Wednesday, November 16, 2005

 

Having Reached Seventy

14 Cheshvan. Perhaps, thank God, the Republican travesty is all unravelling before our eyes. New revelations only add to our astonishment at the audacity of Republican mendacity. (Hey, not bad alliteration there...)

Evidence of torture by American-trained Iraqi forces ("Torture Alleged at Ministry Site," NY Times) has emerged. The Senate, even many of its Republicans, is now so frustrated with the ineptitude and deceit of the Bush administration that it voted to demand regular updating and serious change in the Iraqi campaign. Cheney did meet with oil industry executives in 2001, it turns out, despite his and their repeated denials ("Document Says Oil Chiefs Met With Cheney Task Force," Washington Post), in order to secretly set policy in line with corporate interests. Journalist and editor Bob Woodward testified this week that he, too, learned of outed CIA agent Valerie Plame's identity from a senior administration official, a full month before her name was publicized in the media, because the official "talked casually" about her, as if her identity were not strictly confidential ("Washington Post's Woodward Talks to Leak Prosecutor," NY Times). The just-ousted chairman of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Kenneth Y. Tomlinson, has been found to have repeatedly broken the law in his efforts to Republicanize the organization ("Broadcast Chief Violated Laws, Inquiry Finds," NY Times). Even Time Magazine is doing its job (again, as it had reported about abuse of Koran's in U.S. detention centers for "enemy combatants"), reporting with a recent cover story about how corporations are stealing into employee retirement benefits plans, with congressional approval ("The Great Retirement Ripoff, Time 10/31/05).

This is the culture of governance Republicans have created; lies, law-breaking, defrauding the poor and defenseless -- and self-righteous poses of outrage at any hint of criticism. Bush's latest attacks against critics shows simply that nothing substantive can be found by way of defending his methods. May it all crumble, speedily in our day! May the American people's gut feeling that Bush and his cronies are dishonest and ideologues carry the day! May our national moderation and basic Enlightenment-inspired liberalism return to the fore!

On the last note, Abe Foxman at the ADL merits a big yasher koach (kudos) for having finally seen the Christian fundamentalist movement for what it is. The stealth enemy threatening American freedom and democracy isn't Muslim "terrorism," it's the unholy alliance of Christian religious fanaticism and the Republican party.

This will be my 70th post. It has been a pleasure to vent my anger at such naked Republican contempt for its own constituency. It has been a learning experience as well. I wish I had more time to devote to this most worthy cause -- truly one for the sake of heaven. More constancy on my part might have produced a wider, more loyal and more interactive readership. But I have no complaints. However, baruch hashem, my life is too full right now for me to continue posting. I may return once the current academic year is over in May (yes, for those who don't know me or who haven't figured it out yet, I teach at a university).

May the light of this month's expanding moon inspire our own moral, intellectual and spiritual expansion!

Love and blessings to all!

Jonathan

Friday, November 11, 2005

 

Sermonize at Your Own Risk

9 Cheshvan. I just came across the following story from Monday in the L.A. Times. An Episcopal church in Pasadena has been threatened by the IRS with the removal of its non-profit status because the church's former rector, in a guest sermon just before the 2004 elections, had criticized the war against Iraq and imagined a debate between Bush, Kerry and Jesus, in which the latter lambasted Bush for his mililtant logic. You must read the story itself to fully appreciate the depth of hypocrisy at work here, given the number of churches whose clergy explicitly supported Republican positions and Republican candidates in the same election.

How can one claim to be truly religious if one tramples constantly on the divine? The Kotsker Rebbe, Menachem Mendl, taught as follows about Kohelet/Ecclesiastes 1:2, "Vanity of vanities. said Kohelet; vanity of vanities, all is vanity." The midrash says that the seven repetitions of the word hevel (vanity) in the book refer to the seven days of creation. The Kotsker asked how is it possible that one could call the seventh day, the sabbath, hevel and answered: "To a person for whom the whole week is worthless and full of vanities, the sabbath as well is nothing."

May our sabbaths and divine worship elevate the rest of our time and actions. May mundane motivations -- political power, control over others' behavior, vanity -- never bring down our divine worship and sabbaths!

Shabbat shalom u-mevorach!

Thursday, November 10, 2005

 

Are the Gates of Repentence Opening in Washington?

8 Cheshvan. What a blessed few days it's been! One, Democrats took two important gubernatorial races, in Virginia and New Jersey. Two, Californians overwhelmingly resisted Schwarzenegger's retro ballet initiatives. Three, the Senate scrapped the oil industry- and Republican-inspired effort to open up the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve from its budget bill. Four, today the House rejected Republican attempts to cut $54 billion of vital social service programs in order to (minimally) reduce government spending.

