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Archive for the ‘Politics & Society’ Category

We’re Mad as Hell – But That’s Not Enough


by: James Vrettos on September 15th, 2015 | No Comments »

An intriguing, thoroughly readable, and timely new book has just been published by the Kairos Center/Poverty Initiative, containing a collection of the recent writings of Willie Baptist, their Scholar-in-Residence and Coordinator of Poverty Scholarship and Leadership Development.

Those unfamiliar with neither the center nor the initiative should know that the mission of Kairos: Center for Religion, Rights and Social Justice housed at Union Theological Seminary in New York is to contribute to transformative movements for social change that can draw on the power of both religious and human rights. The cornerstone program of the center is the Poverty Initiative whose mission is to raise up generations of religious and community leaders dedicated to building a social movement to end poverty, led by the poor.

And Willy Baptist certainly fits the bill for the center and this book – a formerly homeless father of three who came out of the Watts uprisings and the Black Student Movement, he has 50 years of experience educating and organizing among the poor and dispossessed, including working as a lead organizer with the United Steelworkers, the National Union of the Homeless, the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights campaign, as well as many other networks.


Gulf Countries – Do Not Disturb!


by: Lubna Qureshi on September 15th, 2015 | 1 Comment »

Painting of Syrian boy Alan Kurdi washed up on shore

Credit: Flickr / robertsharp

The horrific image of 3-year-old Alan Kurdi’s lifeless body is considered a wakeup call for humanity. Alan, his 5-year-old brother, and their mother were among at least a dozen who drowned crossing the Aegean Sea to reach Greece from Bodrum, Turkey. Though the crossing from Bodrum to the Greek island of Kos is only two miles long, the suffering associated with death on these waters is immeasurable. The Kurdi children and their mother are among thousands who have drowned in an attempt to flee Syria, according to a UN report, yet only a few make headlines.

Countless Syrians, among other refugees from Afghanistan and Iraq, have fled their war torn homes in hopes of rebuilding their lives abroad, mainly in Europe and other western countries. Alan’s unfortunate death shook the world and pressured some European countries, namely Germany, Austria, and Sweden, to open their doors to the refugees. Germany went so far as to suspend the Dublin Regulation, which requires EU countries to examine an asylum seeker’s claim in the country in which he or she first arrived. With widespread support from its citizens, Germany alone is expected to admit 800,000 refugees this year. Moreover, The European Union and its member states have mobilized a sizable amount of financial aid while Kuwait and Qatar are among the top donors from the Gulf countries providing aid to refugees.


The silent “also” in Black Lives Matter: The story of our yard sign in a mostly white neighborhood


by: on September 14th, 2015 | No Comments »

We live in an old, urban neighborhood in Pennsylvania. Each house sits inches from the next, and all are situated quite close to the sidewalk and street. Yards are tiny, which makes for intimate pedestrian traffic. Waves and greetings are common, if not obligatory.

It’s a mostly white area, and we’re white. Or rather, as Ta-Nehisi Coates writes, we’re among those who believe themselves to be white within America’s manufactured system of dominance and subservience based upon race. We’re actually Jews primarily of Eastern European descent.

While there is one black family on our block, it’s not exactly a diverse area, though being urban, it is more so than one might find in your average American suburb. And it’s amidst this physical backdrop that we decided, a few weeks ago, to place a Black Lives Matter sign in our front yard. The decision came after powerful responses to a piece I’d written on the way Left Bank Books in St. Louis beautifully responded when a customer blasted their own signs.

We purchased several from Left Bank Books and, upon their arrival, I placed one in our front yard, doing so with slight hesitation. After all, neighborly interactions on such a street happen easily, and I feared the inevitable “All Lives Matter” response. Or worse. And so we created a handmade sign to accompany our “Black Lives Matter” declaration, a sign intended as both pedagogic and a preemptive strike:

"Black Lives Matter" sign next to a handmade sign reading, "Black Lives Matter has a silent "also." It refers to the idea that black lives are sometimes not treated like they matter as much as everyone else's."


Empathizing with Palestinians does not make me anti-Semitic, it makes me Jewish


by: on September 12th, 2015 | Comments Off

Originally published at Jewschool

As missiles fell in Israel and bombs obliterated portions of Gaza last summer, I awoke each morning with a jolt, as though remembering some pressing task nearly forgotten. That jolt felt from afar – from across the Atlantic – was unmitigated fear. A fear that when I swept the crust from my eyes, fired up my laptop and scanned Twitter, I’d either find that an Israeli soldier I knew had died or bear witness to more images of bodies piling up in Gaza. While the former fear was never realized (despite 66 soldiers and six civilians dying in Israel), the latter was actualized with a nauseating consistency.

