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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on February 28th, 2015
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)

Naomi Klein: ‘The Economic System We Have Created Also Created Global Warming.”

Klaus Brinkbaumer, Der Spiegel, writes: “Can we still stop global warming?” – “Only if we radically change our capitalist system” – argues author Naomi Klein.

By Klaus Brinkbaumer, Der Spiegel

28 February 2015

PIEGEL: Ms. Klein, why aren’t people able to stop climate change?

Klein: Bad luck. Bad timing. Many unfortunate coincidences.

SPIEGEL: The wrong catastrophe at the wrong moment?

Klein: The worst possible moment. The connection between greenhouse gases and global warming has been a mainstream political issue for humanity since 1988. It was precisely the time that the Berlin Wall fell and Francis Fukuyama declared the “End of History,” the victory of Western capitalism. Canada and the US signed the first free-trade agreement, which became the prototype for the rest of the world.

SPIEGEL: So you’re saying that a new era of consumption and energy use began precisely at the moment when sustainability and restraint would have been more appropriate?

Klein: Exactly. And it was at precisely this moment that we were also being told that there was no longer any such thing as social responsibility and collective action, that we should leave everything to the market. We privatized our railways and the energy grid, the WTO and the IMF locked in an unregulated capitalism. Unfortunately, this led to an explosion in emissions.

SPIEGEL: You’re an activist, and you’ve blamed capitalism for all kinds of things over the years. Now you’re blaming it for climate change too?

Klein: That’s no reason for irony. The numbers tell the story. During the 1990s, emissions went up by 1 percent per year. Starting in 2000, they started to go up by an average of 3.4 percent. The American Dream was exported globally and consumer goods that we thought of as essential to meet our needs expanded rapidly. We started seeing ourselves exclusively as consumers. When shopping as a way of life is exported to every corner of the globe, that requires energy. A lot of energy.

SPIEGEL: Let’s go back to our first question: Why have people been unable to stop this development?

Klein: We have systematically given away the tools. Regulations of any kind are now scorned. Governments no longer create tough rules that limit oil companies and other corporations. This crisis fell into our laps in a disastrous way at the worst possible moment. Now we’re out of time. Where we are right now is a do-or-die moment. If we don’t act as a species, our future is in peril. We need to cut emissions radically.

SPIEGEL: Let’s go back to another question: Are you not misappropriating the issue of climate change for use in your critique of capitalism?

Klein: No. The economic system that we have created has also created global warming. I didn’t make this up. The system is broken, income inequality is too great and the lack of restraint on the part of the energy companies is disastrous.

SPIEGEL: Your son Toma is two-and-a-half years old. What kind of world will he be living in when he graduates from high school in 2030?

Klein: That is what is being decided right now. I see signs that it could be a radically different world from the one we have today — and that change could either be quite positive or extremely negative. In any case, it’s already certain that it will at least in part be a worse world. We’re going to experience global warming and far more natural disasters, that much is certain. But we still have time to prevent truly catastrophic warming. We also have time to change our economic system so that it does not become more brutal and merciless as it deals with climate change.

SPIEGEL: What can be done to improve the situation?

Klein: We have to make some decisions now about what values are important to us and how we really want to live. And of course it makes a difference if temperatures only rise by 2 degrees or if they rise by 4 or 5 degrees or more. It’s still possible for us humans to make the right decisions.

SPIEGEL: Twenty-six years have passed since the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was founded in 1988. We have known at least since then that CO2 emissions from the burning of oil and coal is responsible for climate change. Yet little has been done to address the problem. Haven’t we already failed?

Klein: I view the situation differently given the enormous price we will have to pay. As long as we have the slightest chance of success or to minimize the damage, we have to continue to fight.

SPIEGEL: Several years ago, the international community set a target of limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius. Do you still consider that to be achievable?

Klein: Well, it’s still a physical possibility. We would have to immediately reduce global emissions by 6 percent a year. The wealthier countries would have to carry a greater burden, meaning the United States and Europe would have to be cutting emissions by around 8 to 10 percent a year. Immediately. It’s not impossible. It is just profoundly politically unrealistic under our current system.

SPIEGEL: You are saying our societies aren’t capable of doing so?

Klein: Yes. We need a dramatic change both in policy and ideology, because there is a fundamental difference between what the scientists are telling us we need to do and our current political reality. We can’t change the physical reality, so we must change the political reality.

SPIEGEL: Is a society focused on economic growth at all capable of fighting climate change successfully?

Klein: No. An economic model based on indiscriminate growth inevitably leads to greater consumption and to greater CO2 emissions. There can and must be growth in the future in many low carbon parts of the economy: in green technologies, in public transportation, in all the care-giving professions, in the arts and of course in education. Right now, the core of our gross domestic product is comprised of just consumption, imports and exports. We need to make cuts there. Anything else would be self-deception.

SPIEGEL: The International Monetary Fund makes the opposite claim. It says that economic growth and climate protection are not mutually exclusive.

Klein: They’re not looking at the same numbers as I am. The first problem is that at all these climate conferences, everyone acts as if we will arrive at our goal through self-commitments and voluntary obligations. No one tells the oil companies that, in the end, they are really going to have to give up. The second problem is that these oil companies are going to fight like hell to protect what they don’t want to lose.

SPIEGEL: You seriously want to eliminate the free market in order to save the climate?

Klein: I am not talking about eliminating markets, but we need much more strategy, steering and planning and a very different balance. The system in which we live is overly obsessed with growth — it’s one that sees all growth as good. But there are kinds of growth that are clearly not good. It’s clear to me that my position is in direct conflict with neo-liberalism. Is it true that in Germany, although you have accelerated the shift to renewables, coal consumption is actually increasing?

SPIEGEL: That was true from 2009 to 2013.

Klein: To me that is an expression of this reluctance to decide on what is necessary. Germany is not going to meet its emissions targets in the coming years either.

SPIEGEL: Is the Obama presidency the worst thing that could have happened to the climate?

Klein: In a way. Not because Obama is worse than a Republican. He’s not. But because these eight years were the biggest wasted opportunity of our lives. The right factors came together in a truly historic convergence: awareness, urgency, the mood, his political majority, the failure of the Big Three US automakers and even the possibility of addressing the failed unregulated financial world and climate change at the same time. But when he came to office, he didn’t have the courage to do it. We will not win this battle unless we are willing to talk about why Obama viewed the fact that he had control over the banks and auto companies as more of a burden than as an opportunity. He was a prisoner of the system. He didn’t want to change it.

SPIEGEL: The US and China finally agreed on an initial climate deal in 2014.

Klein: Which is, of course, a good thing. But anything in the deal that could become painful won’t come into effect until Obama is out of office. Still, what has changed is that Obama said: “Our citizens are marching. We can’t ignore that.” The mass movements are important; they are having an impact. But to push our leaders to where they need to go, they need to grow even stronger.

SPIEGEL: What should their goal be?

Klein: Over the past 20 years, the extreme right, the complete freedom of oil companies and the freedom of the super wealthy 1 percent of society have become the political standard. We need to shift America’s political center from the right fringe back to where it belongs, the real center.

SPIEGEL: Ms. Klein, that’s nonsense, because it’s illusory. You’re thinking far too broadly. If you want to first eliminate capitalism before coming up with a plan to save the climate, you know yourself that this won’t happen.

Klein: Look, if you want to get depressed, there are plenty of reasons to do so. But you’re still wrong, because the fact is that focusing on supposedly achievable incremental changes light carbon trading and changing light bulbs has failed miserably. Part of that is because in most countries, the environmental movement remained elite, technocratic and supposedly politically neutral for two-and-a-half decades. We are seeing the result of this today: It has taken us in the wrong direction. Emissions are rising and climate change is here. Second, in the US, all the major legal and social transformations of the last 150 years were a consequence of mass social movements, be they for women, against slavery or for civil rights. We need this strength again, and quickly, because the cause of climate change is the political and economic system itself. The approach that you have is too technocratic and small.

SPIEGEL: If you attempt to solve a specific problem by overturning the entire societal order, you won’t solve it. That’s a utopian fantasy.

Klein: Not if societal order is the root of the problem. Viewed from another perspective, we’re literally swimming in examples of small solutions: There are green technologies, local laws, bilateral treaties and CO2 taxation. Why don’t we have all that at a global level?

SPIEGEL: You’re saying that all the small steps — green technologies and CO2 taxation and the eco-behavior of individuals — are meaningless?

Klein: No. We should all do what we can, of course. But we can’t delude ourselves that it’s enough. What I’m saying is that the small steps will remain too small if they don’t become a mass movement. We need an economic and political transformation, one based on stronger communities, sustainable jobs, greater regulation and a departure from this obsession with growth. That’s the good news. We have a real opportunity to solve many problems at once.

SPIEGEL: You don’t appear to be counting on the collective reason of politicians and entrepreneurs.

Klein: Because the system can’t think. The system rewards short-term gain, meaning quick profits. Take Michael Bloomberg, for example …

SPIEGEL: … the businessman and former New York City mayor …

Klein: … who understood the depths of the climate crisis as a politician. As a businessman, however, he chooses to invest in a fund that specializes in oil and gas assets. If a person like Bloomberg cannot resist the temptation, then you can assume that the system’s self-preservation capacity isn’t that great.

SPIEGEL: A particularly unsettling chapter in your book is about Richard Branson, CEO of the Virgin Group.

Klein: Yes. I wouldn’t have expected it.

SPIEGEL: Branson has sought to portray himself as a man who wants to save the climate. It all started after an encounter with Al Gore.

Klein: And in 2006, he pledged at an event hosted by the Clinton Global Initiative that he would invest $3 billion in research into green technologies. At the time, I thought it was truly a sensational contribution. I didn’t think, oh, you cynical bastard.

SPIEGEL: But Branson was really just staging it and only a fraction of that money was ever spent.

Klein: He may well have been sincere at the time, but yes, only a fraction was spent.

SPIEGEL: Since 2006, Branson has added 160 new airplanes to his numerous airlines and increased his emissions by 40 percent.

Klein: Yes.

SPIEGEL: What is there to learn from this story?

Klein: That we need to question the symbolism and gestures made by Hollywood stars and the super rich. We cannot confuse them with a scientifically sound plan to reduce emissions.

SPIEGEL: In America and Australia, a lot of money is spent on efforts to deny climate change. Why?

Klein: It’s different from Europe. It’s an anger that is similar to that held by those who oppose abortion and gun control. It’s not only that they are protecting a way of life they don’t want to change. It’s that they understand that climate change challenges their core anti-government, free-market belief system. So they have to deny it to protect their very identity. That’s why there’s this intensity gap: Liberals want to take a little bit of action on climate protection. But at the same time, these liberals also have a number of other issues that are higher on their agenda. But we have to understand that the hardcore conservative climate change deniers will do everything in their power to prevent action.

SPIEGEL: With pseudo-scientific studies and disinformation?

Klein: With all of that, of course.

SPIEGEL: Does that explain why you are connecting all of these issues — the environment, equity, public health and labor issues — that are popular on the left? Is it out of purely strategic considerations?

Klein: The issues are connected, and we also need to connect them in the debate. There is only one way that you can win a battle against a small group of people who stand to lose a lot: You need to start a mass movement that includes all the people who have a lot to gain. The deniers can only be defeated if you are just as passionate as them, but also when you are superior in numbers. Because the truth is that they really are very few.

SPIEGEL: Why don’t you believe that technology has the potential to save us?

Klein: There has been tremendous progress in the storage of renewable energies, for instance, and in solar efficiency. But climate change? I, in any case, don’t have enough faith to say, “We’ll come up with some invention at some point, so let’s just drop all other efforts.” That would be insane.


SPIEGEL: People like Bill Gates view things differently.

Klein: And I find their technology fetish naïve. In recent years, we’ve witnessed some really big failures where some of the smartest guys in the room screwed up on a massive scale, be it with the derivatives that triggered the financial crisis or the oil catastrophe off the coast of New Orleans. Mostly, we as people break things and we don’t know how to fix them afterwards. Right now, it’s our planet that we’re breaking.

SPIEGEL: Listening to you, one might get the impression that the climate crisis is a gender issue.

Klein: Why would you say that?

SPIEGEL: Bill Gates says we need to keep moving forward and come up with new inventions to get the problem, and ultimately our complicated Earth, under control. You on the other hand are saying: Stop, no, we have to adapt ourselves to this planet and become softer. The US oil companies are run by men. And you, as a critical woman, are described as hysterical. It’s not an absurd thought, is it?

Klein: No. The entire industrialization was about power or whether it would be man or nature that would dominate Earth. It is difficult for some men to admit that we don’t have everything under control; that we have amassed all this CO2 over the centuries and that Earth is now telling us: Well, you’re just a guest in my house.