These are welcome, unexpected victories (even if there is a long way to go)! Moderate Republicans are to be thanked for their courage and return to moral decency.

How appropriate that today is the yahrzeit of R. Yonah Gerondi, author of the beloved text, Sha'arei Teshuva, the Gates of Repentence. Perhaps our nation is really ready to do teshuva, to renounce extreme Republican ideology and worship of the so-called free market. I hope and pray that this is so! May it be Your will, God, who bestows intelligence and wisdom in humans!

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

 

The Trouble With America -- It's Pagan!

6 Cheshvan. "Microsoft has decided (and publicly confirmed this summer) that anyone in China doing a search containing the words 'freedom' or 'democracy' will be shown a message explaining that those words are banned and the requested search query will not be processed" (G. Pascal Zachary, "See No Evil: How American Businesses Collaborate with China's repressive Government," In These Times 11/21/05). According to other web reports, the language shown to users and the contexts in which such messages will be received differs somewhat, but the gist is the same.

You can see, therefore, why I remain intrigued by the notion, as I reported in my last posting, that national leaders need to possess a "pagan" ethos in order to be effective. (No offence intended to any actual pagans.) What author Robert Kaplan -- God, I hope he's not Jewish -- meant is that leaders must care only about success and strategies for achieving it, such as deception, surprise, ruthlessness, etc., in other words, the basic Sun Tzu, Machiavelli, Von Clausewitz repertoire. Now, I don't want to mischaracterize Kaplan, who is merely trying to be "realist," but the fact is that Microsoft's attitude is absolutely typical of how the Republican party wants our country and businesses to operate. Profit über alles!

Isn't it precisely such logic that permits, no, encourages leaders to, say, ignore warnings about non-credible intelligence sources and present the information as fact simply in order to steer policy the way they want? (Walter Pincus, "Newly Released Data Undercut Prewar Claims: Source Tying Baghdad, Al Qaeda Doubted," Washington Post, 11/6/05). And let us not forget the timely ghost story run in the New York Times on Halloween that reveals that

"The National Security Agency has kept secret since 2001 a finding by an agency historian that during the Tonkin Gulf episode, which helped precipitate the Vietnam War, N.S.A. officers deliberately distorted critical intelligence to cover up their mistakes, two people familiar with the historian's work say. The historian's conclusion is the first serious accusation that communications intercepted by the N.S.A., the secretive eavesdropping and code-breaking agency, were falsified so that they made it look as if North Vietnam had attacked American destroyers on Aug. 4, 1964, two days after a previous clash. President Lyndon B. Johnson cited the supposed attack to persuade Congress to authorize broad military action in Vietnam" (Scott Shane, "Vietnam Study, Casting Doubts, Remains Secret," New York Times, 10/31/05). Sound familiar? Even eerier is the fact that, according to this study, the "midlevel agency officers [who] had deliberately skewed the evidence [...] had done it not out of any political motive but to cover up earlier errors." The study was "published nearly five years ago in a classified in-house journal, and starting in 2002 [the author] and other government historians argued that it should be made public. But their effort was rebuffed by higher-level agency policymakers, who by the next year were fearful that it might prompt uncomfortable comparisons with the flawed intelligence used to justify the war in Iraq, according to an intelligence official familiar with some internal discussions of the matter"!

Any truly God-loving and God-fearing Jew or Christian should be aghast, should be up in arms in opposition! Is this what "pagan" policy-making looks like?!? Let us name it as the evil that it is.

Hence as well the recent remarks of Senator James M. Inhofe (R-Ok), who thinks the idea of global warming is a great hoax. (I guess you'd have to be "reality-based" or something to believe the overwhelming scientific evidence of ongoing and worsening climate change.) The senator "said the National Evangelical Association had been 'led down a liberal path' by environmentalists and others who have convinced the group that issues like poverty and the environment are worth their efforts" ("When Cleaner Air is a Biblical Obligation," New York Times, 11/7/05)! Now I happen to disagree heartily on the issue of environment and can accept that there is dispute over this complex area. But poverty?!? How can anyone who reads the Gospels be against addressing poverty?!? How can anyone who believes the Hebrew Bible to be a foundational text of our culture (and favors school prayer and publicly-posted Ten Commandments, etc.) find alleviating poverty an objectionable cause?!?

