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Dave Belden
Dave Belden

Help Wanted to Pressure US Embassy Official


by: on August 13th, 2015 | 16 Comments »

A friend of mine, Eritrean-American journalist Michael Abraham, is without resources or means of subsistence in Nairobi because a white US Embassy official will not give him the proof of his US citizenship that he needs to work as foreign correspondent or obtain emergency assistance from media rights groups as a journalist in distress having lost everything in the bloody South Sudan war. He has been offered both employment and assistance, if he can show his passport.

He can’t, because his passport is being held by a hotel manager who will not give it back until he pays the money he owes the hotel. But without a job, he can’t repay the hotel.

The embassy is refusing to provide a temporary proof of citizenship which would enable him to get a job as journalist. Isn’t that illegal? What can Michael do from here? Is there anyone reading this with the legal knowledge to give him free advice?

Here’s the whole story, which appears to be yet another tale of a white official acting racist. I have written it up as a press article, but I haven’t yet found any publication interested. When there is another unarmed Black citizen shot every few days in the US, I guess no one is up for paying attention to a Black citizen being blackballed by our embassy thousands of miles away. But if you have any legal advice, please do email me. The story in full:


Happy to Live in Richmond This Week


by: on December 11th, 2014 | 1 Comment »

Because this was the headline in the local newspaper (later addition: Richmond, CA, I forgot to say!):

Richmond police chief a prominent participant in protest against police violence

…a different kind of protest popped up in Richmond on Tuesday, and at the vanguard of the gathering calling for a reduction in police violence in communities of color was an unlikely participant: Richmond’s police chief.

“I’ve never seen anything like it, not in Richmond, not anywhere,” said longtime resident Mary Square, who stood on the north side of Macdonald Avenue watching the protesters on the south side of the street. “All these police, and the police chief, holding signs calling for an end to police violence. … I’m going to tell my kids.”

Richmond Chief of Police Chris Magnus stands with demonstrators to protest the Michael Brown and Eric Garner deaths during a peaceful demonstration in Richmond, Calif., on Dec. 9, 2014. (Kristopher Skinner/Bay Area News Group)

So what’s different about this white police chief? Here’s one thing:

Chris Magnus and Terrance Cheung (Ellen Seskin)

Richmond Police Chief Chris Magnus and Terrance Cheung, the chief of staff in Supervisor John Gioia’s office, were married in a ceremony that took place among blooming flowers in the terraced amphitheater at the Berkeley Rose Garden over the weekend. After the small ceremony, the newlyweds held a reception for about 250 people at the Richmond waterfront restaurant Salute’s.

Magnus and Cheung form something of a political power couple as was evidenced by some of the guests at the reception….


Teaching English, Physics and Love


by: on March 1st, 2014 | Comments Off

Here are two beautiful, moving and challenging movies about teachers who understand that kids can’t learn in school if everything’s going wrong at home and in the neighborhood. The first is about Jeff Duncan-Andrade’s work in Oakland, CA. All the videos on his site are worth checking out, but here’s one to get you intrigued:

This second one, Wright’s Law, seems very different, as it starts with some fun pyrotechnics, but its theme turns out to be the same: engage with the students’ own lives, and they will engage with what you are trying to teach. Its tagline is “A Physics teacher so extraordinary he can explain combustion and love.” The last part profiles Wright’s relationship with his very disabled son, and is a beautiful example of love in action.

And finally, don’t miss Yes! magazine’s current education issue, but especially Fania Davis’s profile of Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth, which combines the kinds of insights that teachers like Duncan-Andrade and Wright practice with a complete remake of schools’ approaches to discipline, suspensions, so we break the school-to-prison pipeline.

These approaches in schools are the things that give me more hope than anything for our collective future.


Finally, Herman Wallace is freed.


by: on October 3rd, 2013 | Comments Off

Herman Wallace and his legal team after his release

In so far as any good news can be attached to the case of a man who is dying of cancer after 40+ years in solitary, this is good news: Herman Wallace, of the Angola Three, who was framed decades ago, was cleared by a decent judge and allowed to go home. Amy Goodman had a piece on it yesterday.