SPIEGEL: A guest of Mother Earth?

Klein: That’s too cheesy. But you’re still right. The oil industry is a male-dominated world, a lot like high finance. It’s very macho. The American and Australian idea of “discovering” an endless country and that endless resources can be extracted is a narrative of domination, one that traditionally casts nature as a weak, prone woman. And the idea of being in a relationship of interdependence with the rest of the natural world was seen as weak. That’s why it is doubly difficult for alpha men to concede that they have been wrong.

SPIEGEL: There’s one issue in the book that you seem to steer clear of. Although you revile the companies, you never say that your readers, who are customers of these companies, are also culpable. You also remain silent about the price that individual readers will have to pay for climate protection.

Klein: Oh, I think that most people would be happy to pay for it. They know that climate protection requires reasonable behavior: less driving, less flying and less consumption. They would be happy to use renewable energies if they were offered them.

SPIEGEL: But the idea isn’t big enough, right?

Klein: (laughs) Exactly. The green movement spent decades educating people that they should compost their garbage, that they should recycle and that they should ride their bikes. But look at what has happened to the climate during these decades.

SPIEGEL: Is the lifestyle you lead climate-friendly?

Klein: Not enough. I bike, I use transit, I try to give speeches by Skype, I share a hybrid car and I cut my flying to about one-tenth of what it was before I started this project. My sin is taking taxis, and since the book came out, I’ve been flying too much. But I also don’t think that only people who are perfectly green and live CO2-free should be allowed to talk about this issue. If that were the case, then nobody would be able to say anything at all.

SPIEGEL: Ms. Klein, we thank you for this interview.

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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on January 29th, 2015
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)

Can Bolivia Chart a Sustainable Path Away From Capitalism?
Wednesday, 28 January 2015 on Truthout – By Chris Williams and Marcela Olivera, Truthout | News Analysis

FOR THE FULL ARTICLE PLEASE GO TO:  truth-out.org/news/item/28778-can…

I will post here some excerpts of this very interesting and long article – this with my thinking of the latest changes in Greece
and wondering if rhetoric is true change and how can Greece fare in a capitalist world with management outside its borders but vested interests residing also in the country itself. Will there be a Greek Pachamama in Europe’s future? Will the Tsipris Greece be the Morales of an ALBA Charge of anti-capitalist rhetoric in Europe?


Bolivia offers a case study on the impact of climate change, people’s resistance to exploitation and racist oppression, and the potential for genuine change from below.

The number of conflicts over natural resource extraction and refining, road building and pipeline construction, and forest and water use have all steadily grown under Morales.

Ruthless extraction of Bolivia’s bountiful natural resources has concentrated the natural and social wealth of the country in a small group at the top of society, and exposed Bolivians to an extreme degree of imperial intrigue and attempted subjugation.

In stark contrast to monoculture farming, several hundred different varieties of potato are grown in the Bolivian Andes, as a resilient subsistence food by 200,000 small-scale farmers.

With the melting of the Andean mountains ice and climate change farmers no longer know how community can grow food because “it now rains at all different times, and it’s drier for longer. This place did not used to be as hot as it is now.”

Higher average temperatures will lead to an increase in evaporation, causing soils to dry out. In turn, drier soils will increase erosion and loss of topsoil, an effect that will be compounded by two other effects of a warmer climate.

But for all of Morales’ rhetorical championing of “buen vivir,” Gudynas believes that the MAS government instead operates more along the lines of a new form of Keynesian neoliberalism, or what he calls “neo-extractivismo.”

And despite a change in official rhetoric, and some welcome redistribution of wealth, Morales’ policies are practically the same as his predecessors’ with respect to natural resource extraction.

“We have lost an opportunity for something based on our self-organization and self-management.”

“The people do not decide; the government decides. Despite the constitution guaranteeing rights for indigenous people and Mother Earth, those policies are not implemented; they are just words.”

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As through so much of its history, the small Andean nation of Bolivia sits at the center of a whirlwind of political, social and climatological questions. Arguably, no other country thus far in the 21st century raises the question of an “exit strategy” from neoliberal capitalism more concretely, and with greater possibility and hope, than Bolivia. That hope is expressed specifically in the ruling party, MAS, or Movement Toward Socialism. The country’s leader, former coca farmer and union organizer Evo Morales – South America’s first indigenous leader since pre-colonial times – was overwhelmingly elected to his third term of office in 2014. Morales has broadly popularized the Quechua term pachamama, which denotes a full commitment to ecological sustainability, and public hopes remain high that he’ll guide the country toward realizing that principle.

Bolivia has seen impressive and consistent economic growth since Morales’ first election victory in 2006, including the establishment of government programs to alleviate poverty and attain the social equity goals promised in his campaign. However, this growth has primarily rested on an expanded and intensified exploitation of the country’s natural resources, principally from fossil fuel production, mining, and the growth of large-scale, mono-crop agriculture and manufacturing.

This economic growth has also created what the Bolivian non-governmental organization CEDLA (Centro de Estudios Para el Desarrollo Laboral y Agrario) calls the rise of a new bourgeoisie comprised of Santa Cruz agriculture producers, traders from the west of the country and small mining producers. The Bolivian government also believes that a new class is emerging, and will become Bolivia’s new dominant group. Carlos Arce, researcher from CEDLA, says in an article in the Bolivian press:

A new type of entrepreneur has emerged from the popular classes. These emerging strata are mostly traders and are also present in the cooperative sectors, especially in mining. This new type of entrepreneur saves more and has a more austere mentality, in the classical Weberian sense. Within the state, representatives of this strata interface with middle-class intellectuals and other sectors of society, seeking to build alliances with small urban and rural producers that respond to the prerogatives of the market.

The so-called “plural economy” institutionalized by the government recognizes the state, communitarian, private and cooperative forms of economic organization. It also puts the state in direct control of the plans for economic development. In other words, the Bolivian people are the owners of the natural resources, but it is the state that administers and industrializes these natural resources.

In Arce’s view, the government exalts this new “emerging bourgeoisie.” The government’s program of a plural economy “facilitates the alliance of these market-driven sectors with key sectors of international capital. This opens the door to transnational corporations and makes permanent their presence.”

In December 2014, the Financial Times reported on the rise of a new indigenous bourgeoisie in El Alto, less constrained by older cultural ties of thrift, and striving for greater wealth, more ostentatious luxury buildings and opulent traditional clothing.

On the other hand, while many journalists and analysts have focused on the accomplishments of the Morales’ government, few have looked at the state of the labor force, unions and labor conditions. Research by local organizations shows that finding secure employment has become very difficult. According to the Bolivian Labor Ministry’s own data just 30 percent of the labor force in Bolivia has a secure and formal job, with almost 70 percent working in the informal sector. These workers have no employment security, which makes people more dependent on welfare protections and programs that have become more elaborate and extensive in recent years.

———-

Bolivia’s geography is very diverse: The verdant and tropical Amazonian lowlands give way to the austere beauty of the highlands and snow-capped peaks of the Andes that ring the capital, La Paz. Bolivian elevations range from 130 to 6,000 meters above sea level dividing the country into three distinct geographical areas: the high plateau, the Andean valleys and the eastern lowlands.

Given all of these factors, Bolivia offers a case study on the impact of climate change, people’s resistance to exploitation and racist oppression, and the potential for genuine change from below.

Much of that resistance was formed in response to centuries of relentless extraction of the country’s minerals, semi-precious and precious metals, and guano. Following the privatization of Bolivia’s public airline, train system and electric utility, in 1999, the government sold the water and sanitation system of Cochabamba to a transnational consortium. Over the following five months, mass demonstrations and violent confrontations with the police and military forced the government to cancel the contract and keep the water supply in public hands. This popular struggle for public control of water became recognized worldwide as the Cochabamba Water War.

—————————————

Marcela Olivera

Marcela Olivera is a water commons organizer based in Cochabamba, Bolivia. After graduating from the Catholic University in Cochabamba, Bolivia, Marcela worked for four years in Cochabamba as the key international liaison for the Coalition for the Defense of Water and Life, the organization that fought and defeated water privatization in Bolivia. Since 2004, she has been developing and consolidating an inter-American citizens’ network on water justice named Red VIDA.
Chris Williams

Chris Williams is an environmental activist and author of Ecology and Socialism: Solutions to Capitalist Ecological Crisis. He is chairman of the science department at Packer Collegiate Institute and adjunct professor at Pace University in the department of chemistry and physical science. His writings have appeared in Z Magazine, Green Left Weekly, Alternet, CommonDreams, ClimateandCapitalism.com, Counterpunch, The Indypendent, Dissident Voice, International Socialist Review, Truthout, Socialist Worker and ZNet. He reported from Fukushima and was a Lannan writer-in-residence in Marfa, Texas. He recently was awarded a Lannan Cultural Freedom Fellowship.

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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on January 29th, 2015
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)


You Think Sarah Palin Is Incoherent? Listen To Jeb Bush.

January 26, 2015

By Bill Scher of The Campaign for America’s Future  www.ourFuture.org

Many people are having a good laugh watching Sarah Palin’s unintentionally hilarious speech to a conservative gathering in Iowa over the weekend. But Palin is never going to get anywhere near the White House.

Meanwhile, in San Francisco Friday, someone else gave a painfully incoherent speech. “And since the speaker really could end up in the White House, it’s actually worth your attention.”

Jeb Bush’s address to the National Automobile Dealers Association attracted much positive press. He was willing to challenge conservative orthodoxy on immigration and education. He sounded like an adult, eschewing sophomoric right-wing zingers.
He maturely identified problems facing average Americans and offered ideas to solve them.

Sounds refreshing. There’s just one problem. When you pay attention to what he is saying, the speech doesn’t make any sense.

Take this passage:

Far from spreading opportunity, our government now gets in the way, each and every day. Another law, another tax, another fee, or another regulation – it all stands in the way of a new business, a new invention, a new job and most importantly, rising income for American families. The great stories that were told here today of successful dealerships – it’s harder today to do exactly what you all have done to achieve earned success.

In other words, government is making things so hard for business … that auto dealers are doing really well.

In fact NADA just announced that, “Light-vehicle sales for 2014 amounted to 16.4 million units up 5.8 percent from 2013 making 2014 the year with the highest sales since 2006.” Also, truck sales are up 17.5 percent from last year. And the NADA annual report from May summing up 2013 said “the annual financial profile of America’s franchised new-car dealerships—shows a robust and highly competitive industry that is helping boost the U.S. economy. Last year, for example, dealerships employed more than 1 million people in their communities.”

Now here’s Jeb talking about economic growth and taxation:

Our nation’s economy used to grow at 3.5 to 4 percent, that was the norm throughout all but the last 15 years … we had a stable and growing middle class … now, in spite of the last few months which have been good economic news, the new normal if you talk to the smart people that decide these things, the new normal is 1.5 to 2 percent growth. And the challenge with that is, if we’re to grow at that rate, kind of the European economic model, we’re not going to be able to build the kind of capacity for people to pursue their dreams as they see fit … No amount of exotic forms of taxation proposed by our president or the progressives in this country comes close to the kind of revenue that government would get if we were to grow at 3.5 or 4 percent a year.

Jeb tries to shrug off the “last few months” as some sort of meaningless fluke. But we’ve had back-to-back quarters of growth faster than what Jeb desires: 4.6 and 5 percent.

Furthermore, despite this being his first 2016 stump speech, Jeb seems to have not updated his numbers since the recent boomlet. “The smart people” at the Federal Reserve and the National Association of Business Economics foresee a solid year for growth in 2015 at around 3 percent.

And contrary to Jeb’s attack on progressives, all this growth is happening after President Obama installed the most progressive tax code in 35 years.

When talking about the history of growth, Jeb is forced to deride “the last 15 years” of subpar performance, encompassing his brother’s tenure without calling him out by name. But his brother’s record matters in this history. George W. Bush famously cut taxes, only to preside over the biggest economic recession since the Great Depression. Before that, President Clinton simultaneously experienced strong economic growth while raising taxes on the wealthy.

So why is Jeb using “fuzzy math” to pit progressive taxation against economic growth?

Jeb’s ideological blinders get stronger as he turns to how he would improve economic growth. His first prescription: “We need to reform our health care system … Obamacare is clearly a job killer.”

Huh? Let’s check the record: The Obama economy has created more than 10 million private sector jobs since of the recession in mid-2009 (Obamacare was signed into law March 2010). Compare that to the Bush economy, which lost 462,000 private sector jobs.

We proved that we can simultaneously regulate health care and create jobs. But we can’t fail to regulate Wall Street and still create jobs.

The final bizarre part of Jeb’s address was his recommendations for energy policy.