I found it interesting that the New York Times ran a major, front-page story on the horrific conditions of African jails (Michael Wines, "The Forgotten of Africa, Wasting Away in Jails Without Trial," New York Times, 11/6/05). On the one hand, the timing can be read as an admission that things here look pretty darn sane and safe in comparison with the ugly, evil Third World. On the other hand, I take it the point was to convey exactly what awaits us if we let Cheney and the neo-cons' neofascist aspirations triumph. Coincidentally, yet tellingly so, the Washington Post ran a story, also on Sunday, outlining the hundred-fold increase in FBI use (abuse) of national security letters, which, under the misleadingly named Patriot Act, permit "clandestine scrutiny of U.S. residents and visitors who are not alleged to be terrorists or spies" (Barton Gellman, "The FBI's Secret Scrutiny: In Hunt for Terrorists, Bureau Examines records of Ordinary Americans," Washington Post, 11/6/05). National security letters "do not need the imprimatur of a prosecutor, grand jury or judge. They receive no review after the fact by the Justice Department or Congress." Needless to say, "The Bush administration defeated legislation and a lawsuit to require a public accounting, and has offered no example in which the use of a national security letter helped disrupt a terrorist plot." "Senior FBI officials acknowledged in interviews that the proliferation of national security letters results primarily from the bureau's new authority to collect intimate facts about people who are not suspected of any wrongdoing." Despite all this, "[t]he House and Senate have voted to make noncompliance with a national security letter a criminal offense."

Wake up people! How damaged does our democracy need to become before we realize that it was purposely ruined by religious fanatics who don't care about people and by politicians and business leaders who don't care about ethics?

If you love and God and the Torah, don't vote Republican today!

Friday, November 04, 2005

 

The Emperor's New Clothes?

2 Cheshvan. Bitter indeed is this month. This week's revelations by the Washington Post about secret CIA prisons scattered about the world seem to be provoking more criticisms of the Bush junta. The attacks are justified and justifiably indignant, incredulous, angry, especially given the record of prisoner abuse in those "detention centers" we know about (what goes on in places that are totally unsupervised?!) -- and Bush's first threatened veto comes to maintain the "right" to such inhuman terrorism, for such it is. The so-called new American century reveals a nation turned into a semi-Third World despotism, led by people who worship might and harbor adolescent fantasies of redemptive violence.

I can't help sharing this painting (Undefeated, by Stephen S. Sawyer), perfectly reflective of what I mean:

Example

Syria, under international pressure, releases 190 (!) political prisoners (how many more are/were there?); the president of Iran threatens to wipe out an entire foreign nation (Israel, of course). But these models are actually what our neo-con armchair imperialists aspire to be! They have found the perfect holy idiot to serve as their mouthpiece, spouting nonsense about love and Christ.

God bless Sen. Harry Reid, therefore, for finally showing some spine and demanding at least some Republican accountability for their crimes. All the closed-door-session drama perfectly suits these traumatic times. Perhaps the Democrats can become a responsible and moral political force again.

Another, smaller, story, however, unveils the reason so many of our geo-political game-playing turn both disastrous and farcical (and at what cost to others and ourselves!). It turns out that the Bush Administration's source for the alleged fact that Iraq was seeking to buy uranium from Niger was "an occasional spy," who had "been kicked out" of the Italian intelligence agency for whom he had previously worked, who forged the documents in question for personal profit. Despite the fact that "Italian intelligence had warned Washington in early 2003 that the Niger-Iraq documents were false," clearly Bush administration officials didn't care. "Information about Iraq's desire to acquire uranium from Niger" came from Italy "as early as the 1990's, but [Italian intelligence officials] had never said the information was credible." (This all comes from Elaine Sciolino and Elisabth Povoledo, "Source of Forged Niger-Iraq Uranium Documents Identified," New York Times 4 Nov. 2005. Alas, articles from this paper's website can no longer be accessed except by registered members.) No wonder the U.S. intelligence community wants to keep its operations out of the public eye; it's too embarrassing to believe that such "bad spy novel" shenanigans serve as the basis for policy-making (the quoted phrase is from the title of Eugene Robinson's Washington Post op-ed column today).

When will we learn?

Imagine my delight, then, when, after writing all the above, a search on Amazon.com for something totally unrelated turned up Robert D. Kaplan's 2001 book, Warrior Politics: Why Leadership Demands a Pagan Ethos! Pagan! In other words: realpolitik without a conscience. I had never heard of this title, but how telling it is! As if we needed more proof of the real nature of the apocalyptic, utopian, muscular Christianity that runs Washington these days: amoral, machiavellian, addicted to control (that they can never achieve). Even better, the first reviewer listed on the Amazon.com site is none other Newt Gingrich -- I kid you not -- who wrote (in Feb. 2002): "I highly recommend Kaplan's new book to anyone who is trying to understand what needs to be done to response [sic] to September 11. There are a number of references in this book to asymmetric power, fanaticism and the intelligent use of unsuspected force outside the rules of modern state warfare, which are prescient of [sic] what we are now living through"!!! Every U.S. citizen who voted for these back-to-"might-makes-right" thugs should wonder why he/she couldn't or didn't want to see the writing on the wall.

