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The Obama Administration Must Substantiate Its Charges of Iranian Espionage

Oct21

by: on October 21st, 2011 | 3 Comments »

A painting on an outer wall of the former U.S. embassy in Tehran. Flickr / pooyan

On October 11 U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced that an Iranian plot to assassinate a Saudi Arabian foreign minister had been broken up by an undercover Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agent. According to the complaint, an American-Iranian tried to hire a Mexican drug cartel on behalf of Iran’s Quds Force to assassinate a Saudi Arabian diplomat in Washington D.C. As Hillary Clinton said, “You can’t make this stuff up.”

The question is, did the government actually make it up?

Despite Obama’s claim to have secret irrefutable evidence supporting the accusations, his administration has not made this evidence public. Thus, it is too early to pass judgment on the accuracy of the complaint and the truth of the accusation.

While it may sound conspiratorial to suggest that the Obama administration is fabricating intelligence to achieve some ulterior motive, the quality of available evidence is not very persuasive. It is particularly reasonable and perhaps even prudent to reserve judgment in light of U.S. intelligence failures in the past. The accusation is convenient for the administration’s efforts to isolate Iran internationally and many Americans would believe it – some because they want to – even if there isn’t proof. Still, it seems unlikely that the Obama administration will be able to successfully leverage these accusations to achieve increased international support for sanctions against Iran, as Biden suggested would occur, without more definitive evidence.


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The Message and Strategy That Is Needed by Occupy Wall Street

Oct18

by: on October 18th, 2011 | 3 Comments »

Creative Commons / Adrian Kinloch

This past weekend, Occupy Wall Street demonstrations were held in over 951 cities in 82 countries as people around the globe joined in an international day of solidarity against the greed and corruption of the 1%.

The media, trying to discredit all the demonstrators, say we don’t know what we are for, only what we are against. So I believe there is much to be gained were we to embrace the following 20 second sound bite for “what we are for.”

  • We want to replace a society based on selfishness and materialism with a society based on caring for each other and caring for the planet.
  • We want a new bottom line so that institutions, corporations, government policies, and even personal behavior are judged rational or productive or efficient not only by how much money or power gets generated, but also by how much love and kindness, generosity and caring, environmental and ethical behavior, and how much we are able to respond to the universe with awe, wonder and radical amazement the grandeur and mystery of all Being.
  • To take the first steps, we want to ban all money from elections except that supplied by government on an equal basis to all major candidates, require free and equal time for the candidates and prohibit buying other time or space, and require corporations to get a new corporate charter once every five years which they can only get if they can prove a satisfactory history of environmental and social responsibility to a jury of ordinary citizens. We call this the Environmental and Social Responsibility Amendment to the US Constitution (ESRA).
  • We want to replace the mistaken notion that homeland security can be achieve through a strategy of world domination by our corporations suppoted by the US military and intelligence services with a strategy of generosity and caring for others in the world that will start by launching a Global Marshall Plan that dedicates 1-2% of our GMP ever year for the next twenty to once and for all eliminate global poverty homelessnes, hunger, inadequate education and inadequate health care — knowing that this, not an expanded militarr, is what will give us security.
  • And we want a NEW New Deal that provides a job for everyone who wants to work, jobs that rebuild our environment and our infrastructre, and jobs that allow us to take better care of educating our youth and caring for the aged. That’s what we are for! And you can read more about them at www.spiritualprogressives.org
  • Ok, it was two minutes instead of 20 seconds, but we deserve that amount of time.

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Attend a Free Peace Conference in New Jersey: Move the Money – Turn Swords into Plowshares!

May19

by: on May 19th, 2011 | 2 Comments »

At a time when people are suffering from the economic downturn, political battles are still raging over how to cut the budget and the nation is still involved in several wars, we believe our nation’s priorities need to change. FY 2011′s military budget is the largest since the end of World War II, even though the Cold War is over and there is no longer the threat of aggression from a major power. The purpose of the “Move the Money” conference is to help change our nation’s priorities by promoting the reduction of military spending by at least 25% and “Moving the Money” from nuclear weapons, their support systems and unnecessary defense items to humanitarian, social and environmental needs. Ultimately all nations will need to greatly reduce their military spending and eliminate nuclear weapons in order to address human needs and make the world safe for our children. Here’s the info:

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The Assassination of Osama Bin Laden: A Spiritual Response

May3

by: on May 3rd, 2011 | 7 Comments »

The Jewish tradition has much to say on the killing of our vicious and even murderous enemies.

