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The Four-Letter Word

Jun23

by: Uri Avnery on June 23rd, 2017 | 2 Comments »

When a Briton or American speaks about a “four-letter word”, he means a vulgar sexual term, a word not to be mentioned in polite society.

In Israel we also have such a word, a word of four letters. A word not to mention.

This word is “Shalom”, peace.

(In Hebrew, “sh” is one letter, and the “a” is not written.)

For years now this word has disappeared from intercourse (except as a greeting). Every politician knows that it is deadly. Every citizen knows that it is unmentionable.

There are many words to replace it. “Political agreement”. “Separation”. “We are here and they are there”. “Regional arrangement”. To name a few.

And here comes Donald Trump and brings the word up again. Trump, a complete ignoramus, does not know that in this country it is taboo.

He wants to make peace here. SH-A-L-O-M. So he says. True, there is not the slightest chance that he really will make peace. But he has brought the word back into the language. Now people speak again about peace. Shalom.

PEACE? WHAT is peace?

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Juneteenth 2017

Jun19

by: on June 19th, 2017 | 1 Comment »

June 19, Juneteenth, commemorates June 19, 1865, the day the Major General Gordon Granger and United States troops landed in Galveston, Texas with news that the Civil War was over and that the slaves were free. The Emancipation Proclamation had gone into effect on January 1, 1863, and many slaves had heard the news then and had walked away from slavery. Many of them, my maternal grandmother’s grandfather among them, walked away from slavery and joined the Union army.

The 13th Amendment to the US Constitution that abolishes slavery having already passed the Senate in 1864, passed the House of Representative on January 31, 1865. It was well on the way to confirmation by the time Maj. Gen Granger reached Galveston. Juneteenth has been celebrated from that day to this as a moment to pause and to remember the meaning of freedom. It is a privilege and a responsibility. It is a time to rededicate ourselves to education and to self-improvement.

However, on this Juneteenth, I think it is important to think about the character of freedom. The Juneteenth story is a tale of human beings remaining in bondage because they did not have the information that they were legally free. Masters kept that news from their slaves. Further, even after the enslaved human beings learned the news, military force was necessary to allow the reality of their freedom. This was also the case during Reconstruction, and at the end of Reconstruction, when federal troops left the South in great numbers, a kind of neo-slavery in the form of share cropping  and legal apartheid became common.

Freedom is a determination. It is not only physical, but it is a spiritual effort as well. It is a spiritual acceptance. Rabbi Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus the Christ, Jesus a prophet of Islam, Jesus the moral philosopher taught that those who follow his teachings would be free: “If the Son therefore shall make you free, you shall be free indeed.” (John 8:36) The Apostle Paul writes: “. . . where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” (3:17) When we become aware of the existence of Divine Love in our lives that is not only beyond us but that also dwells within us, we are free.

Such an awareness gave enslaved persons the courage to walk away from slavery before the Emancipation Proclamation or Juneteenth or the 13th Amendment. They recognized that the Creator of All loved them and wanted them to be free. However, freedom is not free. Free people have an obligation to work for the liberation and for the dignity of all of humanity because the image of God lives in humanity. A divine life force lives in all of nature and creation.

On this Juneteenth the United States is still in bondage to gun violence. We have reached a point in the nation where mass shooting happen so often that they barely rate discussion. On Wednesday, June 14, a lone gunman opened fire upon Republican lawmakers, some of their staff members, and members of a congressional security detail. It seems that the gunman targeted this group because they were Republicans. As of this writing, no one has died from that shooting.

On that same day, there was a mass shooting at a UPS facility in San Francisco where an employee killed three of his coworkers before turning the gun on himself. Since that day, there has been precious little discussion about the horror of mass shootings, about the easy availability of guns, about the incredible number of mass shooting that happen in the United States. The discussion has been all about political discourse, how our political rhetoric is too heated and too divisive. Some of us have been making that case for years, especially since congress member Gabby Giffords was shot in January of 2011.

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Haitian Mourning Rituals and Just Don’t Wear Red!

