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The Madness Continues and Jesse Williams Speaks Truth

Jul8

by: on July 8th, 2016 | 1 Comment »

In December of 2014, I wrote an essay where I connect police violence against African-American people to racism as a social psychosis. In other words, racism has made most people in the United States crazy, police included. (http://www.tikkun.org/tikkundaily/2014/12/09/blue-on-black-violence-racial-bias-and-societal-psychosis/) I discuss an essay – “A Superhumanization Bias in Whites’ Perception of Blacks” published in the journal “Social Psychological and Personality Science.” Fast forward to July 2016, and in the space of two days, two African-American men, in two cities, in two different parts of the country – Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and Philando Castile in a suburb of Minneapolis/St. Paul– have been shot and killed by police. Both shootings were caught on video and broadcast widely. I shall quote myself:

“And the crazy is so crazy deep that many people affected by the crazy do not realize how crazy they are. The insanity causes us to misperceive reality, so that we see what is not really real and do not see what is really real.”

The madness continues.

Jesse Williams is an actor on the popular television show “Grey’s Anatomy.” In June 2016, he received Black Entertainment Television’s Humanitarian Award. In his acceptance speech, he referred to Tamir Rice, an African-American child who was killed by Cleveland police while playing with a toy gun. The young man was killed within three seconds of the police arriving on the scene. Three seconds.

Williams said in part: “Now, what we have been doing is looking at the data and we know that police somehow manage to deescalate, disarm and not kill white people every day. So what’s going to happen is we are going to have equal rights and justice in our own country or we will restructure their function and ours.” (http://time.com/4383516/jesse-williams-bet-speech-transcript/)

In responding to the two killings in remarks from Poland, President Obama presented data. He said:

“And I just want to give people a few statistics to try to put in context why emotions are so raw around these issues. According to various studies – not just one, but a wide range of studies that have been carried out over a number of years–African Americans are 30 percent more likely than whites to be pulled over. After being pulled over, African-Americans and Hispanics are three times more likely to be searched. Last year, African Americans were shot by police at more than twice the rate of whites. African Americans are arrested at twice the rate of whites. African American defendants are 75 percent more likely to be charged with offenses carrying mandatory minimums. They receive sentences that are almost 10 percent longer than comparable whites arrested for the same crime.

“So that if you add it all up, the African American and Hispanic population, who make up only 30 percent of the general population, make up more than half of the incarcerated population. Now these are facts.”
(https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2016/07/07/statement-president)

President Obama also spoke of systemic racism that renders poor communities of color basically out of sight and out of mind to the majority of the people who hold power in the United States. Thus, these communities suffer from a lack of quality education, employment, and opportunity. The president also spoke of building trust between local police and the communities they serve.

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Two-State Solution’s Chance Disappearing as Israeli Settlements Grow

Jul5

by: Allan C. Brownfeld on July 5th, 2016 | 2 Comments »

The chance for a two-state solution to the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians is steadily eroding, members of the Middle East Quartet mediation group said early in July.

The Quartet, the sponsor of a peace process that has made almost no progress, is composed of the United States, the United Nations, Russia and the European Union. The latest report calls on the Israelis to cease the construction and expansion of settlements, the designation of land exclusively for use by Israelis, and the denial of permits to Palestinians. It also recommends that Palestinian authorities stop inciting violence and work harder to combat terrorism.


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“African Exodus” Film Documentary

Jul5

by: on July 5th, 2016 | 4 Comments »

On June 20, 2016, I was privileged to see a screening of the film African Exodus directed by Brad Rothschild at San Francisco’s Sundance Kabuki theater, sponsored by Right Now: Advocates for Asylum Seekers in Israel and Ameinu. This troubling and moving documentary exposes the plight of African refugees fleeing to Israel to escape the horrific civil wars in Sudan and Eritrea. Some 60,000 refugees and asylum seekers found their way to Israel hoping to find safe haven and 45,000 remain. Many live in south Tel Aviv near the central bus station in squalid conditions, in limbo, and often going hungry. The Israeli government has labeled them “infiltrators” and denies them work permits. Many have been transferred to the isolated prison-like Holot detention center in the Negev desert, where they have been held for months to years.

