told in an excellent documentary “The Rape of Europa.” We see the astonishing number of works of art, religious objects, and everyday household furnishings that were stolen by the Nazis. However, one object becomes supremely important in “The Monuments Men” – The Bruges Madonna and Child.

This work of art depicting the Virgin Mary and the child Jesus was the only sculpture by Michelangelo to leave Italy during his lifetime. Toward the beginning of the movie, we hear Clooney’s character – George Stout – tell his men not to risk their lives for a piece of art. However, as the movie unfolds, we see the Monuments Men willing to put their lives at risk for the sake of art.

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Moral March Poses Urgent Questions to Progressives

Feb12

by: on February 12th, 2014 | Comments Off

Credit: Creative Commons/James Willamor

Nearly 100,000 people took to the streets in Raleigh, North Carolina on February 8 in a Moral March to say “NO” to the state’s sharp right-wing political turn and “YES” to a new, truly progressive America.

They weren’t just marching for one issue or another. They were marching for every issue progressives care about: economic justice; a living wage for every worker; support for organized labor; justice in banking and lending; high quality, well-funded, diverse public schools; affordable health care and health insurance for all, especially women; environmental justice and green jobs; affordable housing for every person; abolishing the death penalty and mandatory sentencing; expanded services for released prisoners; comprehensive immigration reform to provide immigrants with health care, education, and workers rights; insuring everyone the right to vote; enhancing LGBT rights; keeping America’s young men and women out of wars on foreign soil; and more.

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U.S. Falls to 46th in World Press Freedom Due to War on Whistleblowers

Feb12

by: on February 12th, 2014 | 1 Comment »

Reporters Without Borders, in its 2014 World Press Freedom Index, has dropped the United States below Romania, Papua New Guinea and Botswana due to the Obama administration’s targeting of both whistleblowers and those journalists who report on leaked information.

In noting a disturbing world trend of countries sacrificing press freedoms for surveillance and national security interests, Reporters Without Borders cited the U.S. as its prime example:

This has been the case in the United States (46th), which fell 13 places, one of the most significant declines, amid increased efforts to track down whistleblowers and the sources of leaks. The trial and conviction of Private Bradley Chelsea Manning and the pursuit of NSA analyst Edward Snowden were warnings to all those thinking of assisting in the disclosure of sensitive information that would clearly be in the public interest.

US journalists were stunned by the Department of Justice’s seizure of Associated Press phone records without warning in order to identify the source of a CIA leak. It served as a reminder of the urgent need for a “shield law” to protect the confidentiality of journalists’ sources at the federal level. The revival of the legislative process is little consolation for James Risen of The New York Times, who is subject to a court order to testify against a former CIA employee accused of leaking classified information. And less still for Barrett Brown, a young freelance journalist facing 105 years in prison in connection with the posting of information that hackers obtained from Statfor, a private intelligence company with close ties to the federal government.


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On This Day, Remembering a Gift From God, As Our Brothers and Sisters Eat Grass

Feb10

by: on February 10th, 2014 | 2 Comments »

Two years ago, on February 11th 2012, Whitney Houston passed into Eternity. Two years after her passing, and a sorrow that never seems to quite quit, I can candidly say the gratitude I feel for this human being, and totally human she was, is finally outshadowing my awareness of her loss. That statement doesn’t come easy.

Perhaps some of us do not know what to make of a country that remains entrenched in the glorification of militarism and soldiery, as ours so clearly is, even in a time when reports of the men, women and children starving to death in Syria – eating grass and stray cats to stay alive – have been documented in the major news outlets. Perhaps some of our brethren think they’re too sophisticated, too streetwise, too savvy – too something – to “fall” for such reports of the starving, dying people of Syria. Perhaps some think nothing we do will amount to a hill of beans anyway.

Tikkun magazine and Tikkun Daily are different from the secular media. Here, in this space, we are freely allowed to profess our faith in the Almighty Creator. We are allowed to express our sorrow, and plead to God to intervene in these human crises that shake our hearts and rattle our consciences.