Jun16

by: on June 16th, 2017 | 2 Comments »

Upon hearing news of the death of an older cousin, I immediately recalled times spent in the lakou (yard) of his late grandmother, whom everyone knew as Aunt Boots – the family matriarch and piercer. I call her that since she had done all our ears at the most tender age to assure the making of girls in Haiti. I remember running around freely with the scent of roasting coffee beans swarming us. She had a coffee and peanut butter business. On Saturday afternoons, grownups sat on wicker ladder-backed chairs, catching up on the latest news, and family matters. This was a refuge where we, as children, were allowed to be children who played while being repeatedly told to stay clear of the huge cauldron that fumigated the entire neighborhood.

I had not spoken to this cousin in ages, yet felt the need to attend the funeral — shameful that I have been something of a delinquent family member because the last time I saw him eons ago was at another cousin’s wedding. Nearly a decade ago, his brother had made the trek to Boston from Montreal without fanfare to attend my maternal grandmother’s funeral. He came he said, “because you show up for family.” The diaspora may have spread us all over the Americas and the rest of the world, but that did not mean abandonment when it matters.

"Cendre" Painting and photo: Gina Athena Ulysse

Putting aside all my other responsibilities, I suddenly grew melancholic, focused on a sense of duty – a commitment to not only properly show up, but be fully present. I made the call to offer my condolences. His brother quickly pacified my obvious deep sense of regret. He was happy to hear my voice despite the occasion. It was a peaceful death, he told me. In the week that followed, I became hyperaware of some Haitian mourning rituals. Conversations with my mother were about who’s who in our large family tree as well as periods of mourning, cultural codes concerning dress and proper behavior at funerals. I found myself making tons of phone calls for plans for an extended family road trip. Who could take off work? Who would drive with whom? What kind of car should be rented? Of course, there would be a kotizasyon, give whatever you can. It’s not about the amount. C’est le geste qui prime. Indeed, it is the gesture that counts.

My first memory of anything related to mourning in the family ironically has to do with the food served at receptions held after wakes and funerals. I seem to only remember that we were served finger sandwiches or patés flaky savory pastries. The adults drank té jenjanm (ginger tea) or coffee, always black, with or without sugar. There was also Cola Champagne, Tranpé (moonshine with bitter herbs, usually cerasee), Prestige–our national beer, and Rhum Barbancourt. The young ones were guaranteed hot chocolate. Sometimes, our infamous pumpkin soup made its culinary appearance.

What color am I supposed to wear? I was uncharacteristically concerned with being respectable. Rebel me sought motherly advice. She had been shopping for stockings and trying to find the right outfit. “Well, it depends,” as she began a litany of mourning dress codes in Haiti, “If you are immediate family, you wear black. Young children can wear white, or black and white, or even grey. You could wear purple, if you want, or a print. Nothing too bold. Cover your shoulders. These days, these things don’t matter as much because people wear anything to funerals. Just don’t wear red!” I had a conversation with her godchild, the deceased’s brother who underscored this point, “absolutely no one should wear red unless you are the killer or assassin of the dead person”. In deeper mourning than I knew, I opted for black.

During the wake, as his pictures flashed across the screens, the weight of the loss was evident in the faces of his wife and children. Incessant tears welled up and streamed down already stained cheeks. Pictures of him with school buddies growing up in Haiti. Mother reminded me that his nickname was Little Lion, a play on his name Lyonel. Wedding pictures. More talk of the aunt who could not attend but had played matchmaker. Pictures of him holding his newborns, with friends, coaching a youth soccer team, at his job. He was always smiling and loved to laugh. As he peacefully rested in a casket, his youngest brother demanded if anyone knew whether Death was male or female. With his usual bravado, he dared anyone to answer. What would he do if there was ever an encounter? “Death keeps taking too many of your own,” he lamented. How would he express his anger? His brutal honesty and fierceness demanded our attention in different ways. In so many instances, I found myself choking up on tears. There was an abundance of love.