Talking as if we are still living in George W. Bush’s America, Jeb complains that we are too dependent on foreign oil: “$300 billion left our country to countries that either are unstable and could hate us if there was regime change, or already do hate us.” But once again contradicting himself, he acknowledges how energy independent we’ve become in recent years, following his critique by observing “the United States is fast becoming the largest producer of oil and gas in the world.”

In fact, on Obama’s watch we’ve slashed the amount of oil we import from those awful regimes, because of the oil and gas boom Jeb lauds and Obama’s environmental regulations Jeb ignores.

Jeb proceeds to praise the fracking-fueled rise in natural gas production, and when describing his energy policy recommendations, he insinuates federal regulators are acting in a hostile way to the industry: “Washington shouldn’t try to regulate hydraulic fracking out of business. It should be done reasonably and thoughtfully to protect the natural environment, but it shouldn’t be done with the intent of paralyzing it.”

Who in Washington is Jeb talking about trying to kill fracking? Not President Obama. Here’s what Obama said about fracking in the 2014 State of the Union address: “America is closer to energy independence than we’ve been in decades. One of the reasons why is natural gas – if extracted safely, it’s the bridge fuel that can power our economy with less of the carbon pollution that causes climate change.”

In turn, the EPA has done nothing to paralyze fracking – as Jeb himself mentioned, we’re number one!

Instead, the EPA is working on methane emission regulations so natural gas lives up to the promise of being a net benefit for the climate. This regulatory strategy has been chosen precisely to negate the push to ban fracking. Jeb’s argument is textbook straw man, undercut by his own admission of the oil and gas boom happening under Obama.

Jeb wants to be seen as the grown-up in the 2016 field, the one person big enough to resist pandering to fringe right-wing factions, the one person you can trust to govern in a serious manner. But his incoherent policy speech is not serious, however soberly it was delivered. He is honest enough to mention the good things that have happened in the last six years, but not brave enough to acknowledge how they happened and adjust his ideological assumptions in response. As a result, his stump speech is incoherent mush.

He may be relatively sane compared to Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee or Chris Christie. He may even be more competent than his brother. But we should have a high bar for who becomes president. This contradictory mess of a speech falls well short.

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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on January 4th, 2015
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)


A Godless Jewish Humanist.
who forced into migration from Nazi Germany – developed several lives and had achievements in many different areas – we would prefer mention by citing the title of one of his many books – “THE SANE SOCIETY” (1965) by the man who helped suggest to us Nuclear Disarmament, Amnesty International, and a pure humanistic art of loving.

Sunday, January 4, 2015 The review by Dinah M. Mendes of Tikkun – of a book about Erich Fromm – by Lawrence J. Friedman, assisted by Anke M. Schreiber, Columbia University Press, 2014

Even before opening Lawrence J. Friedman’s biography, “The Lives of Erich Fromm: Love’s Prophet,” readers are alerted by its title to the enormousness of the task of conveying the range and reach of this once celebrated intellectual. Erich Fromm was a Heidelberg University-trained sociologist, a psychoanalyst who helped found and direct psychoanalytic institutes in the United States and Mexico, author of more than a dozen books—many of them best sellers—a social commentator, and a political activist who promoted worldwide socialist humanism and nuclear disarmament. For college students and the educated reading public from the mid 1940s through the late ’60s, Escape from Freedom (1941), The Sane Society (1955), and The Art of Loving (1956) were often their first introduction to psychoanalytic, Marxist, and sociological constructs that Fromm incorporated and popularized in his reader-friendly prose.

The Lives of Erich Fromm is a virtual encyclopedia of Fromm data, with an impressively broad sweep that illuminates a cultural atmosphere and zeitgeist very different from our own more specialized and compartmentalized era. Perhaps the book’s greatest appeal is Friedman’s evocation of the historical, cultural, and political milieus that are the context of this scholarly biography, ranging from the Free Jewish Teaching Institute (Lehrhaus) in Frankfurt, to the Frankfurt Institute for Social Research; from the therapeuticum (the experimental sanatorium founded in 1923 in Heidelberg by Fromm and his first wife, Frieda Fromm-Reichmann that melded psychoanalytic treatment with Orthodox Jewish communal living); to the culture and personality movement in New York that joined prominent neo-Freudians—Fromm, Harry Stack Sullivan, Clara Thompson, and Karen Horney—with eminent anthropologists, such as Margaret Mead, Ruth Benedict, and Edward Sapir; to the National Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy and Amnesty International that Fromm helped to launch and fund.

The Public Versus the Private Lives of Erich Fromm

At the same time, Friedman traces the various, often parallel trajectories of Fromm’s life: his educational course, vocational development, emigration, institutional affiliations, significant relationships, and his steady output of books—for each of which he offers a detailed summary and statistics about sales and translations.

Friedman unfolds the public lives of Erich Fromm the social critic, political activist, and global educator with great vividness, but he is less successful at bringing to life the private Erich Fromm, whose inner life remains largely obscured beneath the evidence of his amazing productivity and range. While this might be regarded as a deficit in any comprehensive biography (and Friedman’s stated intention is to supplement previous Fromm biographies by elucidating the influence of his personal life on his intellectual contributions), it is especially striking in the biography of a man who defined himself as a psychoanalyst. Although the book is sprinkled with tart observations about Fromm—and even criticisms about the unabashed self-referential basis of his later writings or his “unethical trysts” with female patients—under Friedman’s hand they never quite coalesce into a satisfactory psycho-biographical portrait. In one notable example, he observes:

For much of his life, Fromm responded to disappointments and adversities … [by] jumping from one location to another, quitting one professional association and joining or creating another, altering his conceptual and clinical approaches, and switching from one intimate friendship or bed partner to another.

This is heavy-duty stuff, seemingly ripe for analysis and interpretation, but in the very next sentence, Friedman reverses direction, foreclosing deeper exploration and turning weakness into asset: “There was a pertinacity here. Fromm would rarely allow a difficult situation to immobilize him,” he concludes summarily.

Friedman’s myopia, his tendency to justify and smooth over rough edges, is mirrored on a larger scale by his authorial stance in relation to his subject, regarding whom his undisguised admiration and identification seem to preclude more objective assessment and critique. At one point, he compares Fromm’s “narcissism” to Freud’s, noting, “both regarded themselves as founders of unique psychoanalytic ideas, institutions, and traditions.” The unqualified idealization expressed in the elevation of Fromm to Freud’s status highlights Friedman’s difficulty in consolidating a profile of a man with outsized talents and passions, as well as egregious shortcomings, and in producing a critical evaluation of Fromm’s intellectual contributions—his psychoanalytic and ethical humanism theories in particular.

Fromm was an avid student of great teachers and systems, beginning with the vast tradition of Jewish learning, and followed by Marxism and psychoanalysis. But it seems that his enthusiasm and valuation were matched by an equally strong need to reject essential components of every system, assimilate seemingly divergent concepts, and refashion them—often on a grand scale—into a new product of his own making.

Unanswered Questions

Fromm was a master of syncretism, and while Marxism and Freudianism remained the orienting poles of his professional identity, he combined them with the ethical foundation derived from the Hebrew Bible, with elements of Christianity and Buddhism added to the mix. Friedman lays out a detailed map of the stages of Fromm’s intellectual journey, but he does not provide the psychological scaffolding or insight that might illuminate the course that Fromm charted.

Why, for example, did he find it necessary to reject Freud’s instinctual basis of psychic development and substitute in its stead the construct of social character (drawn from a fusion of Freudian and Marxian tenets)? What made him throw out the baby with the bath water instead of extending Freud’s idea into the social realm? Much later in life, Fromm apparently softened his anti-instinctual bias, and his constructs “biophilia” and “necrophilia,” first cousins of the life and death instincts enshrined in Freud’s Eros and Thanatos, appear without explanation or commentary (The Heart of Man, 1964).

With even greater cogency, the reader might wonder about what impelled Fromm, raised as an Orthodox Jew and enamored of its culture of learning and spirituality, to strip his ethical humanism of the influence and authority of a deity and to insist that everything of value is inherent in man (Man for Himself: An Inquiry into the Psychology of Ethics, 1947)? Although Friedman frequently refers to the deficiency of Fromm’s parents as role models, Fromm’s childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood were filled with powerful and sustaining relationships with mentors.

Powerful Mentors

The precocious young Fromm began studying Talmud with his great-uncle Ludwig Krause, a Talmudic scholar, and as a teenager, came under the influence of Nehemia Nobel, rabbi of a prominent Frankfurt synagogue and student of the noted Kant scholar, Hermann Cohen, who had incorporated the universalism of Kant’s moral philosophy into Jewish religious tradition. The Nobel circle, which included Franz Rosenzweig, Martin Buber, Gershom Scholem and Leo Baeck, was instrumental in setting up the Free Jewish Teaching Institute (Lehrhaus) dedicated to introducing enlightened but assimilated German Jews to the richness of their Jewish heritage.

At the University of Heidelberg, under the tutelage of the sociologist Alfred Weber, brother of Max, Fromm wrote his dissertation on the function of Jewish law in maintaining social cohesion and continuity in three Diaspora communities: the Karaites, Reform Jews, and Hasidim. During the same period, he also studied with Salman Rabinkow, a Russian socialist and Talmudist, whom Fromm later acknowledged as his most influential mentor. Rabinkow introduced Fromm, variously, to the Lithuanian approach to Talmud, the writings of Maimonides, and the Tanya (the central text of Chabad Hasidism)—as well as to Hasidic melodies that Fromm reportedly sang for the rest of his life.

Friedman skillfully records the gradual transformation of Erich Fromm, the Orthodox Jew, the Frankfurt Institute academic, and psychoanalytic clinician—all private roles—into Erich Fromm, the public intellectual, educator, and activist. Both the cloistered cubicles of academia, and the individual focus of psychoanalysis, respectively, must have felt too restrictive to Fromm, especially when compared to the far-reaching impact of a political or religious system or the delivery of a message with universal reverberations. With his arrival in New York in the mid-’30s, Fromm began writing in English and grew adept at rendering psychological-sociological-political concepts accessible to a broad readership. His two best-known works, Escape from Freedom, an exploration of the seduction of and submission to authority and the fear of freedom, and The Art of Loving (which in Germany is still outsold only by the Bible) sold in the millions.

An Iconoclastic Proponent of Secular Religiosity

Fromm’s passion for refashioning ideas into a mold bearing his individual stamp seems nowhere more evident than in his application of Jewish ethical precepts and learning: Man for Himself: An Inquiry into the Psychology of Ethics (1947); You Shall Be as Gods: A Radical Interpretation of the Old Testament and Its Tradition (1966); and To Have or To Be? (1976). His erudition is often on full display: in You Shall Be as Gods, he frequently offers his own translation of the Hebrew when the original interpretation does not measure up to his standards, and his love for the richness of the ancient texts is palpable. This does not deter him, however, from taking a free hand—the “radical interpretation”— in reaching the light at the end of the tunnel: a Frommian nontheistic humanist ethics.

Fromm could be alternately creative, iconoclastic, and single-mindedly reinterpretive in reaching his goal; one of the opening stories in Genesis, the eating of the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden (the Fall, in Christian theology) is recast by Fromm as a salutary and emblematic act of disobedience that reveals the innate human potential for independence of mind and freedom.

In Fromm’s explication, Hebrew Bible idolatry was actually a demonstration of the triumph of the “having” mode over the “being” mode, a harbinger of Marx’s later emphasis on the corruption of capitalism and consumerism. The greed and acquisitiveness of the newly liberated Hebrews in the desert, unable to resist stockpiling manna that God had warned them would rot, is another illustration of both the having mode and the intolerance of freedom, as is the Jews’ insistence to the prophet Samuel, many generations later, that he appoint a flesh and blood king over them.

Fromm’s odyssey through the Hebrew Bible leads him to the prophets of messianic vision, who foretell a time of universal peace and co-existence when—in Fromm’s version—divisions between people and states will be eliminated, and a universal ethics, motivated by brotherly love and the joy of human productivity (a melding of Marx and Freud), will prevail. Ultimately, Fromm espouses a secular religiosity—a fervent devotion to ideals that emerge from self-cultivation that is not obstructed by recourse to God’s authority or external directives.

A New Ethical Humanism

Fromm’s attitude to authority was nothing if not vexed, and he had a visceral reaction to authority in any doctrinal form. In his critique of Man for Himself: An Inquiry into the Psychology of Ethics, the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr ventured that Fromm confused duty with authority, and, it might be suggested, authority with authoritarianism. Fromm’s antipathy to authority sparked his acclaimed formulations on authoritarianism, but also colored his controversial negation of key tenets of Freudian theory and the concept of a real God who is accepted as an external authority. Fromm took issue with the concept of the Freudian superego as an internally regulating authority that derived originally from parental authority, just as he did with the linkage of ethical principles to the authority of an existing God. He rejected Freud’s concept of the death instinct and the aggressive drive, just as he did the darker image of human nature captured in the idea of yetzer hara—the innate human propensity for evil and destructiveness. Fromm’s humanism is adamantly anti-theistic, anti-authority, and optimistic, if not actually utopian.

