Senate Intelligence Committee / CommonDreams.org Photo
The images that emerged from Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq sparked a movement against torture that has worked doggedly for many years now. Among those moved to action have been people of faith, religious people, who see torture as a moral issue. As one of those people who has written op-eds, letters to members of Congress and the administration in the White House, attended rallies/protests, and met with Congressional staffers, I wondered whether a group of committed religious people could have a real impact. Today, with the announcement by the Senate Intelligence Committee that they had voted to declassify their summary of what is being called a “CIA Torture Report,” the answer is finally “maybe.”
Today’s Supreme Court Ruling on McCutcheon vs. the Federal Elections Commission(FEC) is yet another nail in the coffin of U.S. democracy. The high court struck down the right of “We the People” to establish laws limiting overall campaign contributions by individuals. Such limits have been set in an attempt to create a level playing field in our democracy for rich and poor alike.
The political playing field was already unequal, since over the years the Supreme Court has increasingly granted civil rights and constitutional protections to corporations. This expansion of corporate rights culminated in the infamous 2010 ruling in Citizens United vs. the FEC, which prohibits our right to limit corporate spending on elections through political action committees (PACs). The Citizens United decision resulted in the overturning of campaign finance laws at the federal level and in states across the nation. Today’s McCutcheon ruling is also disastrous for democracy.
by: Network of Spiritual Progressives Press Release on April 2nd, 2014 | 8 Comments »
Rabbi Michael Lerner and Rev. J. Alfred Smith Sr. of the Allen Temple Baptist Church announced today a new initiative emerging from the religious left in the U.S. in response to McCutcheon vs. FEC, the Supreme Court decision from April 2,2014, that banned limits set by the Federal Election Committee on the total that could be spent by any individual in an election. The previous limit was $123,200. Now there is no limit on the total a wealthy individual can donate in a given election cycle. In response to the decision, Rabbi Lerner said:
The Supreme Court is continuing its recent turn to give the super-rich and the richest corporations unlimited power to shape American elections and the government policies that will be enacted by these candidates once in office. This can only be reversed by an amendment to the Constitution, and we’ve designed it: the ESRA – Environmental and Social Responsibility Amendment. That amendment will ban all money from elections for the president, the Congress, the governors, and the legislatures of the several states except for money provided by public funding for elections.
MoveOn and other organizations have organized protests against this decision, and many ordinary citizens are outraged. But, Lerner pointed out, “this is not going to be changed by demonstrations, but only by a concerted campaign to pass a new amendment to the U.S. Constitution.” [Please read the ESRA at www.tikkun.org/ESRA]
by: Peter Birkenhead on April 1st, 2014 | 2 Comments »
Credit: Creative Commons
Passover is the only holiday I’ve ever felt affection for. A seder was the kind of ritual I recognized instantly as a child, from my own haunted house initiations and flashlight-in-the-basement spiels. With its serving bowls of mud, roots and tears, its affirmations of specialness, war stories, ghost stories, dirges and anthems, oaths and blood-rites, it was like deep woods camping with my grandmother’s good silver.
Our half-Jewish, half-Anglican, all-agnostic family celebrated Easter, Christmas and Hanukah, none of them with conviction. But unlike those holidays, or at least their modern, Americanized incarnations, with their generalized insistence on FUN! SOMEHOW! NOW!, Passover was a holiday we did, a physicalized story. It didn’t put the kids at a card table – it asked for our questions, made room for our mischief and spoke our language. And it was hosted by my mother’s parents, who did everything with conviction.
A story told as a meal, the seder was a project of dramatic progression, told in a familiar, child-friendly style of Biblico-magical realism, in part to help the kinder at the table digest its leaden, bitter core. It would not be easy to find a modern, non-Orthodox Jew who believes that Moses literally parted the Red Sea, but the central fact of the story, that the Jews were slaves in Egypt, is offered as a hard pit of truth, the source of an earthy gravity at the center of the evening, around which spin the fantastic stories of water turning into blood and staffs becoming snakes.
It is possible that the details of Secretary of State John Kerry’s peace proposal (as reported in the New York Times) are wrong. However, assuming the reports are correct, the Palestinians would be out of their minds to accept it. It is bad for Israelis and Palestinians and demeans the United States by reducing us to the role of Binyamin Netanyahu’s stenographer.
Here are the key points as reported in the Times.
Last week the world of American Muslim social media (if there is such a thing) was rocked by an unexpected victory. A proposed ABCFamily show provocatively entitled Alice in Arabia was cancelled after a protest by American Muslims. The reason: this tale of an American girl kidnapped by Saudi relatives and held, veiled against her will in Saudi Arabia was all too familiar as stereotypical orientalism. The question then becomes, with films and television shows preceding it rife with the racist prejudices of our American consciousness, why was Alice in Arabia different?