At the service, his pastor offered a beautiful sermon. A dear friend recited a fitting eulogy while his children and nieces paid him greater homage. Everything had been delayed by weeks. His family generously waited because people would be traveling from afar to pay their respects. Amidst this despair that resonated, some of us were reconnecting in new ways. It took this moment for us to gather again. There was also laughter among the tears as memories of siblings, cousins, came through to reveal the ties that bind immigrant communities despite the thousands of miles that separated us. To be sure, we are far from a monolith. These days, the diasporic lakou has been redefined composed of an even wider range of family structures, incomes, livelihoods, and tastes. We represent and inhabit different social worlds and religious practices. Now, there were new generations born on this side of the water who had never been to our beloved Haiti. Family stories became quilted tales that could only be woven together from different bits by those who had been there back in the day. We all know only too well that memories fade.

The last day, in a private chat with his eldest brother, I realized why I have been flooded with such sorrow. “Gina,” he said, “don’t you remember when we used to come to visit you and your sisters before we migrated? We use to bring you candy and cookies and we would hide them in our pockets, we made you run around looking, but you knew they were there.” I went to the funeral, not out of obligation, but the purest form of gratitude because my departed cousin was part of my most salient recollections of happiness in an elusive childhood.

Back on U.S. soil, in these times when we are too cavalier about the dead, his younger brother offered these last words, “in our culture when a death occurs, it becomes everybody’s business.”

On “Crossin’ Over”

Jun15

by: on June 15th, 2017 | Comments Off

I am blackwoman in America.

And, I love being a blackwoman in America. I agree with Zora Neale Hurston when she says:

“I am not tragically colored. There is no great sorrow damned up in my soul, nor lurking behind my eyes. I do not mind at all. I do not belong to the sobbing school of Negrohood who hold that nature somehow has given them a lowdown dirty deal and whose feelings are all hurt about it. Even in the helter-skelter skirmish that is my life, I have seen that the world is to the strong regardless of a little pigmentation more or less. No, I do not weep at the world – I am too busy sharpening my oyster knife.”

I know why I love every drop of my DNA, the African and the European. I love myself because I honor the story of my ancestors. I know what they endured to survive with their humanity in tact so that I could exist.
This past Sunday, I was reminded of this when I attended a sold-out performance of “Crossin’ Over: A Musical with a Measure of Silent Rebellion” mounted by The Black Rep in St. Louis, Missouri. [Full disclosure: My son is a brilliant actor and a skilled carpenter with the Black Rep] This production, crafted by Ron Himes and Charles Creath and directed by Himes, is billed as a musical, but it is not exactly that. There is no libretto, no dialogue that tells a story and provides the occasion for songs and dances. While it is all music, it is not opera. The music is a program of songs, but it is not a choir concert.

With all the dramatic elements of a good play, a tight ensemble cast of four men and four women and African drummers take us through the African American experience from pre-slavery Africa through the hell of the Maafa which includes the horrors of the trans-Atlantic middle passage and slavery. After slavery, we experience the blues and early gospel and then travel through the civil rights and black power movements up to the present day gospel that shouts praises in a way that takes us beyond the pain of the human condition in general and beyond all this pain plus the stress of living in a still racist United States of America. For those of us reared in the black church tradition, many of these songs are familiar and beloved. For me, this is especially true of the Dr. Watts, a kind of a cappella singing, that is as beautiful to my ears as Gregorian chants. It was thrilling and amazing to hear the house sing along with this call and response tradition.

In her poem, “What Do We Tell Our Children Who Are Black?” Dr. Margaret Burroughs reminds us that it is our responsibility to tell our children the truth of our history. Our children need to know the truth of global black history so that they will be “confident in the knowledge of his(her) worth.” According to Burroughs our history gives us strength. It gives our children the strength to survive. She writes:

“And survive he(she) must! For who knows?
Perhaps this black child here bears the genius
To discover the cure for. . . cancer
Or to chart the course for exploration of the universe.
So, he(she) must survive for the good of all humanity.

