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The Nuclear Clock is at Two Minutes to Midnight

Jun13

by: G. Doctorow on June 13th, 2016 | 14 Comments »

In his eulogy to Mohammed Ali at the Louisville memorial service, Rabbi Michael Lerner reminded us all of the distinguishing feature of “The Greatest,” that from the start of his career he spoke Truth to Power and paid the price when he was stripped of his heavyweight title for five years.

In that spirit, and in the presence of eminent national leaders, Rabbi Lerner listed major issues that concern Liberal Progressives, adding one issue that is often overlooked. He said that attempts to subjugate peoples and rule the world have been made over the last 10,000 years and they have never worked. In what follows, I will try to expand on that very important observation and how it bears on our own and broader humanity’s prospects for survival now.

One of the very sad consequences of the monopoly control of mainstream print and electronic media, as well as of the two houses of Congress by the ideologists of Neoconservatism and Liberal Interventionism is that the broad American public, including instinctively skeptical Progressives, is clueless about the level of risk of all out nuclear war we are incurring by our current and projected policies of global domination. America’s seemingly irresistible force is coming up against indomitable resistance from Russia and China and the result is an escalating confrontation that we have not seen since the days of the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.

I had a personal awakening to the reality of the false sense of security that pervades American society some 18 months ago when I participated in a Peace Day event organized at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where the keynote speaker was Noam Chomsky and a number of other leading personalities in the nationwide antiwar movement also held forth. The auditorium which accommodated our opening, plenary session was filled by perhaps 350 activists, many of them gray headed veterans from the 1960s Vietnam War resistance, but also a representative sampling of students from the Greater Boston area. When we broke up for workshops, perhaps 250 chose the then very fashionable issue of the Islamic State, whose exploits had filled our newspapers with beheadings and bloody terror taking place in distant lands. My own workshop on the red hot civil war then raging in Donbass, in southeastern Ukraine, which was becoming a proxy war between Russia and the USA, drew in a total of 5 auditors.

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A Kiss Is Just A Kiss?

Jun13

by: on June 13th, 2016 | 3 Comments »

On Saturday June 11th, as I took our dog out of our shop in San Mateo to get her comfy in her kennel, the friends we’d been awaiting to have dinner with arrived and ran into me on the street. I love these guys like crazy, and we’ve been friends for nearly 30 years, but… they’re kissers, usually right on the lips. And here on our little street in San Mateo there were families with little kids heading this way and that and my mind screamed “they’re going to kiss me right here in front of everyone…. what if………….?!?!?!?” I should point out, unless it isn’t already obvious, that these two friends and my husband and I are all of the same gender, male. They did, of course, go right in for a kiss, this time on the cheek though, right there on 25th Avenue, and the world didn’t stop.

Or did it?

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Here We Go Again

Jun13

by: on June 13th, 2016 | 5 Comments »

A few months back, a segment on the “Daily Show with Trevor Noah” presented a kind of generic report after a mass shooting. The point was that mass shootings happen so often in the United States that all we have to do is to fill in the specific details of the event. Everything else would be the same. Some loner mentally disturbed individual– fill in the blank– took an assault weapon into a public place – fill in the blank – and killed and injured a number of people. – fill in the blank.

The president will speak words of comfort. We will hear about the shooter. We will hear stories of the victims. There will be candle-light vigils. People will brings flowers and teddy bears in a pop-up memorial. Half the nation will speak of stronger gun laws. The other half will talk about mental health and our violent popular culture. A few days will pass, and we will be on to the next thing until the next mass shooting when it all starts all over again.

I have written over and over about gun violence in the United States. Last June, after the mass shooting in Charleston, South Carolina at the Mother Emanuel Church where African-American church goers were killed by a young white racist, I wrote a two-part essay inspired by the incident. Part one was about the Cost of Cowardice of this country on the issue of race. The second part was about the Cost of Cowardice of our law makers to pass gun regulations. We as a society pay a high price not only in medical and legal costs but also in lost wages and productivity when citizens have long -term physical disabilities caused by gun violence and cannot be as productive as they might have been before the shooting. (http://www.tikkun.org/tikkundaily/2015/07/22/the-cost-of-cowardice-part-two/)

More important, the loss of one’s loved one or friend is beyond calculation. The injury of a loved one whose life will never be the same is also beyond calculation.

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Muhammad Ali is the Truth

Jun10

by: on June 10th, 2016 | 2 Comments »

Muhammad Ali is the truth. Even though Ali laid his body down on Friday, June 3, 2016, a body that was fast and strong and weak and trembling, the essence, excellence, beauty, and truth of the man remains.

