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What I Want to Hear from a Presidential Candidate


by: on October 30th, 2015 | 9 Comments »

I just finished reading the New York Times this morning (that was a big mistake!) and learned even more gruesome tales of the suffering on this planet. I read of people fleeing their homes and countries because of war and the trials and tribulations along the way. A 7 year-old child is running along in the muddy forests near the Macedonian-Serbian border, his boots caked in mud making it hard for him to lift his feet when he suddenly realizes his family is no longer behind him. He sits down beside a tree to wait. A man asks him what he’s doing and when he explains he tells him there are police all over the forest and he needs to keep going. So this 7 year-old boy runs on in a strange land in the hopes of reaching a safe haven without his family. Young girls fleeing sexual and physical violence in their home countries are subjected (on the road) to multiple rapes and sexual violence so sadistic that their youth caseworkers choose not to detail them in their reports.

In South Sudan a bloody civil war has led to countless deaths from torture too grim to repeat here. In Nigeria girls continue to be stolen from their schools and families by Boko Harem and sold into sex slavery. And in Saudia Arabia (an ally of the U.S.) a 17 year-old boy is awaiting a beheading and then crucifixion for joining in anti-government demonstrations.

This is all some of the news from one morning.

And what are the Republicans debating? How to cut more money from government services. How to decrease taxes on the rich and corporations. How to squeeze the poor and working classes so the elites have more riches for themselves while the masses suffer.

I am angry and horrified. We are living in a time in history when we have the resources for all human beings to live lives of sufficiency – sufficient food, sufficient shelter, sufficient healthcare, sufficient education. And yet we choose to produce and distribute our resources in ways that ensure wars, violence and suffering.

I want a presidential candidate with a backbone who has the audacity and insight to put forth a vision of a different world. Not a world divided by borders – physical, spiritual, religious, racial, gender, or other. But a world joined by our similarities and our unity where our differences are celebrated and honored. We live on one planet. We share the same water, the same air and the same genetics. I want a candidate who will speak to our shared humanity – not just of Americans, but of all of us. If the President is the leader of the free world, then she or he should stand for policies and values that actually promote a free world – a world where everyone is healthy, safe, cared for, fed, clothed, provided shelter, education, healthcare and an opportunity to have a meaningful life.


Trans* People Murdered for Truth-Telling


by: on October 29th, 2015 | No Comments »

Abolitionists jointed together to work for the immediate end to the institution of human slavery and the cessation of racial discrimination and segregation. They faced steep opposition from many quarters including a number of Christian denominations who asserted that sacred scripture not only condoned, but more importantly, mandated the practice of slavery.


Trans* People Murdered:

Alejandra Leos, Aniya Parker, Ashley (Michelle) Sherman, Betty Skinner,

Gizzy Fowler, Jennifer Laude, Kandy Hall, Brittany-Nicole Kidd-Stergis,

Young people conducted a number of sit-in demonstrations at Southern lunch counters to end Jim Crow laws of segregated public facilities, to the abusive taunts of onlookers and crashing batons of local police. Demonstrators faced imprisonment and the imposition of permanent criminal records.

Feminists formed a new wave in the fight for women’s suffrage against a high tide of obstructionism within a patriarchal system of male domination and misogyny, and an attitude that the enfranchisement of women would destroy Christianity and civilization itself.


The U.S. Ought to Un-Swivel Its China Pivot


by: Buddy Bell on October 28th, 2015 | 3 Comments »

For the last week, I’ve been walking on a peace march organized by the Nipponzan Myohoji order of Buddhist monks. This march is similar in some ways to another: the Okinawa “Beggars’ March” of 1955-1956. At that time, farmers who had been forcefully removed from their fields by U.S. soldiers in the years following World War II acted peacefully to demand the return of their land, which was the source of their entire livelihood.

Some of the farmers had their land stolen at gunpoint. In other cases, U.S. soldiers posing as surveyors duped them into signing English land-transfer documents that were passed off as invoices for the false land surveys.

Although the marchers bravely challenged local stigma against announcing oneself as a beggar, and although it was true that except for the fact that their land was stolen, these people would not need to beg, the U.S. military commander deemed them Communists and dismissed their concerns outright. The military refused to consider the issue of its hostile occupation of otherwise productive land.