When Pharaoh’s troops were drowning in the Red Sea as they sought to re-enslave or kill the Israelites, the angels began to sing praises (the Hallel prayers: Psalms 113-118). According to the Talmud, God chastened them: “My children (the Egyptians) are sinking in the sea, and you are singing praises?”

Yet God did not silence the Israelites, knowing that at that moment it would be hard for humans not to celebrate the death of an oppressor.

Nevertheless, the Jewish tradition then instituted two practices in accord with God’s response: first, that the Hallel prayers would be cut down to a partial saying of some of the psalms on the last six days of Passover; and second, that when we do the Seder on Passover and recite the plagues that were used against the Egyptians to get them to free the Jews, we put our finger in the cup of wine, symbolic of our joy, and dip out a drop of wine for each plague — this symbolizes that our cup of joy cannot be full if our own liberation requires the death of those who were part of the oppressor society.

It is the loss of this consciousness by almost every society on the planet that is a real source for concern and mourning. For far too many people, the war on terrorism seems to be an extension of the football games where we cheer on our team: “USA! USA! Hey, you are tough!”

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Have You Heard About the “Manhattan Declaration?”

Jan21

by: on January 21st, 2011 | 11 Comments »

Rabbi Lerner, in his recent post, alerted readers of Tikkun Daily to two pieces of policy legislation introduced in Congress this week: the Environmental and Social Responsibility Amendment and the Global Marshall Plan. Both aim at creating a more caring society.

In direct contrast to the humanitarian agenda of the interfaith Religious Left articulated in those initiatives stands the exclusionary and divisive agenda of the specifically Christian Right, as exemplified by the Manhattan Declaration (2009).

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When Generosity, Love, and Kindness are Public Policy, the Violence We Saw in Arizona will Dramatically Diminish

Jan19

by: on January 19th, 2011 | 6 Comments »

The attempted assassination of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and the murder of so many others in Arizona has elicited a number of policy suggestions, from gun control to private protection for elected officials, to banning incitement to violence on websites either directly or more subtly (e.g., Sarah Palin’s putting a bull’s-eye target on Giffords’ congressional district to indicate how important it would be to remove her from the Congress).

On the other hand, we hear endless pleas to recognize that the assassin was a lonely and disturbed person whose choice of Hitler’s Mein Kampf as one of his favorite books reflects his own troubled soul, not his affinity to the “hatred of the Other” that has manifested in anti-immigrant movements that have spread from Arizona to many other states and in the United States and has taken the form of anti-Islam, discrimination against Latinos, and the more extreme right-wing groups that preach hatred toward Jews.

The problem with this debate is that the explanatory frame is too superficial and seeks to discredit rather than to analyze. I fell into this myself in the immediate aftermath of the murders and attempted assassination. I wrote an op-ed pointing to the right wing’s tendency to use violent language and demean liberals and progressives, and its historical tie to anti-Semitism and anti-feminism. Once I heard that the arrested assassin had a connection to Hitler’s Mein Kampf, I reacted from my own childhood pain at realizing that most of my extended family had been murdered by the Nazis. So I pointed to the current violent language used by the right-wing radio hosts and some of the leaders and activists of the Tea Party, and how their discourse helps shape the consciousness of those in pain and provides them with a target.

But the problem really is much deeper, so I’m sorry I put forward an analysis that was so dominated by my own righteous indignation that it may have obscured a deeper analysis, and mistakenly insinuated that all Arizonans were responsible for the racism in the current policies toward immigrants and that all people on the Right embrace the hate rhetoric of some of their most extremely popular hate addicts like Glenn Beck, or the ignorance of history that led Sarah Palin to label as “blood libel” the criticisms directed at her. Some people even thought that in mentioning that Congresswoman Giffords is Jewish that I was somehow suggesting that I would care less if she were not — so I also apologize for being sloppy enough to allow that interpretation — very far from my intent, since I believe that all people are equally created in God’s image, and for that reason I’ve been an outspoken critic of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians (though also a critic of Hamas’ violence against Israeli civilians).