It is in this truth that “Crossin’ Over” returns theater to its origins in ritual and homage to the gods, creating sacred space in the Emerson Performance Center at Harris-Stowe State University. In the beginning of theater humankind wore masks to allow the gods to speak to humans through humans. Later, individuals would perform the various parts of a ritual in a theater like setting before audiences to allow humans to speak back to the gods and to each other. In this event, the lines between the sacred and the secular, between the human and the divine, become porous and we are able to cross over. This is its own transcendence. It is a deeply spiritual moment.

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China builds new type of globalization

Jun2

by: Sara Flounders, as published on the UFPJ-activist email list on June 2nd, 2017 | 13 Comments »

Imperialism is worried that China’s huge global infrastructure projects could challenge the U.S.-led world order

The People’s Republic of China hosted a summit May 14 called the “One Belt, One Road” initiative, also known as the New Silk Road project. Twenty-nine heads of state and representatives of 130 countries attended from across Asia, Africa, Latin America and Europe. Seventy countries signed agreements with China to participate.

The “Belt” refers to the Silk Road Economic Belt. It encompasses land route development from central China to Central Asia, Iran, Turkey and Eastern Europe. The “Road” refers to the Maritime Silk Road. This involves ports and coastal infrastructure from Southeast Asia to East Africa and the Mediterranean.

The plan projects a network of trade routes with new rail lines, ports, highways, pipelines, telecommunications facilities and energy centers linking countries on four continents. It includes financing to promote urban planning, potable water, sanitation and food development. China is calling it the “plan of the century.”

China describes the project as a revival of the ancient Silk Road with 21st-century technology. It is projected to be 12 times the size of the U.S. Marshall Plan, which rebuilt Western Europe after World War II.

Major corporate media around the world warn that the gathering signals the end of the American Century — the U.S. claim to be the world’s sole superpower. Numerous analysts suggest the project could shift the center of the global economy and challenge the U.S.-led world order.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense Charles Freeman described the OBOR project as “potentially the most transformative engineering effort in human history. China will become the center of economic gravity as it becomes the world’s largest economy. The ‘Belt and Road’ program includes no military component, but it clearly has the potential to upend the world’s geopolitics as well as its economics.” (NBC News, May 12)

In a May 13 article, “Behind China’s $1 Trillion Plan to Shake Up the Economic Order,” the New York Times predicted: “The initiative … looms on a scope and scale with little precedent in modern history, promising more than $1 trillion in infrastructure and spanning more than 60 countries. Mr. Xi is aiming to use China’s wealth and industrial know-how to create a new kind of globalization that will dispense with the rules of the aging Western-dominated institutions. The goal is to refashion the global economic order, drawing countries and companies more tightly into China’s orbit. It is impossible for any foreign leader, multinational executive or international banker to ignore China’s push to remake global trade. American influence in the region is seen to be waning.”

U.S. infrastructure is collapsing

Meanwhile, the U.S. infrastructure is literally falling apart. Crumbling roads, bridges, dams and schools have been given an overall D+ grade by the American Society of Civil Engineers. Investment in infrastructure, including schools, hospitals and wastewater treatment plants, is at a 30-year low.

Donald Trump, with his “America First” campaign slogan, pledged to rebuild the country’s broken infrastructure. But since becoming president, his administration has instead opted for cutting taxes on the rich while increasing the military budget. Meanwhile, the U.S.-initiated Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, which was designed to exclude China, has collapsed.

China’s OBOR project has generated enormous interest because U.S. imperialism has less and less to offer any developing country, except weapons sales and military bases. Weapons quickly become obsolete, leaving only debt and underdevelopment.

Where U.S. infrastructure projects are in place around the world, they are focused on building and maintaining a vast high-tech network of 800+ military bases and servicing an armada of aircraft carriers, nuclear submarines and destroyers. Each base is an expense to and an attack on the sovereignty of the host country. U.S. foreign aid ranks near the bottom of such expenditures of all developed countries, amounting to less than 1 percent of the federal budget. It is largely military aid to Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel, Egypt and Pakistan.