The 32 U.S. bases now operating in Okinawa share a foundation in that initial land grab. Together, they comprise 17% of Okinawa prefecture. Nowadays, the Japanese government’s habit has been to forcefully borrow people’s land at a set rental price; then they let the U.S. military use that land for free.

All of this land area could otherwise be used for the prosperity of local communities in Okinawa. To quote one example, after the return of some land to the Shintoshin district of Naha, Okinawa’s capital city, the district’s productivity went up by a factor of 32. This is according to the September 19 issue of a local newspaper, Ryukyu Shimpo.


#AssaultAtSpringValleyHigh: Will This Racism Never End?


by: on October 27th, 2015 | 6 Comments »

It was 1977, I was 12 or 13 years old, and Roots was released on television for the first time. I sat riveted to the screen with my parents and sister. I remember it like it was just yesterday. The living room with our white framed couches with bright colorful cushions, the big coffee table in the middle of the room and the small television screen built into the cabinet on the wall. I am sitting on the floor staring up at the t.v. in disbelief, watching in horror as Kunta Kinte is ripped from his mother’s arms and dragged kicking and screaming (as his mom and other family members and friends scream and look on in horror, having no power to do anything to stop this outrage) into a truck, sold to a new slave owner. As I watch this scene unfold, I am wailing and screaming barely able to hold my little self and my body together and yet I know I am safe – I am white, I am at home with my parents, this is not me, this is not now. Still, I am outraged and horrified at the capacity of human beings to treat one another with such disregard and I make an internal vow to do all I can in my power to contribute to a better, more just and loving world.

And then yesterday (and still today), 38 years later, I watch in horror as a Black school aged girl is ripped from her desk by a white police officer, thrown on the ground on her head and back, dragged and thrown across the room, and held down while handcuffed and eventually arrested. (Don’t even ask, “what did she do to deserve this” – the answer is nothing. No, she did not have a gun. No, they did not think she had a gun or other weapon. No, she had not threatened anyone, unless you think a teenager not complying with the demands of someone in authority is threatening – I suppose some might if that child is black.) The Black teacher had called the officer allegedly because the girl had supposedly refused to put away her cell phone. (That is disputed by the student who shot the video – http://goblackcentral.com/2015/10/6-things-that-should-enrage-you-about-the-assaultatspringvalleyhigh/.) Another student objected to the officer’s behavior and through her tears said, “This is wrong;” that student was also arrested for “disrupting” school. What? It is the officer who disrupted the school, not the student, the one student who somehow had the internal strength and clarity to speak up while both terrified and outraged. She deserves a medal of honor. I would hope my child would stand up in that situation and say, “This is wrong” and call upon others students to do so as well.

Just as my body shook in horror, grief and rage 38 years ago, and as tears flowed down my cheeks then, they do so now. And again, I was not there. This is not me. So if I feel this level of internal dis-ease from simply watching the video on my computer screen, I can only begin to imagine what the students must have felt and what every black and brown person in this country must feel and live with every single day.


“Broken Window Policies” are Discriminatory and Should be Opposed in U.S., Israel


by: M. Dove Kent, Donna Nevel, Rebecca Vilkomerson on October 24th, 2015 | 8 Comments »

Dear Mayor de Blasio:

We understand that, during your recent trip to Israel, you offered the New York Police Department’s “broken windows” approach to policing as a model for world leaders on how to stay alert to anti-Semitism. This advice took place against a backdrop of new legislation approved by the Israeli government enabling police to conduct “stop and frisk” searches without requiring proof of reasonable suspicion — a law that is being selectively enforced against Palestinians. We are deeply disturbed by this recent development, particularly since, as Mayor of New York City, you agreed to court-ordered reforms of the NYPD’s discriminatory “stop and frisk” practices.

“Broken windows” policing is no model for increased safety for Jews or any other community. In New York City, this discriminatory strategy aggressively targets low-income people of color, violates the fundamental rights of New Yorkers, leads to physical and sexual assault, and creates an atmosphere of intimidation, confrontation, and fear, rather than trust. The low-level arrests yielded from this aggressive policing trigger severe consequences for New Yorkers, including job loss, eviction, and even deportation of permanent residents who are not citizens. “Broken windows” policing is fundamentally built on a culture of fear; it must end in New York City and must not be exported elsewhere. It does not, and cannot, aid in the safety in any community, or in the struggle against racism and anti-Semitism.