Every morning, the casualty totals in Gaza grew. Every morning, new images of homes and apartment complexes turned to rubble revealed themselves. Every morning, reporters on the ground wrote of unspeakable traumas, of entire families lost in the blink of eyes once open. And as Palestinian suffering grew, so too did my public expressions of empathy. Expressions which were attacked so forcefully, one might have thought, absent all context, that I was a skinhead seeking Jewish blood.

Finally, awoken to images of a U.N. shelter shelled by Israel, killing 16 civilians hiding in a location promised to be safe, I wrote the following on July 25, 2014:

“Empathizing with Gaza does not make me anti-Semitic, nor pro-Hamas or anti-Israel. It makes me human.”


Why Are the Republicans Ignoring Bernie Sanders?


by: Raanan Geberer on September 10th, 2015 | 5 Comments »

Why are the Republicans seemingly ignoring Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and his campaign for the Democratic nomination for president?

As an admitted socialist who believes in universal health care, requiring companies to provide maternity leave, sick leave and vacation time; taxing financial transactions, breaking up big banks and expanding Social Security benefits, Sanders seems like the perfect target for the almost-completely-right wing Republican Party.

Bernie Sanders speaks at campaign rally

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

It seems logical that given the upsurge in Sanders’ support, the Republicans would view him as a serious threat and act accordingly. In August, Sanders drew a record-breaking 27,000 people in Los Angeles and 28,000 people in Portland, Oregon — the largest turnout for any 2016 presidential candidate up to that time. A Politco poll in July of New Hampshire Democratic voters showed 47 percent favoring Hillary Clinton, but Sanders gaining on her with 34 percent.

Despite all that, Republicans don’t seem particularly interested in taking the bait.

During the Fox News-sponsored GOP candidates’ debates in early August, which featured 17 candidates, I didn’t notice any mention of Sanders at all. It was all Hillary, Hillary, Hillary as the anti-Republican- as the candidate to beat.


All Should Be Repenting for the Suffering of the Refugees


by: on September 9th, 2015 | 4 Comments »

This article appeared on the Huffington Post home page column this morning (Sept 9th), view the original here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rabbi-michael-lerner/we-all-should-be-repentin_b_8109612.html

As we watch millions of refugees struggling to survive, hundreds of thousands of them seeking refuge in a Europe which has by and large shut its doors to them, it is all too easy for those in the U.S. to piously implore the Europeans to do more. Or for the U.S. government to take in a few thousand of them.

Most Americans seem completely blind to the way that we have played a major role in creating the problem, and have a major responsibility to fix it. Instead, many Americans are rallying behind Donald Trump and other Republican politicians who are competing with each other on who can be more ruthless toward our own domestic refugees who came to the U.S. without official government sanction.

Few Americans realize that there was no major refugee problem until the 1990s. Here’s what happened since then to change the world:

1. The U.S. got involved in Middle East wars, eventually overthrowing Saddam Hussein and throwing out of government and the Iraqi army leadership everyone associated with Saddam’s Sunni Muslim allies. Those thus disempowered began a war with the U.S. occupying forces which the U.S. pursued with torture at Guantanamo and at many torture locations around the world and in Iraq. Millions of Iraqis fled their homes. Eventually Americans’ patience with that ongoing war led to the decision to leave the area.

Not surprisingly, many of those who had felt resentful at the U.S.–and resentful at the Shiite government that the US empowered and left behind in Iraq, and which continued to oppress Sunni Muslims–created the preconditions for popular acceptance of ISIS with its ruthless treatment of Iraqis and Syrians whom they deemed as enemies, making it unsafe for vast swaths of the Iraqi and Syrian populations.


Tikkun Wins Best Magazine of the Year Award


by: Tikkun on September 9th, 2015 | No Comments »

Tikkun Wins Best Magazine of the Year Award from the mainstream media’s Religion Newswriters Association

This year’s meeting of the Religion Newswriters Association was held in Philadelphia and its major focus was on how best to cover the Pope’s forthcoming visit. Panels filled with members of the Catholic Church hierarchy, many of them people who strongly disagree with the Pope’s progressive politics, were chosen to give the mainstream media people who attended this gathering a way to think about the pope’s visit. Their problem was obvious: as leaders of the Catholic Church they are not supposed to oppose the Pope, but they also don’t want his message too widely spread to the world, and particularly not to the Catholic world. Their solution was the same that many (not all) of the mainstream media often use when dealing with US elections—rarely report on what the candidates are advocating, focus instead on the personalities of the candidates and their standing in the latest polls.