U.S. wars have resulted in great profit for U.S. corporations while massively destroying vital civilian infrastructure in developing countries under attack. Water purification plants, sanitation, sewage, irrigation, electric grid, communication centers, hospitals and schools have been intentionally destroyed in Yugoslavia, Iraq, Libya, Syria and Afghanistan. By contrast, China has no foreign military bases. Its ambitious OBOR initiative does not include military equipment or facilities.

Nevertheless, U.S. corporate power sees all other economic development as a threat to its global domination. Its aim is to protect at all costs the irrational capitalist system.

Response to U.S. pivot to Asia

The pivot to Asia begun during the Obama administration is an aggressive military plan that includes the U.S. nuclear arsenal and the Pentagon’s new THAAD missile battery in South Korea. Its focus is containing and threatening China’s growing economic influence in the region.

U.S. military planners brag of their ability to strangle China and cut its vital shipping lanes, such as the Straits of Malacca. This narrow transit point between the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea handles 80 percent of China’s crude oil and other vital imports.

China, now the world’s largest trading nation, has responded with the nonmilitary OBOR plan that will open many trade routes through surrounding countries. Trade routes, unlike U.S. military bases, offer immediate benefit to the development of these countries. China is expected to invest up to $1.3 trillion in OBOR infrastructure projects.

Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank: Challenge to IMF and World Bank

Past U.S. practices of seizing the assets of countries holding substantial funds in U.S. banks meant that the $1.26 trillion that China has held in U.S. Treasury notes was especially vulnerable. Until six months ago, China was the number one investor in U.S. Treasury notes. Now China is divesting.

China has used a part of its significant reserves to establish the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. The AIIB plays an essential role in encouraging trade and economic cooperation with other countries in Asia, Africa, Europe and Latin America. This Chinese initiative is seen as a counter to the U.S.-dominated World Bank and International Monetary Fund.

As the Cuban news outlet Granma wrote on March 6: “AIIB aims to rescue those areas of the region somewhat abandoned by both the World Bank and the Asian Investment Bank (AIB), as well as encourage trade and economic cooperation.”

Both the IMF and the World Bank exert enormous leverage through “structural adjustment” policies. Debt repayment requires countries to cut spending on education, health, food and transportation subsidies. Their real goal is to force developing countries to privatize their national assets.

Phony concern for environment

Corporate-funded nongovernmental organizations and social media campaigns claim that China will not show the same respect for the environment and human rights as the U.S. and other imperialist powers do. They claim that China might not follow environmental restrictions on loans imposed by the World Bank and IMF.

This is sheer hypocrisy. The U.S. military machine is the world’s biggest institutional consumer of petroleum products and worst polluter of greenhouse gas emissions and many toxic pollutants. Yet the Pentagon has a blanket exemption in all international climate agreements.

U.S. wars have contaminated the soil and water of vast regions under U.S. occupation with depleted uranium, benzene and trichloroethylene at air base operations and with perchlorate, a toxic ingredient in rocket propellant.

Despite U.S. pressure, AIIB grows

Despite strong U.S. efforts to discourage international participation in the OBOR infrastructure fund, Russia, Iran and Latin American countries promptly joined and contributed substantial capital. Breaking ranks, Germany and South Korea then became major shareholders, followed by Britain, France, Italy, Spain and Australia. The Philippines and even Saudi Arabia saw the advantages of participation. The AIIB, founded on June 29, 2015, began operations last year.

According to a Times editorial of Dec. 5, 2015, “Countries are finding they must increasingly operate in China’s orbit. The United States worries that China will use the bank to set the global economic agenda on its own terms.”

In addition to the AIIB, the China Development Bank and the Export-Import Bank of China already finance big-ticket projects in Asia and Africa. By Chinese estimates, their combined overseas assets stand at $500 billion — more than the combined capital of the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank.

Socialist planning to overcome underdevelopment

China’s past decades of development and modernization and its current surpluses are what make these new global plans possible. China has an estimated $4 trillion in foreign currency reserves. Its granaries are full and there are surpluses in cement and steel.