Through interviews we get to know some of the asylum seekers, their stories, and their hopes. We learn of the horrific killings in Cairo on December 30, 2005 under Mubarak’s regime, causing many to flee across the Sinai in search of safety. We see the gratitude of a mother toward Israeli army troops for providing food and water to her children after the harrowing journey. We see the cruelty of Israeli government policy, which refuses to see their plight and treats them as pariahs, leaving them to languish in limbo. We see the spewing of hatred from religious Jewish nationalists, and the tremendous generosity of everyday Tel Aviv residents who embrace the “stranger” by setting up soup kitchens and collection centers.

Andrea Kruchik-Krell, founder of Microfy, is a powerful voice in the film. She was present for the after-film discussion.

Click here to view the heart-wrenching short trailer of African Exodus.

For further information on African Exodus or to show this film in your community, contact Morgan Buras Finlay at morgan.buras@gmail.com.

For Elie Wiesel

Jul5

by: on July 5th, 2016 | No Comments »

His breath made night light
He gave sound to silent truths
His fire inspires us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Free State of Jones and the Brexit

Jun27

by: on June 27th, 2016 | 2 Comments »

Friday, June 24, 2016, I went to the first showing of the movie “The Free State of Jones” at my local movie theater. It was the day after the shocking vote in the United Kingdom where a majority of voters expressed their wish to exist the European Union. It was an OMG – Oh My God – moment for me. Why do I, sitting here in the United States, care what happens in the UK? It must be all that Masterpiece Theater on PBS, all that Downton Abbey and Poldark and Wolf Hall. It must be all that James Bond and Adele and Sting and Idris Elba. It must be Love Actually.

Watching this movie about a little known chapter of American Civil War and Reconstruction history where poor whites in Mississippi made common cause with runaway slaves, formed a community, and fought the Confederacy together made me think about how history can inform our thinking about the world we live in today.

As the fragments of my thoughts about the Brexit vote crashed against the confines of my mind, I saw on screen at least one yeoman farmer during the Civil War realize that this war was a rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight. (Quiet as it is kept, most wars are such.) Conscription laws made it possible for men who owned at least twenty slaves to offer them for service to the Confederacy rather than go to fight and to die themselves. Men with no slaves had no choice but to go and fight when called. (In the north, the rich could also avoid the draft by paying others to take their place or by paying $300.)

Further, because of what was known as in-kind taxation, the Confederacy could come and take away a portion of a farmer’s harvest, livestock, and other goods to support the war effort. When Newton Knight, the hero of the movie, deserts, he helps women and children who are left behind defend their property against this confiscation. Life is hard enough. The reality of war made life harder.

The citizens of the UK who voted to leave the European Union must have felt that membership in the EU was making life harder. I was trying to understand why they would take such a vote. Some analysts cited discomfort with immigration into the UK from Europe. Too many people were coming into Great Britain, primarily from Eastern Europe, and competing for jobs and taking advantage of the National Health System and other social safety net provisions of the country. Brexit supporters wanted tighter restrictions. They understood the situation as a zero-sum game. They thought that leaving the EU would protect them from people who they thought were making their life harder.

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New Poems from Ari Banias: “An Arrow” and “Bouquet”

Jun27

by: Ari Banias on June 27th, 2016 | No Comments »

Credit: Nan Palmero Flickr

 

“AN ARROW”

Too often I’d like some direction

but am ashamed of this fact, still I ask for it,

men are supposed be bad at admitting

they’re lost though why men agree

to fulfill this is lost on me.