Fromm’s attitude to Freud (whom he never met) was admiring but critical, as the title of his posthumously published work, Greatness and Limitations of Freud’s Thought (1980) indicates. Freud referred to himself as a “godless Jew,” but his vehement opposition to religion stemmed from his conviction that it was based on infantile helplessness and dependency, and the false succor of illusions that it extended to its adherents. Fromm too might be described as a godless Jew, but one with an entirely different provenance and orientation. His quest was to free the cultivation of spirituality and ethics from their theistic, authoritative moorings in the Hebrew Bible and forge them—with elements of Hasidic mystical relatedness and themes from Marxism, Christianity, and Buddhism—into a new ethical humanism. A messianic mission, a desire to be a “light unto the nations” is discernible in the proselytizing, prophetic inflections of his late writings on ethical humanism. Freud, in his turn, might have identified in Fromm a tangled knot of Oedipal conflicts—the Freudian complex that signifies the generational struggle for power and authority, manifest in strife over the transmission or rejection of the old versus the new.

Fromm’s Legacy

Friedman is lavish with information about Fromm but leaves the final assessment of his contributions up to the reader. Fromm’s legacy resides neither in the innovation nor the profundity of his psychoanalytic and ethical concepts. Rather, his place in intellectual history is assured by his adaptation and popularization of ideas—mixing and matching across systems—which he introduced into the public domain via his accessible and best-selling books. Without him, many of Freud and Marx’s ideas—and he courageously upheld the value of Marx’s contributions at the height of the Cold War—might have remained sequestered in academic isolation.

Perhaps Fromm’s greatest gifts were as a social psychologist and critic; he had his finger on the social and cultural pulse, auguring trends that were still incubating or in the process of fomenting. In Escape from Freedom he wrote about the global threat and psychological appeal of authoritarianism and totalitarianism, even as they were advancing. In The Art of Loving, he differentiated between healthy self-love and selfishness, daring to suggest that self-love was not only healthy and desirable but a prerequisite for loving others—anticipating by many years the work of the psychoanalyst, Heinz Kohut. Assessing the threat of an engulfing consumerism, and the “having versus being modes,” he coined such enduring terms as “automaton conformity,” and the “marketing personality.”

Ultimately, it is impossible to pigeonhole Erich Fromm. He was a man of letters, and simultaneously a man of action, who used money earned from his books to support peace-promoting organizations. He was a psychoanalyst committed to the painstaking task of changing lives one by one, who sought at the same time to influence thousands and even millions of people with his ideas and prophetic exhortations. Prefiguring our contemporary immersion in global communication and veneration of celebrities, Fromm—­­­­­­a man of outsized passions and ambitions—was a public, celebrity intellectual and educator.

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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on December 26th, 2014
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)

Uri Avnery
27.12.2014

My Glorious Brothers

WHEN I was 15 years old and a member of the Irgun underground (by today’s criteria, an honest-to-goodness terrorist organization), we sang “(In the past) we had the heroes / Bar Kochba and the Maccabees / Now we have the new ones / The national youth…” The melody was a German military marching song.

Why did we look for heroes in the remote past?

We were in desperate need of national heroes to emulate. For 18 centuries, Jews had not fought. Dispersed throughout the world, they saw no reason to fight for emperors and kings who mostly persecuted them. (Though some of them did. The first authentic hero of the new Zionist entity in Palestine was Josef Trumpeldor, one of the few Jewish officers in the Czar’s army, who lost an arm in the 1905 Russian-Japanese war and was killed in a skirmish with Arabs in Palestine.)

So we found the Maccabees, the Zealots and Bar Kochba.

THE MACCABEES, in whose honor we celebrated Hanukka this week, revolted against “the Greeks” in 167 B.C. “My Glorious Brothers” Howard Fast called them in his famous novel.

Actually, “the Greeks” were Syrians:
When Alexander the Great’s empire was divided between his generals, Seleucus acquired Syria and the countries to the East. It was against this mini-empire that the Maccabees rose up.

It was not only a national-religious struggle against a regime which wanted to impose its Hellenic culture, but also a cruel civil war. The main struggle of the Maccabees was against the “Hellenizers”, the cultured modernist Jewish elite who spoke Greek and wanted to be part of the civilized world. The Maccabees were fundamentalist adherents of the old-time religion.

In today’s terms, they were the ISIS of their time. But that is not what we learned (and what is being taught today) in school.

The Maccabees (or Hasmoneans, their dynastic name) set up a Jewish state, the last one in Palestine, that lasted for 200 years. Unlike their successors and imitators, they had a lot of political acumen. Already during their rebellion they made contact with the up-and-coming Roman republic and secured its help.

Yet the Maccabees won by a quirk. Their revolt was a very risky adventure, and they owed their eventual victory to the problems that beset the Seleucid empire.

The irony of this story is that the Hasmonean kings themselves became thoroughly Hellenized and adopted Greek names.

THE NEXT great rebellion started in the year 66 AD. Unlike the Maccabee revolt, it was a totally mad affair.

The Zealots belonged to diverse competing groups, who remained disunited to the bitter end. Their rebellion, called “The Great Revolt”, was also a fanatical national-religious affair.

At the time, messianic ideas filled the air in Palestine. The country absorbed religious influences from all directions – Hellenic, Persian, Egyptian – and mixed them with the Jewish traditions. It was in this feverish atmosphere that Christianity was born and the Book of Job and other later books of the Hebrew Bible were composed.

With the Messiah expected any moment, Jewish fanatics did something that now seems incredible: they declared war on the Roman Empire, which was then at the height of its power. As if Israel today would declare war on the US, China and Russia at the same time – something even Binyamin Netanyahu would think twice about doing.

It took some time before the Romans gathered their legions, and the end was as could be foreseen: the Jewish community in the country was squashed, the temple was destroyed (perhaps by accident) and the Jews evicted from Jerusalem and many other places in Palestine.

Throughout, the Zealots believed in their God. In besieged Jerusalem, already starving, they burnt each other’s wheat, sure that God would provide. But God, it seems, was otherwise engaged.

At the height of the siege of Jerusalem, the venerable rabbi Yochanan Ben-Zakkai was smuggled by his pupils out of the city in a coffin, and the Romans allowed him to start a religious school in Yavneh, which became the focus of a new kind of anti-heroic Judaism.


HOWEVER, THE lesson of the catastrophe caused by the Zealots was not learned. Less than 70 years later, an adventurer called Bar Kochba (“Son of a Star”) started another war with the Roman Empire, even more hare-brained than the last.

At the beginning Bar Kochba, like the Zealots, won several victories, before the Romans could gather their forces. At that time, the important rabbis supported him. But his megalomaniac nature caused him to lose their support. He is said to have told God: “You don’t have to support me, but at least don’t obstruct me!”

The inevitable defeat of Bar Kochba was an even greater disaster than the previous one. Masses of Jews were sold into slavery, some were thrown to the lions in the Roman arena. A legend recounts that Bar Kochba fought a lion with his bare hands and killed it.

However, the basic Zionist tenet that the Jews were expelled from Palestine by force and that this was the beginning of the Diaspora (the “Exile”) is a legend. The Jewish peasant population remained in the country, and most became Christians, and later Muslims. Today’s Palestinians are probably mostly descendants of this Jewish population which clung to their soil. At one time, David Ben-Gurion supported this theory.

The Jewish religion was actually born in the Babylonian exile, some 500 years before Christ, and from the beginning the majority of the Jews lived outside Palestine, in Babylon, Egypt, Cyprus and many other countries around the Mediterranean. Palestine remained an important religious center which played a significant part in the transition of Judaism into a Diaspora religion based principally on the Talmud.


THE HANUKKA feast symbolizes the basic change of Judaism after the destruction of the Temple – and the counter-change effected by the Zionists in modern times.

The rabbis were against the cult of heroism, whether God-fearing or not. They belittled the battles of the Maccabees and found another reason to celebrate. It appears that a great miracle had happened, which was much more important than military victories: when the Temple was re-dedicated after being defiled by the “Greeks”, the sacred oil left sufficed only for one day. By divine intervention, this small quantity of oil lasted for a whole week. Hanukka was dedicated to this huge miracle. (Hanukka means literally inauguration, dedication).

The Book of the Maccabees, which recounts the struggle and the victory, was not included in the Hebrew Bible. The Hebrew original was lost.

(Hanukka, like Christmas, was originally a pagan festival celebrating the winter solstice, much as Passover and Easter are based on the pagan celebration of the spring equinox.)

The Jewish sages were determined to stamp out, once and for all, the craving for revolts and military adventures. Not only was Hanukka turned into an innocuous feast of sacred oil, but the Zealots and Bar Kochba were ignored or belittled in rabbinical writings, which shaped Judaism and Jewish life since then until this very day. Jews were supposed to adore God, not human heroes.


Until Zionism appeared on the scene. It resurrected the ancient heroes and turned them retrospectively into Zionists. The Maccabees, Zealots and Bar Kochba became our models. The mass suicide of the Zealots on the Masada mountain after the Great Revolt was celebrated as a glorious deed, generations of children were and are taught to admire them.


Today we have national heroes in great abundance, and really do not need all these ancient myths any more. But myths die slowly, if at all. Still, more and more voices of historians and such are cautiously raising doubts about their role in Jewish history. (I may have been the first, in an essay I wrote some four decades ago.)


ALL THIS may reaffirm the saying that “nothing changes as much as the past”. Or, in the words of Goethe: “What you call the spirit of the times is nothing but the spirit of the lords in which the times are reflected.”


Zionism was a great spiritual revolution. It took an ancient ethnic-religious Diaspora and re-shaped it into a modern European-style nation. To effect this, it had first of all to re-shape history.

It could base itself on the works of a new generation of Jewish historians, led by Heinrich Graetz, who painted a new picture of the Jewish past influenced by the German nationalist historians of their time. Graetz himself died a few years before the First Zionist Congress, but his impact was and remains immense.

While the Germans resurrected Hermann the Cherusker and built a huge statue of him on the site of his great victory over the Romans in the Teutoburger forest, shortly before the Jewish Great Revolt, the early Zionists resurrected the Jewish heroes, ignoring the disasters they caused. Many European peoples, large and small, did the same. It was the Zeitgeist.

Three generations of Israeli children were brought up from kindergarten on these myths. They are almost completely cut off from world history. They learn that the Greeks were the people whose yoke was thrown off by the Maccabees, but learn next to nothing about Greek philosophy, literature or history. It creates a very narrow, egocentric state of mind, good for soldiers, but not so good for people who need to make peace.

These children learn nothing at all about the history of the Arabs, Islam and the Koran. Islam, for them is a primitive, murderous religion, bent on killing Jews.

The exception is the autonomous Orthodox school system which teaches nothing much except the Talmud, and is therefore immune to the cult of heroes, but also to world history (except the pogroms, of course).

The great political change we need must be accompanied by a profound change of our historical outlook.

The heroes of antiquity are perhaps due for another revision of their status.

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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on December 25th, 2014
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)

AlterNet / December 25, 2014 / By Valerie Tarico

Not-So-Virgin Birth: Why Stories of Jesus Became More Magical Over Time
What you learn when you read the Bible in the order it was actually written.

Sometime toward the end of the first century, the writer of Luketold a story that would become one of the most treasured in all of Western Civilization, the birth of the baby Jesus. It opens with an announcement known as the Annunciation. A messenger angel named Gabriel appears to a young Jewish virgin, Mary, telling her that the spirit of God will enter her and she will give birth to a child who is both human and divine:

The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. (Luke 1:30-34 NRSV)

Two wonder-filled stories merge.

Our modern Christmas story is a composite drawn from two gospels, meaning devotional accounts of the life of Jesus, known as the books of Matthew and Luke. Both accounts underscore that Mary, a virgin, was impregnated by God alone. The writer of Matthewdoesn’t repeat the Annunciation, but he does say that Mary’s fiancé Joseph wants to end their betrothal when he discovers that Mary is pregnant. An angel tells Joseph in a dream that her pregnancy is “of the Holy Spirit,” and so he keeps her a virgin until she gives birth to Jesus. (Matthew 1:18-25)

Mary’s virginity is just one of several ways that the (now unknown) authors of the gospels signal to readers that this is no ordinary birth. Each accounts includes several supernatural wonders and pronouncements of God’s favor.