Washington Post op-ed by US professors destroys idea Jews who boycott Israel are self-hating or anti-Semitic


by: on October 24th, 2015 | 40 Comments »

The Washington Post has published one of the most important pieces ever to appear in a mainstream American publication dealing with the bounds of Israel political discourse in America and within the American Jewish community.

The op-ed, written by Steven Levitsky (Harvard) and Glen Weyl (University of Chicago), is entitled “We are lifelong Zionists. Here’s why we’ve chosen to boycott Israel.” Within it, Levitsky and Weyl painfully conclude that, with Israel’s occupation and oppression of the Palestinians now a permanent fixture―something which threatens Israel’s very existence―pressuring Israel to change via economic boycotts has become a last, necessary resort.

These two men will likely be called self-hating Jews as a way to discredit their position. They will be smeared as seeking Israel’s destruction by those who believe supporting Israel means shielding its geo-political policies from rebuke, no matter how destructive. The problem they will face is this: Levitsky and Weyl have presented their case in such a way that these attacks will immediately reveal themselves as hollow and reflexive. As having no substance other than the fear and zero-sum tendencies which produce them.

Writing on the permanence of Israel’s occupation, on its undemocratic denial of basic human rights which Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin stated has become a “fact of modern Zionism,” Levitsky and Weyl write:

This “basic fact” poses an ethical dilemma for American Jews: Can we continue to embrace a state that permanently denies basic rights to another people? Yet it also poses a problem from a Zionist perspective: Israel has embarked on a path that threatens its very existence.



The American Disease of Mass Killing


by: Zhiwa Woodbury on October 23rd, 2015 | 1 Comment »

You might not think that mass shootings and the climate crisis are related problems. In truth, they appear to be symptomatic of the same underlying disease that has rotted American culture from the inside out, and now threatens the future of all life on the planet.

By now, everyone is quite familiar with the nauseating cycle we repeat every time there is a new mass shooting. Shock and horror, sensationalized news coverage focused on “how could this happen here?” and “what could motivate such a despicable action?” Next, the focus turns to the victims and their families, with an expression of moral outrage. If it is horrific enough, the President himself voices his sympathy, and maybe visits the aggrieved. Then the media turns to the problem with easy access to guns and mental illness, prompting a predictably polarized debate about gun control. After a few days, the media moves on to the latest celebrity gossip, natural disaster, or intractable war news, and everyone goes quiet… until the next shooting.

If we are so familiar with this cycle that it has actually become as routine as it is ineffective in processing our felt grief, why do we repeat it every time? Is this not the very definition of mental illness – repeating ineffectual behavior over and over while expecting a different outcome? The better question is this: why does the introspective analysis stop at the expression of polarized views about firearms? Is there really no underlying issue here beside firearms and their easy availability to mentally disturbed individuals?


Imitating Realness: Art and Authenticity


by: on October 23rd, 2015 | 1 Comment »

The older I get, the more I interrogate my own critique of the new-new thing. Even the quickest retrospective glance reveals cultural history as a kind of ping-pong: the oldsters are appalled by the youngers, and when the youngers grow old, they are briefly surprised at finding their parents’ words emerging from their own mouths. Then they get used to it, and the generations roll on.

So take this with a pinch of trepidation, or at least a grain of salt, but I’m feeling more and more fed up with what seems to me to be a wildly misguided and rapidly emergent impulse in art and commerce, which is to hold nothing sacred, to mount an imitation of realness in which both art and authenticity are left lying on the studio floor.

Take the case of the canned parrots of Telegraph Hill. In San Francisco, that rocky North Beach neighborhood is famous for its wild parrots, tended for many years by musician Mark Bittner. He was profiled in Judy Irving’s lovely 2003 film, The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill, and in Bittner’s own book of the same name.

Recently, some young entrepreneurs opening the kind of trendily unspecific shop which seems more and more ubiquitous as San Francisco becomes increasingly unaffordable decided to intrigue passers-by with a display of cans labelled “Boiled Parrot in Gravy.” The display alludes to Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup cans, of course, and the contents were carefully chosen to reflect the shop’s aspirational brand as described by the filmmaker/graphic designer who created the installation: “a curated modern general store for the neighborhood, with a creative, craft and art focus … it’ll be sort of a neighborhood clubhouse, with a retail angle.”