Who cares what men are. Can’t we

scrap this whole enterprise, seriously

top down management

small talk, normative dating. A little box

I fill in over and over, like feeding pennies into a slot

it leads somewhere I think

I’m saving them. For when? The pulldown menus

reach longer and longer, so to scroll becomes

the new version of a sweeping gesture, more ways

to be erased. At the end of the day

we still march on directionless,

used by pronouns & all the livelong

language still drags us through its shitty toll plazas,

do “you” have a highway phobia like “I” do.

Or who do you feel most related to.

Under my breath I say Love

thy neighbor as thy self

is to thy as neighbor is to the scraggle

in my front yard is to a badly pruned bush

across the street. But love it & those neighbors

drunk and too loud on their porch while I’m trying to sleep

to love us all better. The steepest hill

in maybe all of Oakland California, pointing my body up it

walking leg muscles burning, love the fortune

to have legs the cinderblock the succulent and none of them equal,

fuck equality, predicated on sameness

why not by now insist on a complex star cluster

a fuck of will and willingness and imagination, all our most unwieldy crap?

But crap, I’m daily losing my grip as if having

handed my only bow and arrow to a stranger who

might shoot it off look at that thing! it could hit

someone I care about or love, you myself anyone or a bush

here’s another bush and another they all mash together,

one is pine-ish the other has purple flowers, it’s basically formless

& somehow I feel it’s my key relative

that cousin I’m always close to no matter how many years pass,

who once cared about art now he’s a depressed socialist

vaguely entrepreneurial by necessity, as once I was

a slutty teenage girl they now call Sir, I guess I can see that

here’s another bush that could be shaped into another form

or just left alone. Outside the neighbor kids

shout without regard like their parents

before them, I saw one kid the other day point a phone

from their window into mine to take a photo of me I wanted to take

one in response as reminder that hey it’s a window

not a mirror and the object talks back

 

“Bouquet”

Today I build flowers out of concepts

in order to speak to you sincerely.

Today you want nothing because wanting

comes too close to feeling.

And though a sad old person

who combs their silver hair

all afternoon in a high window

curses you with great acuity,

you being anyone in a suit, a suit

being whatever you insulate yourself with

so you don’t hear that voice up there

calling you out, you keep going

as grim fleets of semis keep going,

shuttling dry goods across the continent.

In their fervent rumble lives

a hope to be getting paid soon. I get it.

Even last night’s cream roses still in their cellophane

and chucked on a downtown sidewalk

by their recipient have been called out.

These are the conditions of our times, you say,

stuffing ourselves with what’s greenish,

filming quickly in a garden

whose foliage is nearly realistic.

Once, we faced each other.

Now the unused filaments grow limp in us each day.

What huge thing catapults through you

when alone on the edge of your bed

is sincerity, or a need to absorb

its most mineral clarity & let it

bloom out your eyes,

but you’d rather it didn’t.

Theory of feeling will sling feeling back to you

so you can just think it.

I offer these compact shapes of affection and sadness

which the words affection and sadness do not convey.

Cancer’s sincere, shit is, indigestion, resentment

is sincere, sweat, dogs, mint, rust,

certain friendships are utterly sincere, and genitals

are sincere, though a flower is indifferent.

Ari Banias is author of Anybody, forthcoming from W.W. Norton in September 2016. He currently lives in Berkeley, CA and holds a B.A. from Sarah Lawrence College and an MFA in poetry from Hunter College, where he was a teaching fellow. The author of a chapbook,What’s Personal is Being Here With All of You (Portable Press @ Yo-Yo Labs, 2012), his poems appear in American Poetry Review, Boston Review, FIELD, Guernica, The Offing,The Volta, and as part of the exhibition Transgender Hirstory in 99 Objects. He has earned numerous fellowships and awards.

Why go to Russia?