Because the gospels were aimed at different audiences, the auspicious events differ from story to story. Matthew: A rising star is seen by astrologers who bring gifts that foreshadow the baby’s future. Luke: A chorus of angels singing to shepherds on the hills. Matthew: A jealous king murders baby boys to protect his throne but the family of the holy child, having been warned in a dream, escapes. Luke:A prophet and prophetess recognize the infant’s divine spark.

Christmas pageants that merge these elements into a single story have delighted children and adults alike for centuries. The traditional manger scene or crèche merges them into a single panorama.

Grand Beginnings are Soon Forgotten

Many people might find it surprising that these auspicious infancy stories are never referenced elsewhere in the New Testament, for example in the letters of Paul or in the other two gospels that made their way into the Christian Bible. Even in the book of Luke itself, by the time Jesus is a boy, it is almost as if even his parents have forgotten the extraordinary circumstances of his birth. When he turns twelve, his family travels to Jerusalem, where his parents lose him. After three days, they find him in the temple:

When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.” He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he said to them. (Luke 2:48-50 NRSV).

Why would two authors describe a virgin birth announced by an angel and accompanied by natural wonders and then, not long after, have their characters behave as if it didn’t happen? That seems like an oddly wasted opportunity for writers who were seeking to establish both their own credibility and the credibility of their fledgling religion. Why don’t the dramatic astrological and biological signs of divinity surrounding the birth of Jesus get more play?

Christianity’s virgin birth narrative, both what it says and why it is poorly integrated into the rest of the Bible, is a fascinating study in cultural evolution. Specifically, it illustrates a process called “syncretism” whereby religions merge over time when cultures come into contact.

The New Testament Is Out of Order

Mainstream Bible scholarship tells us that the marvel-filled stories about the birth of Jesus don’t get referenced later in the New Testament because they were written aftermany of the books that follow them. When the books of the New Testament are arranged chronologically using the best information available, the gospels of Matthew and Luke are numbers 11 and 20 respectively. They come after letters that are believed to be authentic writings of Paul, for example, and after the gospel of Mark, which may have been a source for both authors but fails to mention an auspicious birth.

In addition, the birth narratives may have been late additions to the gospels themselves, which would explain why they seem forgotten later in the story. Evidence for this can be seen in how different versions of the gospels changed over time.

But the Catholic councils that decided which texts would go into the New Testament didn’t know that. They lacked the modern tools of linguistic analysis, archeology and anthropology and the mindset of antiquities scholarship. They believed that the books called Matthewand Luke were written by men named Matthew and Luke, one a disciple of Jesus and the other a companion of Paul, who had gotten some stories second hand and had been eye witnesses to others. The councils put the gospels first (and the book of Revelation last) because they were trying to assemble a coherent narrative.

Christianity Adapted to the Roman World

In 2012, Jesus scholar Marcus Borg published Evolution of the Word: Reading the Bible in the Order It was Written.Borg encourages readers to explore the 27 books of the New Testament in the order they were written to see how Christian thinking unfolded over time. Ordering the texts as they were written also allows scholars to put the evolution of Christianity in a historical context.

Read this way, one trend line is that the stories about Jesus become more magical over time. For example, John, the last gospel written, has Jesus making the boldest claims about his own deity. Another trend line is that over time, Jesus worship picks up bits of other cultures as Christianity spreads among the gentiles of the Roman Empire. Borg describes “an increasing accommodation within the cultural conventions of the time.” Some of those conventions came from Greek mythology and Roman civic religion.

The Earliest References to Jesus’ Birth Are More Mundane than Magical

The earliest mention of the birth of Jesus comes in Paul’s letter to the church at Galatia, likely written between 49 and 55 C.E, or about half a century before the gospels of Matthewand Luke.Paul’s description makes no mention of a virgin birth. He says simply that, “But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law” (Galatians 4:4).

In another letter, Paul seems to imply that Jesus came into the world in the usual way. In Romans 1:1-3 he refers to . . . the gospel of God…concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh.” The phrase “seed of David” refers specifically to the genealogy of Joseph, the husband of Mary.

So Why Divine Insemination?

Symbologist and retired religion professor Dr. Tony Nugent, tells us that the miraculous elements of the Christmas story have their roots in ancient mythic traditions that predated and surrounded nascent Christianity. In Greek and Roman mythology, heroes and great men often were born from the union of a god and a human woman. For example, in the story of Hercules, Zeus impregnates his mother by taking the form of her husband. Helen of Troy is conceived when Zeus takes the form of a swan and either seduces or rapes her mother Leda. Danaë, the mother of Perseus, is impregnated by a shower of gold. Mars, the Roman god of war fathers the twins Romulus and Remus through Rhea Silvia, a Vestal Virgin. Even Augustus, Pythagoras, and Alexander the Great were reputed to have human mothers and divine fathers.

The idea of gods or demi-gods mating with human women was familiar throughout the Ancient Near East. It appears in the book of Genesis:

When people began to multiply on the face of the ground, and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that they were fair; and they took wives for themselves of all that they chose. Then the Lord said, “My spirit shall not abide in mortals forever, for they are flesh; their days shall be one hundred twenty years.” The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went in to the daughters of humans, who bore children to them. These were the heroes that were of old, warriors of renown. (Genesis 6:1-4, NRSV)

Early Christians disagreed over when, exactly Jesus became divine. Jewish converts promoted a theory called “adoptionism” in which Jesus is uniquely adopted as God’s son later in life. The Gospel of Mark for example, suggests that this happens at the time of his baptism. Paul suggests that it happens when he is resurrected. The authors of Matthewand Luke,clearly had a view in this debate—they believed that the sonship of Jesus began at birth, and they made their case in terms that would be both familiar and persuasive to people of their time.

An Ambiguous Prophecy Helps the Story Along

One key goal of the gospel writers was to show that the life of Jesus had been predicted by Hebrew prophesies and that the details of his life fulfilled these prophesies. Many Christians to this day take the fulfilled prophecies of the gospel stories as proof positive that stories are true. The naturalistic explanation, of course, is that the gospel writers (or the oral and written traditions they received) may have shaped their stories about Jesus to fit the Hebrew scriptures. And the careful documentation of Mary’s sexual history—or lack thereof—offers one bit of evidence that they did exactly that.

After telling readers that Jesus was fathered by God himself in spirit form, the writer of Matthew adds the following words:

“All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: ‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,’ which means, ‘God is with us.’” (Matthew 1: 22-23).

The quotation is taken from the book of Isaiah (7:14), and in the context of the time it is understood as predicting a hopeful future for the Kingdom of Hezekiah. But the Christian who first linked this passage to the person of Jesus must have been delighted.

Early Judaism was very focused on purity—pure foods, unblemished bodies, and female sexual abstinence that ensured pure bloodlines for God’s chosen people. The Apostle Paul made sexual purity central to mainstream Roman Christianity. To a believer steeped in Rome’s tradition of divine insemination and Judaism’s tradition of virtuous virginity, a divine virgin birth might seem like exactly how Jesus should be born.

The twist is this: The Hebrew word used by the writer of Isaiah is almah, which can mean either a young woman who hasn’t had sex or simply a young women who hasn’t yet born a child. Anglican theologian John Shelby Spong tells us that a different word Hebrew word betulah, is used 50 times in the Hebrew Bible when the writer wants to refer specifically and clearly to a woman who hasn’t had sex.(Born of a Woman: A Bishop Rethinks the Virgin Birth and the Treatment of Women by a Male Dominated Church.) But the gospel writers relied on a Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures known as the Septuagint. In the Septuagint, the word almah is translated as parthenos, which also can mean either young girl or virgin, but which is strongly associated with the virgin goddess Athena.

Would the writers of Matthew and Luke have emphasized Mary’s virginity if they had been privy to the original Hebrew? We will never know. What we do know is this. The story of a virginal young woman who is impregnated by a god and gives birth to a man who changes history appeals to the human imagination. It is a trope that has emerged in many mythic traditions and endured across centuries, cultures and continents. After it took root in Christianity, alternatives fell by the wayside, and the story of the baby Jesus, born to a virgin amidst signs and wonders, became the most celebrated and cherished story in the Bible.

Thank you to Dr. Tony Nugent, Presbyterian ordained symbologist and retired religion professor, for consultation on this article.

—————-
Valerie Tarico is a psychologist and writer in Seattle, Washington and the founder of Wisdom Commons. She is the author of “Trusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light” and “Deas and Other Imaginings.” Her articles can be found at Awaypoint.Wordpress.com.

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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on December 25th, 2014
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)


Pope Francis is a “Marxist” He is is a Marxist in the eyes of Right Wingers in the US because he speaks about “the structural causes of poverty” – the “idolatry of money,” and the “new tyranny” of unfettered capitalism. Obviously, say the Pontiff’s pious critics – that’s commie talk.

The clincher for them was when Francis wrote an official Papal document in which he asked in outrage: “How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?” See, cried the carpers, that’s proof that Francis is the Red Pope!

——–


Merry Christmas, Right-Wingers, the Red Pope, and Jesus.

By Jim Hightower, Jim Hightower’s Blog

25 December 14

Tere’s a twist on Christmas that would make Jesus weep.

First, a right-wing faction in the US has been wringing its hands over a hokey cultural “crisis” cooked up by the faction itself, namely that liberals, atheists, humanists, and – God Forbid – Marxists are waging a “War on Christmas.” The infidels are not accused of lobbing bombs in this war, but Words of Mass Destruction. Specifically, the right-wing purists wail that unholy lefties are perverting the season by saying “Happy Holidays,” instead of “Merry Christmas.”

Second, some ultra conservative members of this same faction have launched their own war – against Jesus! How twisted is this? They say no one should mess with the word “Christmas,” yet they’re messing with the guy Christmas is supposed to be about.

Okay, technically they’re not going directly at Jesus, but at a key part of his message – and, and in particular, at a key messenger of Christianity: Pope Francis!

They’ve decided that the Pope is a “Marxist,” pointing out that Francis speaks often about “the structural causes of poverty,” the “idolatry of money,” and the “new tyranny” of unfettered capitalism. Obviously, say the Pontiff’s pious critics, that’s commie talk.

The clincher for them was when Francis wrote an official Papal document in which he asked in outrage: “How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?” See, cried the carpers, that’s proof that Francis is the Red Pope!

But wait – that was a very good question he asked, one ripe with the moral wrath that Jesus himself frequently showed toward the callous rich and their “love of money.” Indeed, the Pope’s words ring with the deep ethics you find in Jesus’ sermon on the Mount. Was he a commie, too?

Could it be that the carpers are the ones lacking in real Christmas spirit?

———

A FEW OF THE COMMENTS:

+52 # RCW 2014-12-25 14:07
Thanks, Jim, and from the Jewish side, the Pope’s sentiments on behalf of the poor and oppressed by the indolent wealthy are those of the great Old Testament prophets as well.

+10 # goodsensecynic 2014-12-25 15:33
Now, if he’d only lighten up on gay guys and lesbian girls and, in fact, on women of all sorts, we might begin a useful dialogue. After all, not all Christians are fools and bigots …

+36 # Pickwicky 2014-12-25 14:14
But the most spectacular statement by Francis is, “All God’s creatures go to Paradise.” Now, come on, you goofy Right Wingers–what Marxist ever said that!

Merry Christmas, everyone.

+2 # LGNTexas 2014-12-25 17:25
There is hardly a word about a Jesus recorded by the Roman historian, Josephus…no nativity story or crucifixion story. For sure there is little known about the Persian God, Mithra, that preceded Christ in the Western world. I never knew of Mithra until told his legends by an Israeli soldier I befriend while working in Israel. He was giving me reasons he didn’t believe in Jesus as the Messiah. Much of what we know in the New Testament is from the teachings of St. Paul or Saul of Tarsus. That city in Asia-Minor was a hotbed of Mithraism, which became the most popular god of the Roman legions. So Saul (Paul) probably knew all about Mithra who was born of a virgin mother on December 25, centuries before Jesus. Mithra was called the light of the world, even visited by shepherds, etc. IF there was a visit by 3 “Wise men” they were probably Persians of the Zoroastrian faith and worshiped Mithra. The Mithra cult may have survived if not for the conversion of Emperor Constantine in 313 A.D. To read about Mithra one also can feel they are reading the New Testament. Did St. Paul plagiarize Mithraism in order to convert those already familiar with the cult? www.truthbeknown.com/mithra.htm

+1 # Charles3000 2014-12-25 19:07
Of course Paul/Saul knew about Mithras and Mithraism almost beat out Paul’s brand of Christianity. Some scholars due refer to Christianity as the last and greatest of the Greek mystery religions…and that is probably a very good outsider take on the nature of the religion. And all of us, whatever our faith or choice of religious doctrines, should never, ever forget. All religions are made by man; none were made by God.