In 1949, when the revolution led by the Chinese Communist Party took power, China was an underdeveloped, war-torn country with a largely illiterate, majority peasant population. Western and Japanese imperialist powers had looted and carved up China for their own profits. Breaking their hold was the first step in liberation, but China was deeply impoverished.

After nearly 30 years of heroic efforts to modernize the economy based on the organization and efforts of the masses, the Chinese Communist Party in 1978 opened the country up to some forms of capitalist ownership and foreign capitalist investment.

This still risky policy has continued for nearly 40 years. It has allowed Chinese millionaires and even billionaires to develop and spread corruption. Foreign capital, ever hopeful of totally overturning the Chinese state, invested because profits could be made. But the Communist Party has used the years of capitalist investment to build up a modern, state-owned infrastructure alongside the growth of private capital.

Now China ranks as a developing country with a majority urban population living in modern, planned cities. The working class is now the largest social class in China. Wages for shop-floor workers in China have tripled in the last decade to become the highest in developing Asia.

China adopted a new industrial policy in 2015: “Made in China 2025,” which intends to upgrade manufacturing capabilities for high-tech products. These plans are supported by $150 billion in public or state-linked funds. It is this kind of long-term socialist planning that is the motor behind China’s new One Belt, One Road plan.

While the U.S. attempts to block these needed infrastructure efforts, move missiles and aircraft carriers off China’s coast, and send the lowest possible diplomatic delegation to China for the OBOR summit, Washington had the audacity and arrogance to warn China against north Korean participation. The DPRK sent a high-level delegation.

Remembering May 28, 1917 in East St. Louis, Illinois

May28

by: on May 28th, 2017 | 2 Comments »

In February of 1917, 470 African-Americans were hired to replace striking white workers at the Aluminum Ore Company in East St Louis. On May 28, white workers expressed their concern about African-American migrants at a city council meeting. After the meeting, rumors of an attempted robbery by an African-American man of a white person inflamed whites who formed mobs that attacked African-Americans on the street. Blacks were pulled off trolley cars and beaten. The state’s National Guard was called in to maintain peace, but racial tensions continued to simmer.

There were no actions taken to recognize union concerns or to provide assurances of white job security. There was no reform of the police force that had largely stood aside during the mob violence. The Illinois governor withdrew the National Guard on June 10th, and on July 2nd, one of the bloodiest violent attacks of whites against blacks in the 20th century erupted. (http://www.blackpast.org/aah/east-st-louis-race-riot-july-2-1917)

Memorial Day weekend 2017, the East St. Louis 1917 Centennial Commission and Cultural Initiative sponsored a conference -The City that Survives: Commemorating the Past, Preparing for the Future – at the Southern Illinois University Edwardsville East St. Louis Higher Education Center. The conference featured scholars, artists, activists, and ordinary people sharing their research, poems, artistic creations, family histories and urban planning to remember the tragic events of 100 years ago and thinking of how that history can inform our vision of a resurrected city.

East St. Louis was not the first episode of white mob violence against African-Americans and it would not be the last. Mob violence in Springfield, Illinois happened in 1908 after news that two white women had been sexually assaulted by African-American men. Two black men were arrested, but a mob wanted them lynched before trial. When this did not happen, the mob found two other black men and lynched them, attacked the African-American community killing and beating black people, and burned their homes and businesses. When the mob violence ended, several African-Americans were dead, more than a hundred injured, and hundreds of thousands of dollars in property damage had been perpetrated against the African-American community. As a result of this outrage, a group of white philanthropists and Black scholars and activists in New York founded the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People – NAACP. (http://www.blackpast.org/aah/springfield-race-riot-1908)

After East St. Louis, the Red Summer of 1919 started in Chicago when a young African-American man drowned in Lake Michigan after having been stoned by white beach goers for having violated an unofficial color line. Violence erupted when the police refused to arrest the people responsible for the young man’s death. After days of violence, some 15 white people and 23 black people were dead, more than 500 people were injured, and at least a thousand black homes were burned to the ground. http://www.history.com/topics/black-history/chicago-race-riot-of-1919) In the wake of this violence, various commissions were formed to determine the cause of such violence, but nothing real happened. Chicago remains, as of this writing, one of the most segregated and one of the most violent cities in the United States.