Jun17

by: Kathy Kelly on June 17th, 2016 | 1 Comment »

Since 1983, Sharon Tennison has worked to develop ordinary citizens’ capacities to avert international crises, focusing on relations between the U.S. and Russia. Now, amid a rising crisis in relations between the U.S. and Russia, she has organized a delegation which assembled in Moscow yesterday for a two week visit. I joined the group yesterday, and happened to finish reading Sharon Tennison’s book, The Power of Impossible Ideas, when I landed in Moscow.

An entry in her book, dated November 9, 1989, describes the excitement over the Berlin Wall coming down and notes that “Prior to the Wall’s removal, President Reagan assured Secretary General Gorbachev that if he would support bringing down the Wall separating East and West Berlin, NATO would not move ‘a finger’s width’ closer to Russia than East Germany’s border. With this assurance Gorbachev gladly signed on.

Little could he or the world have guessed that this promise would soon be broken during the next administration – and that the redeveloping distrust between the countries would threaten to become a second cold War, due to NATO’s expansion up to Russia’s borders.”

Today, NATO and U.S. troops will conclude 10 days of military exercises, Anakonda, on Russia’s western border, involving 31,000 troops. The operation was named after a snake that kills by crushing its prey. Ongoing deployment of 4,000 additional NATO troops has been announced. U.S. and South Korean military exercises just completed at the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea were dubbed “Decapitation” and mobilized 320,000 troops.

Conn Hallinan, in “Bear Baiting Russia,” notes that “Russia has two bases in the Middle East and a handful in Central Asia. The U.S. has662 bases in foreign countries around the world and Special Forces (SOF) deployed in between 70 and 90 countries at any moment. Last year SOFs were active in 147 countries. The U.S. is actively engaged in five wars and is considering a sixth in Libya. Russian military spending will fall next year, and the U.S. will out-spend Moscow by a factor of 10. Who in this comparison looks threatening?”

It’s important for U.S. people to learn more, from ordinary Russian people, about their responses to troop build-up and new bases on their borders, threatening military exercises, and antagonistic arsenals of nuclear weapons on high alert. As President Vladimir Putin begins summoning a new Russian National Guard that could include 400,000 troops, it’s important to hear how Russian people feel about this development.

Rather than foster cartoonized versions of foreign policy, the media should help people recognize complexity in Russian society and include awareness of desires to live in peace on the part of people in both countries.

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We Can Stop This Violence

Jun17

by: Michael Nagler on June 17th, 2016 | 3 Comments »

During the G. W. Bush years a friend of mine lamented, “We have a war President, a war economy, and a war culture.” Yes on all three; but he might have gone on to add, the key is culture. If our culture did not promote violence the way it does we would not elect a war president, we would build our economy on very different, sustainable and just principles; we would find ways to avoid conflict and use robust, creative ways of dealing with it when it surfaced. In all this our belief system, or mindset is the key three-quarters and there are signs that we’re beginning to notice it.

I have been teaching, writing and speaking about peace for close to forty years; I founded a non-profit that long ago to educate people about nonviolence. I therefore do not make this statement lightly: I feel that we are beginning to see a breakthrough. If we widen the crack there may actually be a silver lining behind the mass shootings that took place last week in Orlando, the latest and worst we’ve yet endured.

The new awareness I’m referring to is admittedly slight, but it’s enough to make a three-quarter difference  if we seize the opportunity it represents. Two examples showed up in my local paper, the Santa Rosa Press Democratic on June 13th: the editorial board writes, tellingly, that nothing will stop these massacres “unless something changes in our culture, our conscience or our Congress.” On the same page, a cartoon by “Venn Detta” from theWashington Post shows Uncle Sam bowing his head (in grief ? shame? both?) before three circles labeled “Terrorism, Homophobia, Islamophobia.” They intersect a central circle called “Hate,” and the caption explains, “What ties it all together.” Why do I say that these might be signs that we’re turning a corner? Because up to now the responses to every one of these tragedies has followed a script, almost ritualized, and the one thing they have never included is any look at our culture or any attempt to probe some of its underlying forces. They have been at best irrelevant and at worst a sure way to provoke the problem. Most of them, to be sure, still are: statistics, “This is the largest number of victims in a mass shooting;” details, “Here are the names of the victims,” “Police are reconstructing the timeline,” and labels, they are “searching for the motive” so they know what kind of label to slap on the event, thus shielding us somewhat from its emotional impact. We’re being lead to relive the massacre instead of understand it.