Oy! -- deep breath -- A blessed and PEACEFUL shabbat to one and all!

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

 

Recovering from Hurricane Bush

30 Tishrei. Hodesh tov! A wonderful and distrubing letter arrived today in my e-mail, from the Rev. C. Welton Gaddy, president of the Interfaith Alliance and pastor at a Monroe, Louisiana, Baptist church. The letter describes the visit of an interfaith delegation to areas and populations devastated by hurricane Katrina. The letter is too long, unfortunately, to share it in its entirety, and does not seem to be on the organization's website (though they should post it -- hint, hint), but I thought two paragraphs particularly compelling. Here they are:

Speaking to a dinner sponsored by the Republican National Committee recently, President Bush called for support for this “Faith-based and Community-based Initiative.” I find his words as interesting as they are disturbing. After describing the faith-based initiative as “one of the most important initiatives” of his presidency, Mr. Bush turned his attention to opponents of the initiative—such as those of us who oppose it because of its compromise of the constitutional guarantee of religious liberty and its negative impact on the autonomy and integrity of religious bodies—charging that we are seeking to limit the government’s “capacity to love” and opposing government’s involvement in “changing America one heart at a time.”

What bad theology, poor politics, and a distorted view of charity. The government as institutions [sic] is not charged with the responsibility of changing hearts, though it is challenged to provide for the public welfare. The government, just as individuals cannot be limited in its capacity to love. And individuals can no more be prevented from loving others and caring for others than from breathing.

Amen! I would emphasize Bush's misguided view of government's purpose here. He seems to confuse governing with missionizing, a most dangerous confusion indeed, but an honest indication of his desires. Is this what a "Christian nation" means? Howabout starting with providing those he wants to "love" with basic services and protection from poverty, poor health and societal isolation? No, I suppose that would all be too "fleshy." Remember, however, that love means never having to say you're sorry. In other words, "if you don't like the effects don't produce the cause" (I love quoting George Clinton).

I have set up the petition to impeach Bush (top of the column to the left), which is ready to accept names. Please sign it! Nothing could be more important than pre-empting future pain and suffering by eliminating its current cause: Republican spiritual ignorance and political misdiagnosis.

I pray with increased urgency the daily prayer that God should restore our judges (literally and metaphorically) to the level of things at the beginning, i.e., under Moses and a true sense of the divine.

May it be a month of blessings and not curses! May we erase all bitterness and restore our constructive priorities!


Saturday, October 29, 2005

 

We Cannot Afford Another 39 Months

26 Tishrei. Shavu'a tov. Here is a copy of a letter I sent to my senator and representative. Please feel free to copy it, modify it and use it. Please send it to your own senators and representatives. The time has come to act for God (YHVH, i.e., precisely the beneficent, life-giving, merciful side of God), for they have voided your teaching (Ps. 119:126).


Dear ___,

I am writing you to urge that you initiate and/or support efforts to impeach President Bush. Our country and world cannot afford another 39 months of his disastrous administration.

Former federal prosecutor Elizabeth de la Vega makes an excellent case for impeachment on the legal grounds of repeated violations of Title 18, United States Code, Section 371, which prohibits conspiracies to defraud the United States, in her article in this week's issue of The Nation, "The White House Criminal Conspiracy" (unfortunately not available online).

Ms. De la Vega does not go far enough, however. In addition to Bush & Co.'s conspiring to defraud the nation by misleading the public regarding the war in Iraq -- the contention of her convincing piece -- I believe the same legal argument opens other, perhaps less controversial, avenues. After all, various governmental departments attempted to defraud the country by paying individuals to pose in person or in writing as independent journalists while they parroted the administration's position at its behest. Taxpayers have been and continue to be defrauded by government funding grants given to "faith-based" sex education programs that knowingly use false information that is not backed by any evidence.

Furthermore, despite rhetoric lauding a strict interpretation of the Constitution, the White House and other Republicans have clearly established a religious test for nominees to the Supreme Court, something strictly prohibited by our Constitution (Article VI, Clause 3).

These are criminal violations, punishable by law. This coming week I intend to begin gathering the signatures of people who support Bush's impeachment. When enough have been collected, I will present them to you in the hope that you will act. The threat to our democracy has never been more urgent.

Sincerely,

Joe LefTorah

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