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Global Population and the Insane Policy of US State Dept.

May18

by: on May 18th, 2017 | 3 Comments »

Just a Glimpse

Here’s a question about doing good in the world. How could we prevent nearly half a million unintended pregnancies, unsafe abortions, or maternal death? I was stunned to read recently that the U.S. State Department eliminated American contributions to the United Nations Population Fund, an organization that has done just that, year after year. I have to believe that the white men in suits who made that decision cannot begin to imagine its consequences for real women all around the world.

Several decades ago I spent a year working in health in rural Nepal, and learned in my first week of work what family planning services, or not having them, can mean to women of the Global South. I was a nurse practitioner and had signed on with a nonprofit foundation to lead a mobile health team in an area with very limited access to health services. The district had no roads, idyllic mountain scenery, and a deeply impoverished population. I quickly learned that contraception for women was not simply about reducing the inconvenience of having an unplanned birth. Instead it often meant the difference between life and death, sometimes for the mother, and often for the child.

One evening toward the end of my very first week of work, I was approached by a small group of village men who appeared anxious to speak with me. They were accompanied by Sita, one of the women on our staff, who was able to understand my halting Nepali well enough to “interpret” for me when I needed it.

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The Women’s Balcony — a delightful film!

May18

by: on May 18th, 2017 | 1 Comment »

The Women’s Balcony, a movie which captures a beautiful
slice of Israeli life, is a huge upper at a time when many
people are feeling depressed and saddened by the state of our world.
The movie captures the way that Jewish women have been
marginalized in parts of the Israeli Orthodox religious world,
and how they mobilize themselves to achieve power in the face
of rabbinic authority that is dismissive of their concerns. Yet this is
not another of those “religion is evil” or “men are jerks” kind of
dismissals, but rather a sensitive portrayal of how men and
women find a way, even within the boundaries of orthodoxy, to
recapture each other’s humanity, to stand up against irrational
rules, and find a path that is at once affirming of women and
affirming of parts of the Jewish tradition that these Israeli women
wish to retain in their lives. It is, in its own caring and complex way,
a celebration of the actual and potential power of Jewish women, and
it’s highly enjoyable to watch.–Rabbi Michael Lerner, Editor, Tikkun Magazine

Draining the Trump Russia Swamp

May15

by: on May 15th, 2017 | 1 Comment »

With the dismissal of Former FBI Director James Comey, the smell from the Trump Russia swamp is becoming more and more malodorous. Something stinks in Washington D.C. At first, President Trump and his supporters wanted us to believe that the reason he unceremoniously fired James Comey was because of his actions regarding the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private e-mail server. Most people never believed this rationale. Trump has since said that the Russia investigation was on his mind when he was thinking of letting Comey go. However, that is not the subject of this essay. The subject is the plausibility that Trump and his campaign colluded with the Russians during the 2016 presidential campaign.

Let us consider what we already know. We know that Trump is a liar and that liars lie. He moved into the realm of politics with birther madness. He claimed for years that President Obama was not born in the United States of America. He said that he had hired investigators who had found information about President Obama’s birth. We have seen neither an investigator nor any information that they uncovered. The list of his lies is long, too long for this essay.

We know that several US intelligence agencies reported the following: “We assess with high confidence that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election, the consistent goals of which were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency.”

No one expected Trump to win, but the goal was to “undermine public faith” in the democratic process. We know that nearly every day during the campaign, Trump stood up before his cheering crowds and talked about how the political system was “rigged.” He refused to say whether or not he would accept the results of the election. Saying this, Trump was helping Putin to reach his goal.