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Grieving the Orlando Massacre

Jun16

by: on June 16th, 2016 | 3 Comments »

We at Tikkun reaffirm our commitment to the safety of and respect for the LGBTQ community.

“They” are “us”–we are both straight and gay, bi and trans, Jewish, and Christian, Muslim, and Buddhist, Hindu and earth-based religions of every variety, young and old, religious, secular humanists and atheists.

We will not let any sector of “us” get scared that the rest of us will abandon them. Just as I said at Muhammed Ali’s funeral that Jews will stand with Muslims in the face of growing Islamophobia (all the more needed now that some politicians are trying to use the horror of the mass murder of members of the LGBTQ community in Orlando by a supposedly Muslim young man to justify repression against Muslims). We will not let any of them become an “acceptable” target for the haters. Not the LGBTQ community, not anyone.

We are one global “we,” and we must never let any part of us become the target that is somehow made a “legitimate” target.

But true solidarity needs to go beyond standing with the victims of hate crimes, including, homophobia, Islamophobia, racism, anti-Semitism, sexism, xenophobia and all the other variants of hatred. True solidarity should guide us to the imperative to develop strategies to heal the distortions and pains that lead people into communities of hate.

Our strategies must separate the hateful behavior from the pain in people that underlies their misdirected rage, and sometimes violent actions. We must develop ways to speak to those deep psychic wounds and hurts, and show people that there are better and more effective strategies to deal with those pains than to act them out on others, whether that acting out be in the form of demeaning, raping, making war against others, or in the form of mass politics of hatred.

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Dissolving Tyranny Instead of Voting For It

Jun16

by: on June 16th, 2016 | 5 Comments »

According to the masters of the moral universe who have housed themselves in the Democratic Party, that bedrock foundation of all human wisdom and enlightenment, I shall forever wear a Scarlet B on my chest. B for Bush.

I was one of the “Nader Spoilers” of 2000, one of the 97,421 Floridians who cast a vote for Ralph Nader.  If those of us in this group – the “Scarlet B Community” – had voted for Al Gore instead, George W. Bush would never have been president of the United States. I don’t dispute that math. But I do roll my eyes at the partisan emotions behind it, as if Al Gore had the political heft to save this country’s early 21st century descent in proto-tyranny.  Barack Obama’s magnetic persona and persuasive ability – and I would say his intellect too – far surpasses that of Al Gore, with all due respect to the former VP, and even he could not stop it.

Let’s be clear: At present, we have probably the most corruption-free, morally-minded, intellectually-disciplined president to ever occupy that office in U.S. history. And here we are.

Lest there be any doubt that we are at a chilling point in the American democratic experiment, consider these words of University of Texas law professor, Sandy Levinson, who writes at Balkinization:

This really and truly may be the most important election in our lifetimes if, as I fear, it will call into question basic issues of political stability within the US. We really are looking more and more like Weimar in the late 20s, where parliament is basically beneath contempt because of an inability to respond to the challenges facing the country, and the political parties increasingly view their opposition as Schmittian enemies to be crushed…

Indeed, as far Congress goes, what could be more “beneath contempt” than the fact that U.S. soldiers are now deployed in Iraq and parts of Syria operating under the same AUMF (Authorization to Use Military Force) that was passed in the immediate aftermath of September 11th, 2001, before ISIS even existed.  As Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) said last fall about his failed bill to require congressional authorization for any deployments to Syria to fight ISIS, “I get it, members of Congress are afraid to cast a vote on war.”

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