+4 # Brian Flaherty 2014-12-25 14:45
In keeping with the Spirit of the Season, I understand that the “true” Christians are making plans to come out with a blockbuster film for Christmas, 2015. . .”The Nativity and Aftermath” with the ORIGINAL cast. . .
It’s gonna be ready for theaters and purchase online once they’ve trained Jesus in the Real Principles of Christianity!

It seems that He has dropped the ball somewhere over the past 2000 years and it’s gonna take awhile to get him back on track if he wants to play the lead in the Passion Play! If he won’t “play ball” they’ll just hafta replace him with a “body double” who’s willing to do the Cruci-FICTION and wear the thorny Crown while saying all the “RIGHT” Things!

+9 # DaveM 2014-12-25 15:03
Is Mel Gibson directing?

+6 # Brian Flaherty 2014-12-25 15:16
Who else could handle it?? I understand he’s also willing to bankroll it. . .Unless they can get a grant from the David Koch Fund for Science!

+14 # asbpab1966 2014-12-25 14:52
Also, it was not a Druid festival, but the Roman festival of Saturnalia, celebrating the Winter Solstice, with which the early Christians decided to coincide Christmas. Before Constantine adopted Christianity for the Roman Empire, the Romans persecuted Christians.

+11 # goodsensecynic 2014-12-25 15:43
Yes, there is a definite connection with the Saturnalia, but it was probably a Druid festival as well. I know for sure that the Vikings were enthusiastic about it – and I think that the Swedes still celebrate their festival of lights wherein young girls parade around with lighted candles on their heads!

The point is that there are lots of cultures (especially where snow falls regularly) that get cheerful when the days begin to get longer.

+15 # margpark 2014-12-25 15:01
Lots of people all over the world celebrated the Solstice with gaiety and joy because everyone was glad the sun was coming back rather than to continue the decline which would have meant the end of the world.

0 # Regina 2014-12-25 18:59
Only in the northern hemisphere. In the southern hemisphere (e.g., Australia, New Zealand, Argentina, etc.) the sun is at its maximum latitude on December 21, which is their summer solstice. Although the northern hemisphere has most of the planet’s people, we should be more inclusive in the conclusions we jump to.

+6 # Corvette-Bob 2014-12-25 15:18
I read an interesting book on Christianity it is called “How Jesus became God” It is true that Constantine was how Christianity became the big religion since the emperor wanted to unite his empire with one religion. It really was a political decision. There were many people running around the time of Christ who were allegedly performing miracles and who were born from a virgin mother, and were later killed and went to heaven and were god. But Constantine had to pick one religion and he chose Christianity.

+12 # goodsensecynic 2014-12-25 15:28
I know Jesus can be faulted for that line about it being easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven … but that was just hyperbole intended to encourage a few more alms for the poor.

And, as for the unpleasantness in the temple, it certainly wasn’t a sign that we should be mad at Wall Street (after all, Jesus only went after the “Jewish” moneylenders!).

The real problem comes in Acts 4(32), where it is written that none of the apostles ever said “nought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things in common.”

Or worse, Acts 4(34-35) in which we learn that “neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold and laid them down at the apostles’ feet: and distribution was made unto every man as he had need.”

Now, fast forward 1800 years to Marx’s Critique of the Gotha Program (1875), where he says “from each according to his ability; to each according to his need.”

So, either the disciples were communists or Marx was a Christian (absent the “God” part).

In any case, Marx can be accused of many things but only one charge firmly sticks: Plagiarism!

+2 # Arden 2014-12-25 16:39
My favorite Sunday School teacher told us, many long years ago, that the openings in the city walls, where those folks who needed to get in after the main gates were closed, were called “needles”. They were small and low to the ground, so that a camel would have great difficulty going thru them.

+1 # goodsensecynic 2014-12-25 17:55
Your favorite Sunday School teacher may well have been right. Or, maybe that was just a desperate attempt to suppress the filthy, godless, communistic implications of the words attributed to the fellow (Jesus, that is).

I don’t know the truth of it or if Jesus even existed or if he said anything remotely similar to the words reported in Matthew 19(24); but, I do know that those words, taken literally, would knock Michele Bachmann and the rest of them for a loop. So, absent overwhelming evidence, I’ll stick with the way King James’ translation committee expressed it.

+7 # kalpal 2014-12-25 15:30
So why is the fact that Jesus was a Jew and never anything other than a Jew, along with all of his disciples, not a topic open to discussion within the halls of those purporting to adore Jesus? Was his Jewishness embarrassing to those who claim to be his followers? If you follow Jesus, then be a Jew. Stop being a pagan who calls himself a Xtian.

-2 # Arden 2014-12-25 16:45
huh?

0 # Regina 2014-12-25 19:02
Yeah.

-2 # anarchteacher 2014-12-25 15:54
One cannot begin to understand the secular political history of the world over the past two thousand years (and the impact of the Incarnation upon humanity) without seeing it through the interpretative lens of Political Religions.

The outstanding chronicler of Political Religions writing today is Michael Burleigh, who is following in the bold path blazed by scholars such as Eric Voegelin, Murray Rothbard, Norman Cohn, Gerhart Niemeyer, James Billington, and Henri de Lubac.
 www.amazon.com/Utopian-Nightmares…

Utopian Nightmares and Gnostic Political Religions – an Amazon book list

I have long believed that at the core of the political and economic challenges we face as a civilization is an ongoing warfare within the spiritual dimension at the root of our being.

For two millennia, Western civilization has been rent and torn asunder by this struggle.

The unity of Christendom was shattered by the Reformation. After Martin Luther came the seeds for the rise of the leviathan state. The fertile soil of Europe had been sown but the time was not yet ready. The gestation would take centuries to come to full fruition.

-3 # anarchteacher 2014-12-25 15:59
The tsunamic wave unleashed by the French Revolution swept the planet, bringing in its wake the forces of “Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity” — or as seen through the prism of ideology — Liberalism, Collectivism, and Nationalism. The nourishing watering of the European soil had begun, and soon spread to all continents.
 www.amazon.com/The-Enlightenment-…

The Enlightenment, Freemasonry, Illuminism & the Religion of Humanity – an Amazon book list

It was Jean-Jacques Rousseau, whose writings so influenced the French Revolution, who first announced that human beings could be transformed for the better by the political process, by social engineering. This idea would have fatal consequences for millions in the 20th century.

0 # ericlipps 2014-12-25 17:22
Whereas as we all know, the idea that humans can be transformed for the better by belief in an all-powerful King who can and will condemn them to torture for eternity if they do not recognize His authority and obey His edicts has had only positive effects.

-3 # anarchteacher 2014-12-25 16:02
Both the Marxist-Leninists in the Soviet Union and the National Socialists in Nazi Germany had at the center of their ideological agendas the creation of a “new man.”

Secularism and the crisis of faith, born of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution, would provide the vital fertilizing nutrients for totalitarianism to finally bloom in the 20th century.

For it was in the 20th century where the West faced its greatest challenges via two satanic-inspired regimes, that of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. These two antipodal gnostic political religions were bent on using terror and mayhem to subjugate and remold humanity.

They wanted to coercively refashion a New Aryan Man or a New Soviet Man from our spiritual and material essence created by the hand of God.

Millions died in this cataclysmic process of “social engineering.”

In the 21st century our increasingly post-Christian West faces many new challenges but two in particular stand out: a return to its spiritual roots and a renascence of growth, promise, and renewal; and the renunciation of the deceitful illusions and lies upon which the corporatist welfare-warfare state was built and imposed on our civilization, this secular monstrosity which has led to so much misery, false hope, and insecurity.


+2 # goodsensecynic 2014-12-25 16:54
I must say at the outset that I reject your basic premise which is, as you say, that “the core of the political and economic challenges we face as a civilization is an ongoing warfare within the spiritual dimension at the root of our being.”

If that means what I think it means; namely, that people squabble about their competing versions of “spirituality” and that inequalities of wealth and power arise from the results of those contests, then I respectfully submit that the relationship is exactly the reverse and that explicitly religious or ideologically political world-views are mainly propagandistic cover for local and geopolitical struggles that are more about material than spiritual matters.

That said, while I agree with your condemnation of 20th century “political religions” and your rejection of “social engineering,” I do not think that rejecting the “corporatist welfare-warfare state” is a sound alternative. In fact (unless you’re saying that it’s the corporations that get the welfare), public policies dedicated to social equity are the basis upon which the quest for social justice must be built – either that or we can all gather in self-sustaining anarcho-syndicalist communes (which is charming but unlikely, except perhaps in the wake of a global ecological collapse and/or military conflagration – not impossible, I admit).

Even less likely, however, is some sort of spontaneous spiritual process of “renunciation” and “renewal.” How, precisely, would that work?

-2 # goodsensecynic 2014-12-25 17:08
Nothing I have said, of course, should be taken to mean that decentralization, localization, worker control and democracy! democracy! democracy! should be forsaken in the attempt to mimic the operational methods of massive private capitalist (or state capitalist) control – only that such initiatives (sadly ruined in large part by religious conflict) that once seemed possible in what’s euphemistically called the “former Yugoslavia” must grow naturally from existing circumstances.

As a final query, what exactly do you mean to be the content of the “renascence of growth, promise and renewal.” At the risk of sounding churlish, it sounds a little too much like President Obama’s “hopey-changey- thingie” (the only apt thing Sarah bin-Palin ever said).

-2 # goodsensecynic 2014-12-25 17:08
Nothing I have said, of course, should be taken to mean that decentralization, localization, worker control and democracy! democracy! democracy! should be forsaken in the attempt to mimic the operational methods of massive private capitalist (or state capitalist) control – only that such initiatives (sadly ruined in large part by religious conflict) that once seemed possible in what’s euphemistically called the “former Yugoslavia” must grow naturally from existing circumstances.

As a final query, what exactly do you mean to be the content of the “renascence of growth, promise and renewal”? At the risk of sounding churlish, it sounds a little too much like President Obama’s “hopey-changey- thingie” (the only apt thing Sarah bin-Palin ever said).

+5 # JetpackAngel 2014-12-25 16:05
I say “Happy Holidays” because it’s faster than saying “Happy Goru / Dzon’ku Nu / Inti Raymi / Jonkonnu / Soyal / We Tripantu / Amaterasu / Choimus / Deyg?n / Maidyarem / D?ngzhì / T?ji / Lohri / Pongal / Makar Sankranti / Sanghamitta Day / ?eva Zistanê / Yalda / Beiwe / Brumalia / Christmas / Dies Natalis Solis Invicti / Deuorius Riuri / Hogmanay / Korochun / Malkh-Festival / M?draniht / Midvinterblót / Montol Festival / Mummer’s Day / Saturnalia / Wren’s Day / Yule / Ziemassv?tki / Hannukah / Krampasfest / Festivus / Kwanzaa / [others that I've surely forgotten].

0 # Eldon J. Bloedorn 2014-12-25 17:17
If the Pope is “red.” does that mean those Republicans in the “red” states are commies?

-2 # goodsensecynic 2014-12-25 17:51
Where I live RED is the color of the “liberals,” BLUE is the color of the”conservatives” and ORANGE is the color of the “socialists.”

Of course, what Americans mean by Conservatives (i.e., neoliberals), Liberals (i.e., center-right liberals) and Socialists (i.e., the hordes of Hell … or people with library cards who use public transit) is a matter of eternal mirth to those outside the fabulous fifty states.

Perhaps a global conference should be called to officially designate which color applies to which ideology (I suspect the biggest fight would be between ISIL and the Anarchists over the color BLACK.

Me? I would support anyone who claimed to wave a WHITE flag (and I’m not – believe me – being “racist” here).

+42 # Corvette-Bob 2014-12-25 14:20
Does anyone know why we celebrate Christmas on December 25? Clue it has nothing to do with the birth of anyone. The answer is because the “pagans” were celebrating the winter solstice on December 21 with “wild parties” and all sorts of going ons. So, the Christians decided that they would trump the festivities of the winter solstice with a celebration on December 25 with their own party. And since all of the pagans were gathered together they would just keep the party going. Just for good measure the Christians would incorporate the symbol of the cross with a circle of the symbol of the sun which the pagans worshiped as their god. So that originally the whole celebration was a celebration of the winter solstice. So actually Christmas was started as a war on the Druid’s festivities. So, now is their turn to conduct their war on Christmas. So for everyone out their happy winter solstice and a happy new year.

+13 # asbpab1966 2014-12-25 14:48
Also, the Jewish festival of Chanukah, which celebrated the miracle that occurred in 163BCE, was on the 25th of Kislev, a Jewish month that often corresponded fairly closely with December.