Now the question is whether or not there is some smoking gun that shows us that Trump and the Russians coordinated their efforts. This is what investigations will tell us. We do know that there are many people close to the Trump campaign who had contact with the Russians that they did not share with the general public. Witness: General Michael Flynn and Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

It is possible that Trump’s declarations of a “rigged” system was coincidental to Putin’s goals. It is possible that the Russians found Trump to be simply a useful idiot. Yet, it is also possible that there is collusion on some level. This is dangerous for the country.

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The Settlement Legality Debate: FAQ

May11

by: Nathaniel Berman on May 11th, 2017 | Comments Off

I. Why Now?

The resurgence of debates about legality, particularly the legality of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, has become an unexpected feature of public discussion of Israel/Palestine over the past decade. This resurgence has been primarily the work of two kinds of forces. On the one hand, pro-settler advocates have been asserting that the pervasive international view of the illegality of the settlements is simply wrong. Such advocates range from a 2012 Israeli government “Report on the Status of Building in the Region of Judea and Samaria” (the “Levy Commission Report”), to articles published in the right-wing press, to activists relentlessly advancing such views in social media. On the other hand, the illegality of the settlements has been vigorously asserted by those active in international campaigns critical of Israel, especially the BDS movement. This article will primarily focus on the pro-settler use of the legality argument, evaluating its soundness and considering the contextual significance of its resurgence.

The revival of the legality debate is surprising because it seems, at first glance, at odds with current global developments. To be sure, there was a period, roughly between 1990 and 2003, when international debate about the use of force was pervaded with legal argumentation. In retrospect, it is astonishing how much of the debate about the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in August, 1990 and the US-led military response in January, 1991, was framed in terms of legal argument. The decade that ensued was something of a golden era for public international lawyers. The conviction that the end of the Cold War meant that the international law governing the use of force could “finally” be implemented, that the Security Council could “finally” play the role for which it was intended, became quite widespread. Even as such hopes became tarnished as the decade continued – most egregiously by the international failure to stop the 1993 Rwanda genocide – international legal discourse remained a key shaper of world opinion about the use of force. Every intervention – or lack thereof – was accompanied by fierce debate about its legality. The 1999 NATO invasion of Kosovo, despite – or perhaps precisely because of – its questionable legality, produced volumes of creative legal discussion.

That period now seems long past, though it may not be possible to identify the precise moment of its demise. Kosovo played a role, as did the decision of the US not to seek Security Council approval for the invasion of Afghanistan. Nevertheless, both of these actions could be plausibly (if not uncontroversially) justified under longstanding doctrines (humanitarian intervention in the former case, self-defense in the latter). But it was the 2003 American invasion of Iraq, and the subsequent, if grudging, acquiescence to it by much of the world, that signaled that international norms about the use of force had lost their power to shape international policy. With the Russian invasion of Crimea in 2014, both of the erstwhile “superpowers” had firmly demonstrated their contempt for such international norms. To be sure, many condemned that invasion in terms of its blatant illegality, but such terms seemed out of touch with the new discursive character of international debate.

In the Israel/Palestine conflict, legal debate has long played a central, if intermittent, role. While I cannot rehearse the entire history here, suffice it to say that the conflict has been decisively shaped by the debate over, and adoption of, such international instruments as the 1922 Mandate for Palestine, the 1947 Partition Resolution, the 1967 Security Council Resolution 242, and so on. But there have been periods when questions of legality seemed more or less irrelevant to ongoing political developments.

In my view, it was the 1993 Oslo agreements and their aftermath that largely encouraged the most recent (if temporary) sidelining of the core legal issues of the conflict, such as the legitimacy of the State of Israel, the right to self-determination of the Palestinian people, legality of the settlements, and so on. The twin recognitions of Israeli statehood and Palestinian peoplehood by Rabin and Arafat in 1993 promised to set aside zero-sum debates over rival, totalizing legal claims. In their stead, Oslo seemed (however briefly) to augur a focus on pragmatic adjustment of interests, the establishment of complementary Palestinian and Israeli societies, and the gradual oblivion of incommensurable claims over the land and its history.

The death of Oslo had both its sudden and gradual dimensions, with causes far too complex to discuss here. The second intifada sealed its demise – even though some of its form

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