I am no expert in this case, but I learned about it when a British magazine asked me to respond to a rather starry-eyed article by an English minister who liked the Christian approach of the warden of Angola Prison. Researching Angola became a critical piece of education for me as a white immigrant to this country who lived here for 30+ years without educating myself about the extent of racist injustice in the criminal legal system, the extent of torture (solitary is torture) and the fact that slavery continues legally (the 13th Amendment allowed it for convict labor) in American prisons. No excuses: just one big insight into how easy it is to be white and oblivious, which contributes in a big way to this society’s racism. If you are interested, I wrote a lot of what I learned in this article.

More Good News: Crime and Lead


by: on January 18th, 2013 | 1 Comment »

You may not have caught this news: “L.A. had fewer crimes last year than it did in 1957 – the mayor calls the numbers ‘mind-boggling’.”

But we all know that: “Los Angeles – like other big cities around the country – is in the midst of a crime drop so steep and profound, it has experts scratching their heads.”

And you’ve heard the usual (speculative) reasons. The LA Times sums them up as: “…better policing and more community involvement; fewer drugs and fuller prisons; an explosion in new technology; and the fading profile of violent gangs.”

And in particular you’ve heard about the “broken windows theory” which made Rudy Giuliani and Bill Bratton, his police chief, famous in the 1990s, and “stop and frisk” which is much hated today :

In New York this policy, under which police stop 700,000 residents per year without probable cause, is opposed by a majority of New Yorkers, including 75 percent of African American residents.

… which is highly relevant to Oakland, CA, (near where I live), because Oakland’s crime rate, unlike most cities, has been soaring and the city is now bringing in Bill Bratton to try to fix it.

But did you catch Kevin Drum’s article in Mother Jones on what may be the biggest reason for the rise and fall of crime in our time? Lead. And why is that good news?


Reasons To Be Cheerful, part 4


by: on January 15th, 2013 | 2 Comments »

Coming across some good news I wanted to share it and that made me think of reason number one, which you may have missed when it happened long ago:

1. Reasons To Be Cheerful, Pt 3, by Ian Dury. Great back-up band. Hone your cockney by catching the words. Here are some of them:

A bit of grin and bear it, a bit of come and share it
You’re welcome, we can spare it – yellow socks
Too short to be haughty, too nutty to be naughty
Going on 40 – no electric shocks

The juice of the carrot, the smile of the parrot
A little drop of claret – anything that rocks
Elvis and Scotty, days when I ain’t spotty,
Sitting on the potty – curing smallpox

2. Along the lines of curing smallpox, did anyone catch the results of the The Global Burden of Disease Study 2010 which came out last month?

“The study underscores significant achievements, such as the dramatic drop in child mortality, which has fallen so quickly that it has beaten every published prediction.”

I went hunting for more statistics and found this chart, above, from the WHO, labeled “Global under-five mortality dropped 41% since 1990.”


Can Forgiveness Play a Role in Criminal Justice? Indeed it can.


by: on January 5th, 2013 | Comments Off

Andy Grosmaire talks about his daughter, Ann, who was killed by her fiancé, Conor. The Grosmaires asked for a restorative justice process to resolve the case, a highly unusual request from the parents of a murder victim. Credit: Mike Ewen (tallahassee.com).

Don’t miss this major New York Times Sunday magazine article on a significant story we covered first a year ago in Tikkun in The Day the Jail Walls Cracked: A Restorative Plea Deal by Sujatha Baliga. A 19-year-old man shot and killed his girlfriend, and the young woman’s parents forgave him, motivated by a deep Catholic belief in forgiveness, a sense that both their daughter and Jesus wanted them to forgive, and an understanding that the forgiveness would enable them to survive. In a conservative Florida district, the prosecutor had the courage to allow a full restorative circle to take place as part of the plea development process. This new article goes more deeply into the murder and the ways the families sought a different kind of justice.