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10 Commandments to Revive Progressives After the November Defeat

Nov3

by: on November 3rd, 2010 | 3 Comments »

A New York Times map depicting Republican gains (indicated by striped areas) in the House of Representatives

1. Don’t let the media frame this as a defeat of progressives. Had Obama embraced and fought for a progressive agenda, even if he had passed none of it, he would have entered the 2010 elections as the champion of the huge idealism of the American people that was elicited in 2008 and which would have led the Democrats to an electoral sweep in 2010. Being seen as fighting for the needs of ordinary people — never letting anyone forget for a moment that he had inherited the mess that Republican and pro-corporate Democrats had created, positioning himself as the champion of those who resented the Wall Street and corporate interests — his popularity would have grown; he could have won a much bigger victory for the Democrats in 2010, and that would have allowed him to actually legislate the policies of a progressive vision.

Had Obama refused to give more money to the banks and Wall Street unless equal or greater amounts were allocated for a visionary New Deal-style program for jobs and a freeze on mortgage foreclosures; had the Democrats refused to fund the escalation of war in Afghanistan; had they advocated for “Medicare for Everyone” instead of passing a plan that forced 30 million people to buy health care, but puts no serious restraints on the costs that insurance companies or pharmaceutical can charge; had Obama fought courageously for a carbon tax and ended the bargain taxes for the wealthy; had the Democrats insisted on stopping the harassment of immigrants; had the Obama Administration called for a national effort to overturn Citizens United, such as the ESRA (the Environmental and Social Responsibility Amendment to the U.S. Constitution); had Obama set up public forums at which his supporters could give him public feedback and used the web creatively to allow his supporters to weigh in; and had Obama consistently spoken honestly to Americans about the constraints he was facing and who was putting pressure on him to do what… there would have been no electoral defeat.

It wasn’t the progressive agenda that got defeated, it was the corporate-military accommodation of the Democrats and Obama who couldn’t address popular outrage, not only at the economic problem, but at the way we had been manipulated in 2008; and the humiliation many felt at having allowed themselves to hope that someone in politics would fight for what they said they would fight for.

2. Challenge the elitism in the Left. Whenever you hear someone saying that it is the stupidity or reactionary nature of Americans that led to this defeat, remind them of why, absent any other voice that they would encounter expressing their outrage, it was rational for Americans to be attracted to the right-wing voices that were expressing that outrage (albeit with programs that will actually make things worse). When Americans thought they had a chance at progressive change, they voted for it in 2008 — so they are neither stupid nor reactionary.

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Proclaim the Jubilee: at an IMF/World Bank Teach-In This Week

Oct5

by: on October 5th, 2010 | 1 Comment »

Tikkun and the Network of Spiritual Progressives have long been promoting the idea of a foreign policy based on generosity, not domination. The central program would be a Global Marshall Plan. Utopian? Yes. Necessary for American security? Also yes. Essential for creating one world in which all are included, basic needs are met and we can together address the perils of global warming which will fall heaviest on the poor? Yes, yes and yes.

Others are having big ideas too, and this one is very apt for Tikkun readers, being based on the Biblical idea — and not just an idea but an actual societal practice at one time — of the Jubilee. Our friends at Jubilee USA have sent us this about an teach-in and action this Thursday night and Friday noon in Washington, DC.

Proclaim the Jubilee: A lesson from the story of Joseph

By Nate Kratzer, Outreach and Congregations Fellow, Jubilee USA

When I was a child, the story of Joseph that I was told ended with Joseph being happily reunited with his father and brothers. But that’s not where the story actually ends. After the reunion, Joseph sold food from his storage bank in exchange for the money, livestock, and land of the Egyptian people. Having taken their possessions he then made slaves of them and required them to give one fifth of all they produced to Pharaoh (Gen 47: 14-25). Joseph instituted a form of economic slavery over the Egyptians. Unfortunately, the roles were soon reversed. After the death of Joseph, a new Pharaoh arose and decided to oppress the Israelites, using the very mechanisms of forced labor and tribute that Joseph had originally implemented to enslave the Egyptians. It’s not quite as pleasant as the story I heard in my childhood, but it does explain why the Hebrews came out of Egypt with a healthy suspicion of centralized economic power.