This has been a strange time in my little world: I’ve been traveling for work while my computer stayed home and lost its mind. I’m glad to say that sanity (i.e., memory, software, and general order) has been restored, and while I still have the sort of compulsive desire to tell the tale that afflicts survivors of accidents, I will spare you most of the saga.
What both journeys—mine and the computer’s—have given me is the opportunity to reflect on the workings of human minds, including my own. In particular, I’ve had a close-up look at the desire to believe, especially to believe the reassuring drone of those in authority.
Earlier this month, I gave a talk at Harvard that focused on some of the key ideas in The Culture of Possibility: Art, Artists & The Future. I focused especially on the way Corporation Nation has consigned artists to a trivial and undernourished social role, instead of understanding artists as an indicator species for social well-being akin to the role oysters play as bio-monitors for marine environments. I pointed out how arts advocacy has steadily failed (e.g., President Obama asked Congress for $146 million for the National Endowment for Arts [NEA] in the next budget, $8 million less than this year, when he should have requested $440 million just to equal the spending power the agency had 35 years ago). Yet advocates keep making the same weak arguments and pretending that losing a little less than anticipated constitutes victory. There’s an Emperor’s New Clothes flavor to the whole enterprise, a tacit agreement to adjust to absurdity and go along with the charade.
by: Amy Dean on March 27th, 2014 | 1 Comment »
In a few short years, same-sex marriage went from being an untouchable political hot potato to a broadly accepted civil right in eighteen states and the District of Columbia. Jews, and their social justice organizations, helped make that happen. In fact, this magazine was a prophetic voice of marriage equality, supporting same-sex unions in the early 1990s and helping to lay the groundwork for the current wave of victories.
Bend The Arc members participate in the SF Gay Pride Parade. Credit: Bend The Arc.
The story of Jews’ contributions has continuing political relevance. The campaign for marriage equality offers valuable lessons for how to break through public resistance on other issues that Jewish groups are now addressing, including economic justice initiatives like paid sick leave, rights for domestic workers, and raising the minimum wage.
A forward-thinking strategy, combined with local and regional organizing, could be key to helping Jewish activists win victories on other issues that may seem unwinnable today, either because of intransigence in Congress or because they don’t yet have popular support. For example, Congress is nowhere near passing the $15 minimum wage that has become the clarion call of several campaigns for workers’ rights. It may seem equally farfetched to imagine that all workers could earn and receive paid sick time, or paid family leave, or that domestic workers such as nannies and housekeepers could enjoy the same rights to livable wages and safe workplaces that workers in other industries receive.
Early Wednesday morning the University of Michigan’s student government voted down a resolution that would have begun the process of divesting from companies doing business with Israel. It was the latest defeat for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement which is dedicated to fighting Israel by isolating it, particularly in the cultural and economic sectors.
Other than Prime Minister Netanyahu’s decision to devote a full 25% of his recent speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) to condemning the BDS movement, it hasn’t got very much to show for its efforts. And I don’t expect it ever will.
The reason why BDS keeps failing despite the almost universal recognition that the occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and the blockade of Gaza, are illegal and immoral is that the BDS movement is not targeting the occupation per se. Its goal is the end of the State of Israel itself.
We all long for mutual recognition, to see one another with full presence as I and Thou. This longing is in the heart of every living being in Russia, in the Crimea, and in the Ukraine. But we are also conditioned within long histories of relationships suffused with fear of the other. And one form of these conditioned identities is identification with ethnicity, sometimes also expressed through identification with nation-states. In the introduction to my book Another Way of Seeing and in several essays in my earlier book The Bank Teller, I refer to these “national” identities as “imaginary” in the sense that people develop a hyper-identification with national identity in proportion to the absence of an ability to experience the there-ness of the person right next to them, in proportion to their fear of the actual other.
Police create a barricade against anti-governmental protesters in Kiev, Ukraine. Credit: Creative Commons/Sasha Maksymenko.
At the same time, these very ethnic and national identifications are carriers of what connection there is–the forms of sensual and connotative (through language) bonding that manifest the really existing forms of recognition and realization of our social being. Thus the rituals of the Eastern Orthodox Church in Russia are simultaneously bonding expressions of spiritual community, and also patriarchal, authoritarian manifestations of fear and alienation of each from the other.
It is this double-character of ethnic and national identifications that are being played out in a symbolically complex way in the Ukraine.
However, the particular manifestations of this complex intersubjective history in the present areas of Western Ukraine, Eastern Ukraine, the Crimea, and Russia–and the “cathexis” with the other and fear of the other that are being enacted by each person within each group and subgroup, are supposed to be “contained” by the act of democratic voting…that is, on specific formalized occasions (election days) a vote is cast that declares for the next period of time how the totality of these intersubjective flows in conflict are to be consensually and democratically held in place or balanced.