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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on December 18th, 2014
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)


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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on November 12th, 2014
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)

In effect – what Ms Napoleoni says is that the Islamic State uses globalization and aim at creating an original Muslim State that is for the Muslim world a parallel to what Israel is to World Jewry – albeit the first stage overlaps the borders of the Caliphate of Baghdad and will claim besides Iraq and Syria also Jordan , Lebanon, and Israel.
Now an ebook – The book will be available in printed form December 2nd, 2014.
 www.sevenstories.com/news/introdu…

Introduction to Loretta Napoleoni’s THE ISLAMIST PHOENIX.

September 8, 2014

The following is the introduction to The Islamist Phoenix, a study of ISIS by Loretta Napoleoni, one of the world’s leading experts on money laundering and the financing of terror. Islamist Phoenix will be available as an ebook in early November, and as a trade paperback on December 2nd.

For the first time since World War One, an armed organization is redesigning the map of the Middle East drawn by the French and the British. Waging a war of conquest, the Islamic State (IS), formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (al Sham), or ISIS, is erasing the borders that the Sykes-Picot Accord established in 1916. The region where the black and golden flag of IS flies already stretches from the Mediterranean shores of Syria well into the heart of Iraq, the Sunni tribal area. It is bigger than the United Kingdom or Texas and, since the end of June 2014, is known as the Islamic Caliphate. “Caliphate” is the name given to an Islamic state led by a supreme religious and political leader known as a caliph, or successor to the Prophet Muhammad – the most famous being the Ottoman Caliphate (or Empire), which began in 1453 and lasted until the dissolution of the Caliphate and expulsion of the last caliph, Abdulmecid, at the hands of Kemal Ataturk in 1924.

Many believe that the Islamic State, like al-Qaeda before it, wants to turn back the clock, and indeed in Western media Syrian and Iraqi refugees describe its rule in their countries as a sort of carbon copy of the Taliban regime. Posters forbid smoking and the use of cameras. Women are not allowed to travel without a male relative, must be covered up, and cannot wear trousers in public. The Islamic State seems also engaged in a sort of religious cleansing through proselytism: people must either join its creed, radical Salafism; flee; or face execution.
Al-Baghdadi

Paradoxically, to deem the IS essentially backward would be mistaken. Indeed, during the last few years the belief that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the group’s leader and the new Caliph, is a clone of Mullah Omar may well have led Western intelligence to undervalue him and his organization’s strength. While the world of the Taliban was limited to Koranic schools and knowledge based upon the writings of the Prophet, globalization and modern technology have been the cradle of the Islamic State.

What distinguishes the Islamic State from all other armed groups that predate it, including those active during the Cold War, and what accounts for its enormous successes, is its modernity and pragmatism. So far its leadership has understood the limitations that contemporary powers face in a globalized and multipolar world – for example, the inability to reach an agreement for foreign intervention in Syria, as happened in Libya and Iraq. Against this backdrop the Islamic State’s leadership has successfully exploited the Syrian conflict, the most recent version of the traditional war by proxy, to its own advantage almost unobserved, drawing funds from a variety of people: Kuwaitis, Qataris, Saudis, who, seeking a regime change in Syria, have been willing to bankroll several armed groups. However, instead of fighting the sponsors’ war by proxy, the Islamic State has used their money to establish its own territorial strongholds in financially strategic regions, for example in the rich oilfields of Eastern Syria. No previous Middle Eastern armed organization has been able to promote itself as the region’s new ruler with the money of its rich Gulf sponsors.

In sharp contrast with the Taliban’s rhetoric and despite the barbarous treatment of the enemy, the Islamic State is spreading a positive and powerful political message in the Muslim world: the return of the Caliphate associated with happier and richer times for Muslims. This message comes at a time of great destabilization in the Middle East, while Syria and Iraq are ablaze, Libya is on the verge of another tribal conflict, Egypt is restive, and Israel has been once again at war with Gaza. Hence, the rebirth of the Caliphate and of its Caliph, al-Baghdadi, appears to many Sunnis not as yet another armed group but somehow as a political entity that is rising from the ashes of decades of war and destruction.

The fact that this Islamist Phoenix materialized on the first day of Ramadan 2014, the holy month of fasting and prayer, should be regarded as a powerful omen of the challenge that the Islamic State poses to the legitimacy of all the 57 countries that follow the Islamic faith. As clearly stated by its spokesman, Abu Mohamed al-Adnani: “the legality of all emirates, groups, states and organizations becomes null by the expansion of the Caliph’s authority and the arrival of his troops to their areas.” This is a challenge posed by a new political organization that, while claiming to trace its legitimacy all the way back to 7th-8th century Arabia and the first territorial manifestations of Islam, comprises a contemporary state and commands a modern army. As such it should not be underestimated, especially if the Islamic State consolidates its territorial conquests.

That the threat is real, and that it is particularly felt by those who share a border with Syria and Iraq, are facts: in July, 2014 the black and golden flag of the Islamic State appeared in Jordanian villages, and in August thousands of IS militants streamed into Lebanon from Syria and took Arsal. Even former sponsors fear the military power of the Caliphate: at the beginning of July, al-Arabiya broadcast that Saudi Arabia had deployed 30,000 soldiers to its border with Iraq after Iraqi soldiers withdrew from the area.

Under the religious veneer and the terrorist tactics, therefore, lays a political and military machine fully engaged in nation-building, seeking consensus after territorial conquest. Residents of the enclaves controlled by the Caliphate affirm that its arrival coincided with improvements in the day-to-day running of their villages, from fixing holes in the roads to organizing soup kitchens for those who had lost their homes to the daylong availability of electricty.

_76526461_iraq_syria_isis_caliphate_25.07.14_624mapWhile territorially the Islamic State’s master plan is to recreate the ancient Caliphate of Baghdad — an entity that the Mongols destroyed in 1261 and that stretched from the Iraqi capital all the way into modern Israel — its political goal seems to be the shaping of a twenty-first century incarnation. In his first speech as Caliph, al-Baghdadi pledged to return to Muslims the “dignity, might, rights, and leadership” of the past, and at the same time called for doctors, engineers, judges, and experts in Islamic jurisprudence to join him. As he spoke, a team of translators across the world worked almost in real time to release the text of his speech on jihadist websites, facebook and twitter accounts in several languages including English, French, and German.

The Islamic State wants to be for Muslims what Israel is for Jews, a state in their ancient land that they have reclaimed in modern times, a religious and powerful state that protects them wherever they are, something to be proud of. This is a potent message for the disenfranchised Muslim youth who live in the political vacuum created by disturbing factors, such as the corruption and inefficacy of the Free Syrian and Iraqi Army, the Maliki government’s refusal to integrate Sunnis into the fabric of political life, the absence of proper socio-economic infrastructures destroyed during the war, and a high rate of unemployment. It is a powerful message also for those living abroad, the disenfranchised Muslim youth of Europe. No other armed organization has shown such insight and political intuition into the domestic politics of the Middle East and Muslim immigrants’ frustration all over the world, and no other armed organization has adapted to contingent factors, such as the provision of basic socio-economic infrastructures in the territory it controls to succeed at nation-building.

Its leadership has also studied the tactical and structural mistakes of past armed groups as well as their successes, and has put these lessons into a modern context. Like the European armed organizations of the 1960s and 1970s, the Islamic State understands the power of propaganda, of fear at home and abroad, and has been skilfully used social media to propagate sleek videos and images of its barbarous actions. Fear is a much more powerful weapon of conquest than religious lectures, something that al-Qaeda has never understood. Equally, the Islamic State knows that the 24-hour media seeks ever more brutal images, because in a world overloaded with information, extreme violence sells the news: thus the plentiful supply of photos and videos of brutal punishments and tortures uploaded in formats that can be easily watched on mobile phones. Shockingly, in a voyeuristic society, sadism, when appealingly packaged, becomes a major attraction.

The Islamic State has closely analysed the propaganda machine that the US and UK administration employed to justify the preventive strike in Iraq in 2003, in particular the creation of the myth of al Zarqawi which US Secretary of State Colin Powell used on in his speech to the UN Security Council on February 5, 2003 to justify the invasion of Iraq. Thanks to an extensive and highly professional use of social media, the Islamic State has propagated equally false mythologies to proselytize, recruit, and raise funds across the Muslim world.

Crucial for the successes of this strategy have been the secrecy and mythology carefully woven around the Islamic State’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Bagdhadi. Again, in a world overloaded with information, mystery plays a major role in stimulating the collective imagination. The less people know, the more they want to know, and the more they imagine. Give people a few clips and they will complete the picture as they like it. Islam is premised on a certain nostalgia rooted in the return of the Prophet, while the West still fears Islam. Hence the IS is leading Muslims to believe that the Prophet has returned wearing the clothes of al-Baghdadi and at the same time it terrorizes Westerners with shockingly barbarous killings. Modern advertising has constructed a trillion-dollar industry atop these simple concepts. Now the Islamic State propaganda machine is using them to manufacture the myth of al-Baghdadi and his new Caliphate. What’s surprising is our surprise.

Finally, unlike al-Qaeda, the Islamic State is showing pragmatism. It seems to understand that, in the twenty-first century, new nations cannot be built and held together with terror and violence alone. To blossom, they require popular consensus. Hence the IS uses violence and Sharia law together with propaganda distributed over social media and a variety of popular social programmes aimed at improving the living conditions of the Sunni population trapped inside the Caliphate.

If this strategy succeeds, the world will be forced to turn a new leaf in the history of terrorism and nation-building, because the Islamic State will have provided a workable solution to the dilemma of terrorism. This, in a nutshell, is the true challenge that any armed organization poses to the modern state: whether to consider acts of terrorism as a threat to national security or to law and order. This dilemma springs from the ambiguous nature of terrorism: it has military aims – for example, among the goals of the Islamic State are freeing the territories of the old Caliphate of Baghdad from the tyrannical rule of the Shiites and the annexation of Jordan and Israel to recreate its ancient borders – but it employs criminal and barbarous methods like suicide bombings, the crucifixion of its opponents, and the beheading of hostages. Terrorism, therefore, could be defined as a crime with the aims of war. This ambiguity has allowed states to deny members of armed organizations the status of soldiers and enemies, relegating them to the ranks of outlaws even while using armies against them.

If the Islamic State succeeds in building a modern state, one that the world will not be able to ignore, using terrorism to gain territorial control and social and political reforms to secure internal popular consensus, it will prove what all armed organizations have affirmed: that they are not terrorists but enemies engaged in an asymmetrical war to overthrow illegitimate, tyrannical, and corrupted regimes. No matter how barbarous their actions are or have been, their status as threats to national security, as warriors, will be beyond doubt.

As the Islamic State’s war of conquest progresses, it is becoming clear that since 9/11 the business of Islamist terrorism has been getting stronger instead of weaker — to the extent that now it has morphed into a state — by simply keeping abreast with a fast-changing world in which propaganda and technology play an increasingly vital role. The same cannot be said for the forces engaged in stopping it from spreading.

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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on October 24th, 2014
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)

A while ago I received the following e-mail:

New World Disorder
with Kofi Annan

Please join the Foreign Policy Association for an evening with H.E. Kofi Annan, former Secretary-General of the United Nations and Founder and Chair of the Kofi Annan Foundation, who will discuss “New World Disorder: Challenges for the UN in the 21st Century.”

Mr. Annan will be speaking as part of the Andrew Carnegie Distinguished Lecture on Conflict Prevention in Honor of David Hamburg.

When
Thursday
October 23, 2014
From 6:00pm to 8:00pm
Where
PwC
300 Madison Avenue
New York City

I answered with an e-mail to the FPA addressed to Mr. McDara King, but as the place seems to be run by inexperienced interns that do not acknowledge mail and as it turned out did not list me either I got no notice about what turned out to have been a need to change the venue because so many people showed interest in the event. The event was moved to the old building of the Bernard Baruch College and nobody bothered telling this to the 6 guards at PwC.

I report this in order to say that I missed half of UNSG Kofi Annan’s presentation – but do not want to waste time in my posting about the event because I picked up there his very recently released volume:

“WE THE PEOPLES: A UN for the 21st Century.” by KOFI ANNAN

which is a collection of material including some of his original speeches or articles and some of others he obviously considers very pertinent.

I post this as I highly recommend this volume to anyone interested in how the UN works – or does not.

I am sure I will peruse the book going to original articles that point at things happening these days that were predicted and were avoidable – but this organization of Governments, not being turned in time to be an organization of Peoples as the Charter suggested, is like a huge ship running into icebergs and hard to steer.

Kofi Annan was the seventh Secretary-General of the UN and served two terms – January 1, 1997 – December 31, 2006.