I am shocked by the way this country has turned its back on the innocent, the gassed, the tortured, the butchered, and the starving civilians of Syria. But I am ever grateful to God for giving us a divine voice, delivered by a beautiful and heart-filled/heartbroken lady who died two years ago today, to help carry us through this time, when we know some of our fellow human beings, at this moment, are eating grass to stay alive. Whitney’s voice increases my faith and gives me strength in the midst of this unfolding crime against humanity, and I hope her voice will increase yours as well, whatever your religion. Whatever your politics, I hope her voice will encourage you to turn back from despair.

Here is a clip of Whitney signing “This Day” in Spain in 1991. Lord, we need your love…this day.

“When Palestinians used violence, a U.S. author’s wife paid the price. Now he’s championing Palestinians’ use of nonviolent opposition (boycotts). For this, his book events are being cancelled. In America.”

Feb8

by: on February 8th, 2014 | 16 Comments »

When Carole Zawatsky, CEO of the Washington, DC Jewish Community Center (DCJCC), informed me that my March book event had been cancelled due to my political views, I was stunned. However, when she explained that one view in particular precipitated her decision – my position that Palestinians’ use of nonviolent opposition (boycotts) is legitimate – I was no longer just stunned. I was deeply saddened.

After all, my book event at the DCJCC, part of its “Embracing Democracy” series, was to focus on the narrative of reconciliation embedded in my memoir, What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife? The entire narrative is a treatise on the power of nonviolence, a narrative Zawatsky found wildly compelling when she invited me to speak.

That is, until I embraced Palestinian nonviolence. Suddenly, my narrative was no longer so compelling, and I was no longer welcome to speak in the community, despite being a Jewish educator (I teach biblical and rabbinic texts to 4th-8th graders) and a progressive Zionist.

While saddened by the lost opportunity for dialogue in DC, what most upset me was how this cancellation fit into a larger crisis within the American political landscape and, more specifically, the American Jewish community, where honest discourse on Israel is being constricted by high-profile politicians and Jewish institutional leaders alike. I articulated as much in my response to the DCJCC, published in Israel’s Haaretz.

To my great surprise, that piece set of a firestorm within the DC Jewish and political communities. My inbox began filling with messages of support from people I did not know, and my voicemail from individuals and organizations who wanted to create an alternate book event in DC – an event which will likely become official next week.


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Theaster’s Way

Feb6

by: on February 6th, 2014 | Comments Off

Photo credit: Studio Museum of Harlem

Theaster Gates has been dubbed “the real-estate artist,” “the opportunity artist,” “an anthropologist, urbanist, activist — the 21st-century artist,” “the poster boy for socially engaged art,” #40 in Art Review’s “2013 Power 100, A ranked list of the contemporary art world’s most powerful figures,” and even “the Mick Jagger of social practice.”

His works include his signature Dorchester Projects, 12 Ballads for Huguenot House and numerous others. In 2012, he was awarded the WSJ innovator of the year art prize. In 2013, he was named a United States Artists fellow and also received the inaugural Vera List Center Prize for Arts and Politics. There are many more accolades than I can name.

So when I went to the Studio Museum of Harlem on January 16th for the activation of See, Sit, Sup, Sip, Sing: Holding Court (2012) — tables, chairs and desks salvaged from a now-closed public school on Chicago’s South Side, I believed the hype but still wasn’t sure what to expect.

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Keystone XL has a Job for You! (video satire)

Feb5

by: on February 5th, 2014 | Comments Off

When Keystone XL’s top job recruiter comes to town, he reveals just what types of jobs the controversial oil pipeline would really create.

Oil executives like to claim that the Keystone XL would create thousands of jobs. But in a project fueling so many environmental and health risks, only one man is honest enough to say exactly what those jobs would be. Hint: they’re not in construction.

It’s true, Keystone XL has a job for you! But the question is: do you really want it?

[Note to readers: This is a satirical video. Please do not call Keystone XL about these job openings. Do not send in any applications or letters of recommendation. Instead, we recommend asking the good folks at Keystone XL one question. How's the wig business going?]