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Why and What We Are Endorsing in the One Nation March on Saturday, October 2

Oct1

by: on October 1st, 2010 | 4 Comments »

Some of the many organizations sponsoring the March.

A large number of organizations are sponsoring a One Nation March on Washington tomorrow. We in the Network of Spiritual Progressives have been distressed at the absence of any understanding of how a spiritual transformation of values in America must be central to the struggles that the One Nation March articulates. We are unhappy at the lack of any coherent thinking that links the actual demands of this march to some larger coherent worldview. As a result it provides very little in the way of an alternative to the Right.

The NSP has nevertheless joined in support of the March, with the hope that at some point its rather sketchy demands could be contextualized within a deeper understanding of what is needed to turn America from the center of globalized capitalism, with its ethos of selfishness and materialism, to the center of a global movement for The Caring Society (see, for example, our Global Marshall Plan and our Environmental and Social Responsibility Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, neither of which are likely to even get a mention at this March).

Yet this March does stand for a set of concerns we all share, and it’s important for us to be in solidarity with these liberal movements whenever they choose to move into public political action. So we’ll be there (except those of us in the Jewish world who are Shabbat-observing and hence cannot get there).

But we also urge you to read our Spiritual Covenant with America and raise it to the liberal forces assembled tomorrow — because it presents a model of what a coherent progressive worldview could be and contrasts it with the liberal and conservative agendas (and no, you don’t have to believe in God or be religious to find the Network of Spiritual Progressives’ platform appealing and coherent with your highest values).

Here’s what the official position of the March articulates:

America Needs Repentance: Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Atonement Are Not Just for Jews

Sep8

by: on September 8th, 2010 | 12 Comments »

Now that the Iraq war is supposedly winding down, America needs a period of reflection, repentance and atonement before rushing into more of the same mistakes we’ve been making globally and domestically. So I’d like to invite my non-Jewish neighbors and friends and allies in the struggle to heal and transform America to join with Jews to use the ten days of repentance from Rosh Hashanah (Sept. 9) through Yom Kippur (Sept. 18) for that purpose-to create an All-American version of the Jewish High Holidays!

What makes the Jewish tradition useful in this regard is that it focuses not only on our own individual lives, but on taking collective responsibility for our larger world. The formulations of repentance and atonement use language like “Our father, our king, WE have sinned before you” and “For the sins WE have committed by….” (and then the community fills in the blanks).

The notion of collective responsibility means that we acknowledge how impactful the community, its institutions, its worldview, its shared understandings and assumptions, and its daily operations shape the behavior and consciousness of each of us. In contemporary terms, this means: Don’t expect a society that privileges money, fame and power and ridicules idealism, prophetic critique and anything not judged “realistic” by the inside-the-beltway commentators and power-brokers to then produce human beings who can look beyond their own immediate self-interest and concern themselves with the well-being of the rest of the world and with the survivability of the planet.

The notion of “sin” in this tradition is also relevant. The Hebrew word for sin is cheyt, and derives from archery — the arrow shot toward the target has gone off course. In my own Jewish Renewal synagogue we expand on this notion by singing the atonement prayers this way: “Who are we? We’re God’s image and truth and infinite wisdom, eternal goodness. Yet we’ve abused, we’ve betrayed, we’ve been cruel, yes we’ve destroyed.”
 Rather than see ourselves as at the core evil, the Jewish tradition sees us as created in the image of God and hence intrinsically good and worthy — and it is with this understanding that Americans can then feel safe to explore where we’ve gone off course, missed the mark, and hence need a mid-course correction.

It won’t take long to help each of us to construct a list of the areas that we need to address in our repentance. 

We could start with the easy ones:

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