Henry Giroux on the Assault on Youth in the US


by: Tikkun on October 22nd, 2015 | No Comments »

Editor’s Note: This article appeared first in the wonderful daily website Truth Out and can be read there also.

Perhaps the most drastic element of the war on youth in the U.S. is the willingness of the powerful to continue to squander the resources of the planet earth and destroy the life-support system of the planet. Having abandoned hope in any real transformation of the world, the powerful are willing to continue to amass wealth and power and to ignore all the scientific data that shows that if we continue in the path that we’ve been on for the past several hundred years, the youth of today will be suffering an environmental catastrophe brought on by the selfishness, materialism, chauvinistic nationalism that together are the consequences of global capitalism. Yet the war on youth today has the consequence of making many of them less willing to embrace the kind of seemingly utopian transformations of our society without which the logic of the capitalist order will continue and may yet yield a fascistic outcome to protect the powerful from the righteous indignation of those who will be suffering through the decline of the earth in the next fifty years. That’s why the ESRA–Environmental and Social Responsibility Amendment is at once so important (read it please at www.tikkun.org/esra) and so frequently dismissed as “too visionary to be realistic.” Yet it is actually the most modest first step in the transition from a capitalist society to The Caring Society–Caring for Each Other and Caring for the Earth.

–Rabbi Michael Lerner


Henry Giroux on:

Youth in an Authoritarian Age: Challenging the politics of disposability:

Following the insight of Hannah Arendt, a leading political theorist of mid-20th century totalitarianism, a dark cloud of political and ethical ignorance has descended upon the United States.(1) Thoughtlessness, a primary condition of authoritarian rule, now occupies a privileged, if not celebrated, place in the political landscape and the mainstream cultural apparatuses. A new kind of infantilism now shapes daily life as adults gleefully take on the role of unthinking children, while children are pushed to be adults, stripped of their innocence and subject to a range of disciplinary pressures that saddle them with debt and cripple their ability to be imaginative.(2)

Under such circumstances, agency devolves into a mind-numbing anti-intellectualism evident in the banalities produced by Fox News infotainment and celebrity culture, and in the blinding rage produced by populist politicians who support creationism, argue against climate change and rail against immigration, the rights of women, public service workers, gay people and countless others. There is more at work here than a lethal form of intellectual, political and emotional infantilism. There is also a catastrophe of indifference and inattentiveness that breeds flirtations with irrationality, fuels the spectacle of violence, creates an embodied incapacity and promotes the withering of public life.


Predators, Near and Far: The Afghan Health Crisis


by: Kathy Kelly on October 22nd, 2015 | 1 Comment »

Editor’s Note: This piece was written September 21, 2015.

Kabul—Some days ago, at the Afghan Peace Volunteers’ Borderfree Center, I met Jamila, the mother of a little girl, Fatima, who comes to the Street Kids School, a program designed to help children working on the streets go to school.  Jamila, a young mother of seven, smiles and laughs easily, even though she faces dire circumstances here in Kabul.

Nine years ago, at age 19, she fled escalating conflict in Pul e Khumri, located in the northern province of Baghlan, and moved to Kabul.  Jamila had already been married for 12  years.

Her family, desperate for income, had sold her in marriage to an older man when she was seven years old. As a child, she lived in servitude to the family of her future husband, earning a small income for them through sewing and embroidering.

At age 13, She gave birth to her oldest daughter . With her when we met were two of her middle daughters, Fatima and Nozuko.  Her oldest daughter is no longer with her, as, at age 12, she was given away, six years ago now, in marriage. Jamila is determined not to give her remaining daughters away in marriage while they are still children.

One and a half years ago, Fatima, then aged 9, developed a fever which lasted for about a month. All four of her limbs became paralyzed.  In a hospital at Wazir Akbar Khan, doctors said she was 10 minutes away from death. They treated her for typhoid meningitis and hospitalized her. After a month, the doctors said she was not ready for discharge, but Jamila had other children to take care of and had already incurred huge debt. The doctors made her sign a form saying they were not responsible if Fatima died.  They said Jamila must continue with twice-a-day injections of strong antibiotics.

After being discharged from the hospital, Fatima continued receiving the injections for a year and a half until, one day, about three months ago, Jamila abruptly stopped giving Fatima the injections.  When Fatima developed a fever, Jamila became panicky again.