Muhammad Ali is the truth. His life tells us that to be excellent at anything, we have to put in the work. He started boxing when he was 12-years-old. He trained six days a week for more than twenty years. Joe Martin, the police officer who taught him how to box, and Angelo Dundee, his trainer for his entire boxing career, both agree that he was the hardest worker they ever trained. As a teenager, he ran to school rather than ride the bus. He asked his brother to throw rocks at him so he could work on his reflexes. He ran long distances in Miami to the point where the police contacted Dundee to confirm that Ali was a professional fighter in training.

Moreover, Ali was a student of his craft. He knew its history, and he could talk with authority about the fighters who came before him. He knew their styles and the styles of their opponents. When he built his boxing camp, he remembered boxing history by painting the names of previous champions on rocks. He made a decision to move like Sugar Ray Robinson rather than Joe Lewis. When he proclaimed himself “The Greatest”, it was a declaration based on his assessment of other fighters and a study of their styles.

Muhammad Ali is the truth. He is the truth of the essence of a champion, in every sense of the word. He fought for the Olympic Gold Medal. He fought for the money and the fame that comes with winning the heavy weight championship of the world, but he also fought for more than the belt that comes with the title. When he converted to Islam under the teaching of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad and the Nation of Islam, when he changed his name to Muhammad Ali, he became an advocate for the dignity of African-American people in particular and human dignity in general. He claimed the right to name himself, to choose his religion and way of being in the world. He spoke the truth of African-American history as he understood it. He accepted the teaching of the Hon. Elijah Muhammad that black people in the United States were members of an Afro-Asiatic race that made us brothers and sisters with people of color across the globe. This understanding along with the just war tradition inside Islam became the basis of his refusal to be inducted into the United States military during Viet Nam.

In a conversation with William F. Buckley on his program “Firing Line”, Ali assures Buckley that his mind had not been poisoned by the Hon. Elijah Muhammad. Ali said:

“He cannot teach us you are our enemy, you taught us and your people daily.” Ali recited the history of lynching, castration, rape, and a 400 year enslavement. He reminded Buckley and his audience of the assassination and persecution of people such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. and Medgar Evers. He spoke of poor education in the black community and of white soldiers who wave the rebel flag. He was a champion of the truth of both the history and the current challenges of black life in America.

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Tikkun’s Rabbi Michael Lerner to Speak at Memorial for Social Justice Hero Muhammad Ali

Jun6

by: Ari Bloomekatz on June 6th, 2016 | 2 Comments »

Rabbi Michael Lerner, who worked with social justice hero Muhammad Ali in the peace movement against the war in Vietnam, has been invited to speak at the great boxer’s memorial service this coming Friday in Louisville, Kentucky.

While Ali earned fame for his boxing skills and as the heavyweight champion of the world, his legacy is that of a radical revolutionary who fought against the established power structures – a fact made clear when he gave up the title and refused to serve in Vietnam.

Ali’s family called Rabbi Lerner to represent the Jewish people at the memorial service and told him Ali and his wife had been fans of his for many years. There will also be Christian, Muslim, and Buddhist speakers, and former President Clinton is also expected to give an address.

The last time Rabbi Lerner heard from Ali was in 1995 when he sent Rabbi Lerner a note saying how much he enjoyed the book Jews and Blacks: Let the Healing Begin, which Rabbi Lerner co-wrote with Cornel West.

“I was very amazed to hear from him then, and all the more amazed that his family remembers me two decades later,” Rabbi Lerner said in a statement. “I never know who reads Tikkun, my articles in other social media, my books, or has seen or heard me on television or radio, and what impact, if any, my ideas have on people.”

Lerner said he was humbled and moved that Ali and his family had been following his work all of these years and impacted by them.

“I feel deeply humbled by this honor and moved to know that my ideas touched Muhammed Ali,” Lerner said. “American Jews have played an important role in the continuing fight for social justice and peace, so our presence in this memorial will be a testimony to the very many in our community who celebrated Muhammad Ali’s courageous fight for peace, social justice, and a world in which love and generosity wins out over fear, hate, militarism and domination.”

Lerner said he also wanted to use the opportunity as a way to reaffirm the Jewish people’s “solidarity with Muslims around the world who are experiencing a growing Islamophobia that blames the billion and a half Muslims for the crimes of a small fraction of Muslims-the kind of hatred that we Jews have known all too well in our history.”

CNN has asked Rabbi Lerner to speak on a show that will be aired at 9 a.m. Friday morning Eastern Daylight Time. He can be reached for other interviews by emailing Leila@tikkun.org or by calling 510-644-1200 (8 a.m.- 5 p.m. Pacific Daylight Time).