I hope my comment on the article may bring some more people to read our entire Restorative Justice issue of a year ago, which is — in my humble opinion as the guest editor of that issue — one of the best things available on this growing movement that is pioneering non-punitive ways of responding to harm. I should say “re-pioneering” since many tribal societies have practiced some version of it for aeons before more civilized options became available.

If you don’t have a print or online subscription to Tikkun (it’s 56 cents a week, or $29 a year here and it would be a blessing to the magazine if you did subscribe), and can’t afford one now, there were a number of articles on restorative justice we published then that are free to all. Those articles answer a number of questions the NY Times readers are asking today.

One is by Jerry Elster, a man who also killed at age 19, though in very different circumstances, and spent 26 years in prison for the crime. In that time he himself was transformed: if anyone doubts that a teen killer can become a community leader and elder they should have the privilege of meeting Jerry today. In another free article, Hamish Sinclair writes about Manalive, the peer-led program he founded, which has had significant success in enabling men to unlearn the “male role belief system” with its focus on male authority and honor, and learn how to be vulnerable, intimate and equal partners with women and men. And we also learn that an entire country has been running its youth justice system on restorative principles for over twenty years. In short, violent men can be rehabilitated, and entire systems can be run on principles of restoring rather than punishing.

And nothing is more important than using restorative circles in school. If Conor and Ann had had a teacher like Rita Alfred, or a “fight room” at school like Dominic Barter’s, who knows what might have happened – they might have learned how to welcome their fights as a way of learning what both of them most needed, and how to meet those needs together and with the help of friends and elders.

This is a movement that is building, and this NYT article will help its momentum.

Darwin and Religion for the Nonreligious


by: on December 24th, 2012 | Comments Off

As an agnostic appreciator of spirituality and amateur student of evolution, I like this article by the UK’s Chief Rabbi on Darwinian reasons why religion persists. Jonathan Sacks asks why it is that “still in Britain three in four people, and in America four in five, declare allegiance to a religious faith.” A couple of quotes point to his answer:

To put it at its simplest, we hand on our genes as individuals but we survive as members of groups, and groups can exist only when individuals act not solely for their own advantage but for the sake of the group as a whole.

…It [religion] reconfigures our neural pathways, turning altruism into instinct, through the rituals we perform, the texts we read and the prayers we pray. It remains the most powerful community builder the world has known. Religion binds individuals into groups through habits of altruism, creating relationships of trust strong enough to defeat destructive emotions. Far from refuting religion, the Neo-Darwinists have helped us understand why it matters.

I agree, subject to the usual caveats that strong group identity can be highly toxic: viz, history of Christianity. Granted that in strong community groups we too easily give in to group-think, excessive elevation of leaders, and demonization of outsiders. Nonetheless, we need community. And it’s remarkably hard to create it among freethinking liberal/lefties. There’s a persistent hankering for community among many of the folks I know best. Still, new efforts are being made. From the American Humanist Association:


Stand with Walmart Strikers on Black Friday


by: on November 22nd, 2012 | Comments Off

Want to give your spirits a lift by doing something different? Put your zip code and email in here today and they let you know where you can turn up to show solidarity tomorrow. Feel good working off a bit of that tofurkey.

Not sure they deserve the help? Check out their video:

Thanks to Reach & Teach and Design Action!


by: on April 27th, 2011 | Comments Off

If you have been admiring our new magazine website since it debuted in March, and wondered who put it all together, well here are most of us at an evening celebrating the achievement.

The two Tikkun staff who saw the project through from soup to nuts are Alana Yu-lan Price, second from left at bottom, and me, the baldy with specs at back. Our designer, with whom we worked from the get go, is Sabiha Basrai of Design Action, to the right of Alana. Sabiha has also designed the print magazine for the last four years, and the three of us have had a great time working together. The style and functionality (in design terms) of the new website owe more to these two women than to anyone else. Colin Sagan of Quilted also gave us excellent advice about magazine website design.