Translating that strategy into the Pope’s visit, many of the Church leaders urged the media to focus on what a nice guy the Pope is, how caring he is for the poor and down-trodden through personal visits to them, and to avoid politics altogether, including his recent encyclical which linked both global poverty and the accelerating destruction of the environment to the destructive materialism and selfishness and competitiveness that are rooted in the daily dynamics of global capitalism. “Not the point,” they insisted. “The Pope has no politics—he is a religious thinker and leader, he is not Left or Right, his only commitment is to Jesus.” Apparently none of these archbishops and bishops and priests seemed to know that Jesus had a revolutionary politics that was very much about ending the suffering of people on this planet, and it was precisely that message that had made it so easy to spread the religion that St. Paul created in Jesus’ name.


Thank God I’m an Agnostic


by: Ron Hirschbein on September 8th, 2015 | 5 Comments »

“A woman comes up and she says to me: ‘I’m Jewish. I’m not going to accept Jesus as my savior. Am I going to hell?’ . . . Jesus said, ‘No one comes to the Father but by me . . . I am the way.’ I’m betting my life that He was telling the truth. Now see what I did? I took it off of me, and making me the authority.”

- Pastor Rick Warren

There’s hell to pay if you’re not just like the fundamentalists – be they theists or anti-theists. It’s either hell in the life to come, or apocalypse now – no doubt about it in the fundamentalists’ doubt-free world. They’re dangerous and influential. Warren delivered the invocation at Obama’s 2008 inauguration. The president provided a forum and legitimacy to a zealot who damned Jews – and most everyone else – to hell. Would Obama have invited a jihadist condoning eternal torment of Jews and other nonbelievers? Warren’s gospel resonates: He sold 30 million copies of his Purpose Driven Life.

The gospel, according to militant atheist Christopher Hitchens, resonates with a different clientele: His God is Not Great (an obvious slap at Islam) is also a bestseller. (Full disclosure: I’m envious; these book sales surpass mine.) Hitchens’ intemperate hatred of religion – especially Islam – won friends and influenced people in intellectual and policymaking circles. Post-9/11, he broke with former Leftist allies, and joined his newfound friend Paul Wolfowitz in championing the Iraq War – hell in the here and now.

christopher hitchens speaks for crowd

Credit: Wikimedia

Attacking Warren knocks down a straw man – at least for readers of this blog. I suspect readers find intellectual anti-theists such as Hitchens (and his cohorts such as Dawkins and Harris) more engaging. But let’s briefly give the devil’s enemy his due. Warren denies personal responsibility (“It took it off me”) for condemning those unlike him to hell – the most sadistic invention of the human imagination. Shouldn’t Christians (like the rest of us) take responsibility for their words? The pastor’s moral holiday echoes a familiar refrain: “I’m not responsible for killing those civilians; God made me do it.” What would he say about an earthly father who throws his child into a blast furnace for whatever reason? Warren wouldn’t be to blame, of course; “It took it off me.” No condemnation? Why worship – rather than condemn – a heavenly Father who tortures most of His creation for all eternity? And the pastor should take care about that bet: Perhaps God has a special circle in hell for those who treat Him like a Vegas wager. Like all fundamentalists, Warren has too many answers and too few questions. If only Warren and his unforgiving, sadistic God had a more Christian attitude!


Stop Telling Me It’s Impossible


by: on September 8th, 2015 | 6 Comments »

Stop telling me it’s impossible . . .

We’ve put men on the moon,

We’ve counted the stars, planets and galaxies,

We’ve built weapons of mass destruction . . .

If we can compete to get into space,

If we can compete to produce more goods that anyone needs,

If we can compete to create the best weapons,

Then we can feed everyone on this planet healthy food that nourishes people and the planet.

Instead of competing to create the next best phone, car, or weapon, why don’t we compete to wipe out starvation and hunger?

If we can win the race to the moon, why don’t we win the race to stop the production of weapons and create peace?

If we can create a house that can self-adjust its temperature, why can’t we create enough homes so everyone has a safe place to live?

If we can build towers that span the sky, why are people living on the streets?

If we stopped caring so much about winning the “race” and cared more about caring for others and the planet, we would solve our world’s greatest problems.

So stop telling me we can’t and it’s impossible and let’s get down to the business of taking care of each other and the planet. Then we will all win.



The Power of an Image


by: on September 4th, 2015 | 5 Comments »

A picture is worth a thousand words, even more so in the digital age than ever before. My experience has been that images are amazing things, with the power to anger, comfort or heal. They have the power to change opinion, to reflect harsh realities. And the last two days have been fraught with all the baggage that comes from one tiny image with a huge message. You know the one I’m talking about, of course. Who hasn’t seen the image of little Aylan’s still body on the beach? Who hasn’t been moved by the thought of a little boy drowning for the mistakes of his countrymen? I know I have. Yesterday while driving on the highway to pick up my kids from school, I listened to NPR’s account of refugees like Aylan’s family and their dangerous trek through Hungary, and I burst into tears. I had to navigate to the side of the road to calm down before I caused an accident. Why? Because it could be me, it could be my child’s drowned body, it could be any of us.