Rabbi Lerner will also talk about the experience of the memorial during his synagogue’s celebration of Shavuot (the Jewish holiday celebrating the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai) on Sunday, June 12 (details at www.beyttikkun.org).

Muhammad Ali Was a Freedom Fighter Not an Icon or Celebrity

Jun6

by: Henry A. Giroux on June 6th, 2016 | 3 Comments »

The death of Muhammad Ali strikes at the heart of what it means to lead a life of dignity, unsurpassed skill, and the willingness to step into history and call out its most insidious injustices. I am one of many, I am sure, whose heart is broken over the death of Muhammad Ali, who was a hero for those of us raised in the sixties and for whom he modeled that poetic dialectic between the body and a notion of resistance. For my working-class generation, the body was all we had – a site of danger, hope, possibility, confusion, and dread – he elevated that understanding into the political realm by mediating those working class concerns into a brave and courageous understanding of politics as a site of resistance. He made it clear that resistance was a poetic act that was continually being written. He unsettled the racial order, protested the war, and danced in the ring like a butterfly – a master of wit, performance, and sheer courage. Resistance for Ali was not an option, but a necessity.

One of his greatest gifts was using his talent as a world-renowned fighter to flip the script, a script used by the elite of the time to define poor black and white kids by their deficits. In his speech and actions, Ali taught a generation of young kids that their deficits were actually their strengths, that is, a sense of solidarity, compassion, a merging of the mind and the body, learning, and willingness to take risks, embracing passion, connecting knowledge to power, and being attentive to the injuries of others while embracing a sense of social justice. Ali taught us how to talk back to power. Many of us learned early that what Ali was saying was THAT WE had to flip the script in order to survive and WE became acutely aware that the alleged strengths of those who oppressed us in the streets, schools, on the job, and in other spaces that our bodies inhabited were actually vicious deficits, extending from their racism to their unbridled arrogance and propensity for violence. Ali provided a language and sense of agency that provided a turning point in our being able to narrate and free ourselves from one of the most sinister forms of ideological domination – what Marie Luise Knott calls “those unexamined prejudices that keep us from thinking.”

Ali was dangerous not just as a deftly skilled boxer but also because he deeply understood that challenge, if not slow process, of unlearning the poisonous sedimented histories minority youth often have to internalize and embody in order to survive. Unlearning meant becoming attentive to the histories, traditions, daily rituals, and social relations that offered both a sense of resistance and allowed people to think beyond the inflicted misery and suffering that marked their neighborhoods and daily lives. It meant not only learning about resistance in their lost histories but also how to narrate themselves from the perspective of understanding both the toxic cultural capital that shored up racist state power and those modes of knowledge and social relations that allowed us to challenge it. It also meant unlearning those modes of oppression that too many of us had internalized, obvious examples being the rampant sexism and hyper-masculinity we had been taught were matters of common sense and reputable badges of identity. But in the END, Ali taught us to believe in and fight for our convictions.

Outside of being the greatest boxer in the world, Ali sacrificed three-and-a-half years of his career for the ideals in which he believed. He was not merely an icon of history, he helped to shape it. Ali had his flaws and his ridicule of Joe Frazier and his disowning of Malcolm X speak to those shortcomings, but Ali was not a god, he was simply flawed differently. What is most remarkable about him as a fighter for the underdog was his ability to flip the script. It will be hard to find people like Ali in the future now that self-interest and a pathological narcissism have taken over the culture in the age of casino capitalism. I will miss him and only hope his legacy will leave the traces of resistance and courage that will inspire another generation. He was a champ in the most courageous sense who showed generations of working class kids how to resist, struggle, and talk back with dignity and grace.

Photo credit: Dutch National Archives, The Hague. Vikipedija.

Good Day in Chillicothe

Jun1

by: Sam Quinones on June 1st, 2016 | No Comments »

In Chillicothe, Ohio, the way I understand it, school janitors are heroes.

Many kids are growing up in families of addicts and have no place to go, their home studded with neglect and jagged edges; so they hang around after school. There, janitors have befriended them, bringing them food, giving them a sober adult to talk to and a calm place to hang out.

My family and I spent Thursday in Chillicothe, a southern Ohio town (pop. 21,000) bedeviled, as so many are, by the opiate-addiction epidemic.

I spoke all day long – a radio interview at 6:30 am, meetings with three groups through the day, and a 7 pm public talk at the Majestic Theater, the oldest (1853), continuously operated theater in America. Yet by the end I wasn’t exhausted; I was instead exhilarated by the electric, intense response of people I met.

That’s how it’s been everywhere lately.

Source: Sam Quinones

Writing Dreamland wasn’t arduous; it was engrossing. But it was also about a tough topic in which the worst of human behavior was on display. So I’m thrilled to see towns like Chillicothe using the book to come together, form alliances, leverage talent, talk about this problem in a way that hasn’t happened before, and do something hopeful.

Heroin seems to be having the opposite effect in Chillicothe that it has on users. If heroin isolates addicts into self-absorption and hyper-consumption, the drug also seems to be bringing people together to fight against it. I see this elsewhere as well and that’s encouraging. I know the problem is big. A new sporting-goods store delayed its opening in Chillicothe for months, I’m told, because it couldn’t find enough workers that could pass a drug test.

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Reclaiming Words: Niggas, Bitches, and Queers

May31

by: on May 31st, 2016 | 1 Comment »

WARNING: I will quote the original sources in this essay verbatim. Some people may find the words offensive. Reader discretion is advised.

At the 2016 White House Correspondent’s Dinner, the last during the administration of Barack Obama, the first African-American president, comedian Larry Wilmore ended his presentation referring to the president as “my nigga.” His use of the word “nigga” reignited the discussion about when and where and how and by whom the word ought to be used or whether it ought to be used at all. Civil rights leader Al Sharpton is among those critical of Wilmore’s use of the word. Sharpton rejects the argument that the word can have a positive connotation, that there is such a thing as reclamation of pejorative words, either for African-Americans or for anyone else.

I say that most words are fecund with meaning, that these multiplicities of meaning shift depending upon context and the human being using the word, that negative words have been turned upside down and inside out, and reclaiming words is a liberatory act of empowerment.

I will not rehearse the etymologies of the three words I will consider in this essay – nigga, bitch, and queer – except to say that they were and are sometimes still used to disrespect another human being. Once upon a time in America it was common to see the word “nigger” used to speak of African-Americans in respectable journals. There is no question that the word was used to represent black people as less than white people. There was a time that to call an African-American person black would be cause for consternation. Some white people past and present till spit the word “nigger” out with hate-filled venom.

James Weldon Johnson in his 1912 novel – “The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man” – wrote of a common rhyme: “Nigger, nigger never die. Black face and shiny eye.” However, Frank Horne, activist, physician, civil servant, poet, and uncle to the actress and singer Lena Horne, reclaimed the word in his poem “Nigger” when he turned the rhyme into a black history lesson. (https://hiddencause.wordpress.com/2011/03/02/poem-of-the-week-horne-2/)

The poem says in part:

Little Black boy,
Chased down the street
“nigger, nigger never die
Black face an shiny eye
Nigger. . . nigger. . . nigger. . .

Hannibal. . Hannibal
Bangin’ thru the Alps
Licked the proud Romans
Run home with their scalps
. . .
Toussant. . . Toussant
Made the French flee
Fought like a demon
Set his people free
. . .
Jesus. . . Jesus
Son of the Lord
Spit in his face
Nail him on a board
Nigger.. . nigger. . . nigger

Little Black boy
Runs down the street,
“Nigger nigger never die
Black face an’ shiny eye
Nigger. . . nigger. . . nigger
(http://www.poetrynook.com/poem/nigger-0)

Also, in “The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man”, Johnson describes the use of the word “nigger” among some black men:

“I noticed that among this class of colored men the word “nigger” was freely used in about the same sense as “fellow” and sometimes as a term of almost endearment; but I soon learned that its use was positively and absolutely prohibited to white men.”

This is not unusual. Most group have some expression that they may use to refer to themselves or that others in the group may use but is forbidden to outsiders. In the popular British Television show, “Downton Abbey”, the Irish chauffeur who has married into the English aristocracy says of himself:

“You won’t make a gentleman of me, you know. You can teach me to fish, to ride, to shoot, but I’ll still be an Irish mick in my heart.”
It would have been an insult for anyone else to say that to him.

And this is the rub. Some words are acceptable within groups, but are forbidden to those outside the group. In their use of the word “nigger” within the group, it is a word that connotes shared experience, but when the word “nigger” becomes “my nigga” it connotes a shared moral and communal location. African communal logic says that: Because I am we are, and because we are, I am. The moral space created between the individual and the community past, present, and future, makes a righteous claim on both individual and community. We all exist to uplift the individual, and the individual has a responsibility to do her or his best for the sake of the community. Thus “my nigga” is family and friend and sometime enemy, someone with whom I share past, present, and future moral responsibility.

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Sanders is Israel’s Best Friend in 2016

May27

by: on May 27th, 2016 | 7 Comments »

NOTE: As a non-profit, Tikkun magazine does NOT endorse any candidate or political party. Nor does Rabbi Lerner. This article is a response to distorted media coverage of Sanders’ appointment of prominent progressives to the Democratic Party’s Platform Committee whom the NY Times, the Jewish Forward and other media are describing as anti-Israel. Some of our readers support Bernie Sanders, some support Hillary Clinton, some support Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein, and there may be other candidates that some of our readers support. This article is not meant to enter into that debate, but only to challenge the media coverage of Sanders on Israel.

(Source: Flickr/ Phil Roeder)

I wasn’t surprised when the NY Times on May 26th made a front page story out of the alleged damage Senator Bernie Sanders was doing to the Democratic Party by placing among his 5 representatives on the Democratic Party’s Platform committee a few people who might support Sanders’ view that the US needs to be “more even-handed” in the Israel/Palestine struggle.

The New York Times has consistently turned its news pages into the loudest cheerleader for Hillary Clinton’s bid for the nomination. If mentioned at all, they bury deep in their paper, Bernie Sanders’ primary wins and the many polls that indicate he’d be more likely to win against Trump than Hillary. So it’s no surprise that when Bernie won permission to appoint 5 of the 15 members of the Platform Committee of the Democratic Party Convention, the Times focused the story on the possibility that 2 of these appointees, James Zogby and Cornel West, would turn the convention into a debate about US policy towards Israel, and thereby weaken Hillary’s capacity to fight off Trump in the general election. There was nothing in the story to confirm that these appointees had any such intention, but that didn’t keep the N.Y. Times from making this front page story a way to once again stir worries that Bernie’s vigorous pursuit of the nomination (as Hillary Clinton herself had done in 2008 against Obama even after it was clear she would not win the nomination) was going to hurt Hillary’s chances in the Fall election–thus creating the story should Hillary lose that it was really all the fault of that socialist Jew from Vermont!

The Times ignored the important Bernie appointments of Congressman Keith Ellison, a leader of the Congress’ Progressive Caucus, a supporter of social justice for middle income people and the poor, universal healthcare and a $15 minimum wage, and an opponent of Obama’s use of drones, Rebecca Parker, vice chair of the Tulalip Tribes of Washington State, who is likely to emphasize rights for indigenous peoples and criminal justice reform, and Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org who is likely to push for a tax on carbons and other aggressive policies to save the planet’s life-support system. To turn the discussion solely to Israel, and suggest that somehow Sanders’ very mild call for an even-handed policy that took into account the needs of the Palestinian people is a threat to Israel’s existence is irresponsible and ludicrous.

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President Obama & Hiroshima: A Pathway to National Atonement

May27

by: on May 27th, 2016 | 1 Comment »

President Obama’s speech today in Hiroshima did not contain the word “atonement.” Nevertheless, the spirit of atonement was carried throughout. It was not only the most remarkable speech of Barack Obama’s presidency, it is arguably the most remarkable speech given by any U.S. president, ever.

In concluding his speech, President Obama said:

Those who died, they are like us. Ordinary people understand this, I think. They do not want more war. They would rather that the wonders of science be focused on improving life and not eliminating it. When the choices made by nations, when the choices made by leaders, reflect this simple wisdom, then the lesson of Hiroshima is done.

The world was forever changed here, but today the children of this city will go through their day in peace. What a precious thing that is. It is worth protecting, and then extending to every child. That is a future we can choose, a future in which Hiroshima and Nagasaki are known not as the dawn of atomic warfare but as the start of our own moral awakening.

There are so many areas in which to critique President Obama’s tenure in office, and yet there are times, like today, that I am grateful to have a sitting president whose core intention is to seek the greater good of all humankind.  Yes, it is disappointing that he has presided over a wholly corrupt military system and has done nothing to change it: namely, a military system that lures young men and women with financial and emotional enticements to fight the nation’s wars, all while the rest of the nation, whatever their politics, goes about the charade of “supporting the troops,” as if morally tolerating the corrupt military machine that has and is devouring their lives can remotely approximate the notion of loving fraternity.  We have a long way to go as a nation, from President Obama to the men and women of Mainstreet, to atone for our toleration of this ongoing assault on the sanctity of human life.

Yet I give President Obama credit for at least endeavoring throughout his presidency, and the last two years in particular, to create the emotional space for the American people to atone for our sins as a nation.  Politicians do not succeed at their primary craft – winning elections – by creating that emotional space, and that largely holds true for Barack Obama as well.  Yet that space, that space for genuine national atonement, has been carved by this president.  It may be a small space for now, but it is something that we can, I believe must, expand upon.


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