In 2001 Kofi Annan and the United Nations under his leadership were awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace with the citation praising Annan’s leadership for “bringing new life to the organization.” Yes, looking at his record and his assembled material in the book it becomes obvious that even if much of what he tried he could not achieve, nevertheless, it is clear that it was not all a waste, and indeed he started to enlarge the scope of the UN by opening the door to Civil Society and by creating the Global Compact.

In the second half of his presentation above that I did hear – two innovation he promoted became clear points he prides himself with – but as he said – it is actually the R2P – THE RESPONSIBILITY TO PROTECT – that he was able to introduce to the UN – that becomes his personal achievement pride most important life achievement – that was tested in Kenya in 2008.

We believe that since the acceptance of the UN Charter in 1945, it was only the Addition of the Declaration of Human Rights, and Kofi Annan’s R2P that add up to the UN reality.

Looking at my notes from last night – I quote him “When the whole World has Changed You Can Not Have Static Institutions.”
This in regard to the need to give recognition to the importance of Latin America (Brazil), India, Africa (South Africa or Nigeria – and if they cannot agree – the unpretentious Gambia). They ought to get seats at the Security Council, The World Bank and The IMF.

He said that Iraq and Afghanistan have shown that you cannot have military solutions anymore.

President Eisenhower already told us not to lose sight of the UN as a means to achieve peace.

Dealing with Climate Change is absolutely essential for the future of mankind. Who could have predicted this i San Francisco in 1995, he said? No society can survive either without Sustainable Development and Human Rights. On the economy he said this is a story of subsidies – like in the case of gas (he meant gasoline and I assume diesel just the same) – these are subsidies for the middle class and the rich. This is not good for the environment, he said.

To a question about borders he answered by mentioning Syria and Somalia.

In the book, under the title NOT JUST A REGIONAL CONFLICT, I discovered that Kofi Annan’s last Address to the Security Council was about the Middle East and the Arab World and it looks like it was then a prediction of things to come.

=======================================

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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on June 14th, 2014
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)

 

Smaller Faster Lighter Denser Cheaper By Robert Bryce, 371 pages, PublicAffairs Credit Patricia Wall/The New York Times

 

 

Every so often we need someone to put in a kind word for the devil, if only to remind us of unpleasant facts. On energy policy, we need someone willing to declare flat out that “if oil didn’t exist, we would have to invent it. No other substance comes close to oil when it comes to energy density, ease of handling, and flexibility.”

{This obviously does not mean that the use of the fossil fuels is a panacea – it means only that the author thinks the energy density in petroleum made it an ideal fuel when in use – but the side effects are another matter. nevertheless I decided to post this in order to supply to our readers the variety of views on the subject. Above does not remember that originally Henry Ford intended his motor-vehicle to use ethanol from grain- which would have made more sense from an environmentalist point of view as that CO2 would have been a recycled CO2 – a Pincas Jawetz Comment.}

We need someone who says: Don’t kid yourself, coal will be around for a long, long time, as a cheap source of electricity across the globe. Someone who scoffs that anyone who believes in wind power and biofuels as a solution to the soaring demand for energy also believes in the Easter Bunny. And someone willing to argue that the most sensible long-term answer to the world’s unquenchable thirst for electricity is a revival of nuclear power, a reality that he says thinking environmentalists are coming to accept.

Robert Bryce, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a conservative research group, fills that role with zest. The author of four books on oil and energy, Mr. Bryce has written a new book well worth reading, though it will not sit well with those who applauded when Al Gore received the Nobel Peace Prize. The title of his breezy book — “Smaller Faster Lighter Denser Cheaper” — captures the headlong rush of Western culture’s endless drive for ever better technology. It is an extraordinary impulse that has created a world in which more people live longer and more comfortably than ever before.

The book amounts to Mr. Bryce’s emphatic, against-the-grain views on energy policy coupled to a once-over-lightly history of Western technology. His eccentric take on history bounces from the Panama Canal to Edison’s light bulb to the first computers, weirdly wrapping in excerpts on the AK-47 Kalashnikov automatic rifle, Olympic 100 meter times, and the Tour de France. He introduces puzzling techno-terms like “attoseconds,” which are billionths of a billionth of a second. (That, astonishingly, is the scale of time used in laser snapshots of the inner workings of an atom.) His historical vignettes do illustrate the benefits of Smaller Faster, etc., but they are like making an entire meal of amuse-bouches.

Mr. Bryce’s policy prescriptions will be more welcome in Houston than in the White House. He contends that the pantheon of environmentalists like Mr. Gore, Bill McKibben, Amory Lovins and Greenpeace — he calls them “the catastrophists” — are wildly optimistic, if not daft, in their extravagant hopes for wind power, solar cells and biofuels. He insists that his differences with them are not ideological but purely physics and economics: that their alternative possibilities are inherently too weak as fuels to scale them up to meet the world’s unceasing demand for more electricity.

From studies of wind farms he calculates that the average power density for wind energy is about one watt per square meter. A wind farm large enough to power just one data center for Facebook would require nearly 11 square miles of land, he says. On a far larger scale, the United States has about 300 billion watts of coal-fired generation capacity. So to replace it by wind power would sop up 300,000 square kilometers of land, about the area of Italy. Here he is tilting at windmills — no one has ever proposed shuttering the nation’s coal mines and relying on wind — but the comparison serves his contention that in the big picture, wind power will always be a minor player.

Biofuels have a power density even smaller, only a third of wind’s, and thus they hog even more land, he writes. Mr. Bryce considers it a scandal and a gross misuse of government subsidies that 40 percent of the nation’s corn harvest already goes into producing corn-based ethanol, pushing food prices much higher as collateral damage.

He pounces on Mr. Lovins’s prediction that by 2050, the United States will draw 23 percent of its power from biofuels. That is “ludicrous beyond language,” he says. If an acre of switchgrass yields about 17 barrels of oil equivalent a year, then achieving that 23 percent would take up 342,000 square miles of cropland, the equivalent of Texas, New York and Ohio combined, he calculates.

Mr. Bryce knows his way around an oil field, and he writes authoritatively about the constantly improving technology of extracting oil and gas. Thanks to those improvements, estimates of oil and gas reserves have shot up, defying repeated predictions that they were on the verge of topping out. Comparable innovations in wind energy or biofuels just aren’t possible, he maintains.

Disappointing for a man so sure of other data, Mr. Bryce waffles on the critical point of global warming. He declares himself a resolute “climate agnostic,” despite the overwhelming scientific consensus that climate change is a reality. Environmentalists might well see this as a convenient way to skirt the issue of the fossil fuel industry’s responsibility for endangering the planet.

He says he is neither an “alarmist” (a revealing choice of words) nor a “denier,” but tries to patch together an “incontrovertible” climate outlook that both “tribes” can accept: Carbon dioxide emissions are rising, dramatically so, and that will continue; the world will need vastly more energy in the decades ahead to raise the living standards of those in poverty; and if ever we needed smaller, faster, lighter, denser, cheaper, the time is now.

Mr. Bryce’s solution is “N2N,” a reliance on natural gas on the way to a more nuclear world. He is not the first to note that natural gas is relatively clean and available in extraordinary abundance. It generates electricity; it is the coming thing in propelling vehicles. Its use is already cutting CO2 emissions in the United States.

Mr. Bryce makes a case that nuclear power is clean and green and far superior to any other fuel in power density. His enthusiastic embrace of nuclear will astonish most readers, however, with his contention that the Fukushima Daiichi disaster in Japan should be seen as a boon to the revival of nuclear power, rather than an obstacle.

At Fukushima, three reactors melted down with a substantial release of radiation, forcing as many as 300,000 people from their homes, and leaving still unresolved problems of cleaning up massive amounts of radioactive water. And yet, Mr. Bryce writes, even though the plant was wrecked by one of the most powerful earthquakes ever to rock the planet, the World Health Organization has concluded that radiation exposure due to Fukushima was low. No lives were lost to radiation — at least none so far.

Mr. Bryce is decidedly bullish on America, not least because of what’s happening in the oil patch. America enjoys the cheapest power in the industrial world, at 12 cents a kilowatt hour versus 26 cents in Europe and 24 cents in Japan. It leads the world in natural gas production, nuclear production and refined oil output. Thanks to the oil shale, it could soon eclipse Saudi Arabia and Russia in crude oil.

“The best way to protect the environment is to get richer,” he asserts. “Wealthy countries can afford to protect the environment. Poor ones generally can’t.”

A version of this article appears in print on June 8, 2014, on page BU4 of the New York edition with the headline: Wind? Biofuels? Get Real, a Contrarian Says.

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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on May 22nd, 2014
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)

A Solar-backed Currency for the Refugees of Western Sahara.

By Mel Chin | Creative Time | April 30, 2014

 www.policyinnovations.org/ideas/i…

View of Smara, one of the Sahrawi refugee camps in Tindouf, Algeria. CREDIT: Mel Chin, 2011.

What the world needs now is the first Bank of the Sun.

The HSBC ads at Newark International Airport could not have been more appropriate for my trek to the Sahrawi refugee camps in Tindouf, Algeria. As I ambled through the jet bridge with my carry-on, color-coordinated images of demure North African women met my eyes, accompanied by some facts assembled by the bank—”0.3% of Saharan solar energy could power Europe”—and a self-aggrandizing but, for me, prescient message: “Do you see a world of potential? We do.”

It was the fall of 2011, and I was on a string of flights from North Carolina to Algeria to participate in an ARTifariti convening of international artists presenting human rights–related projects at the Algerian camps and in Western Sahara. During previous gatherings, a New York–based art critic had presented a slide show to international artists and Sahrawi refugees, sharing pieces by activist artists and filmmakers such as Ai Weiwei and Spike Lee. The get-togethers offered a forum to consider artists who might do a project in the camps.

And in the end, the refugees had chosen a Chinese Texan who had spearheaded Operation Paydirt’s Fundred Dollar Bill Project, an artwork that prompted Americans to draw their own versions of $100 bills (in order to raise awareness of and prevent childhood lead poisoning). Essentially they said, “Bring us the guy with the money.” So I packed my bags and left for the western lands of North Africa.

Mel Chin

Operation Paydirt’s Fundred Dollar Bill Project in St. Roch, New Orleans. CREDIT: Amanda Wiles, 2009.

At an unknown hour on a starless night, I arrived in the 27 February Camp—one of Algeria’s five Sahrawi refugee camps (named after the date in 1976 on which the Polisario Front declared the birth of the Sahrawi Democratic Arab Republic)—and was led to the home of our host, Abderrahman. As we entered his compound, the seasoned warrior, dressed in a blue darrâa, emerged from a UN tent, unfurled a carpet over the sand, ignited charcoal and began to prepare the customary tea for us. We attempted to translate from Hassaniya Arabic to Spanish to English over tea, getting a taste of enthusiastic nomad hospitality.

That night I heard firsthand the history of the Sahrawi people, who today are divided between Algerian refugee camps and a sliver of Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara that they call the “liberated territories.” For nearly four decades, warfare and political powers have trapped more than 150,000 Sahrawis in the camps and separated them from their family members in the liberated territories, which are bounded by the Moroccan wall to the west and Algeria’s border to the east.

When Morocco and Mauritania invaded Western Sahara in 1975 (Mauritania withdrew in 1979), they split up the land and seized the Sahrawis’ natural resources—water, rich fishing grounds and the world’s largest phosphate mine. Now, inhabiting either the arid, landlocked region of Western Sahara or the bare-bones camps of Algeria, the Sahrawi people depend entirely on international humanitarian aid for food, water and medicine. And while Western Sahara has none of the lead-poisoning problems of postindustrial America, its liberated territories have more landmines than any other place on the planet.

Mel Chin

In the tent of Abderrahman and his family. CREDIT: Mel Chin, 2011.

In the morning I awoke from this harrowing chronicle in a land of sand and rock that was brutally burnished by the sun—and I can guarantee that there was no bank in sight. I soon learned why the Sahrawi people were so interested in the Fundred Dollar Bill project: they have no currency of their own and deal mostly with Algerian dinars. In response, we created a background template for their currency, printed thousands of blank bills and distributed them through the camps, announcing a design opportunity. After we curated their drawings, the Sahrawis would vote on the designs for what might become their first currency.

The denominations for the currency, called “sollars,” were 5, 10, 20, 50 and 100. Children and teens drew the 5s and 10s; young adults, the 20s; and of course, the elders, the 100s. But the designs for the 50s would have two adult versions, one male and one female. The survivalist family culture that has emerged from the hostile desert climate has enforced a long-standing code of equality between the sexes. In a region where food is scarce and hot summer temperatures and freezing desert nights can kill, whoever survives the elements must be allowed equal rights in the tribe to barter and represent the family, regardless of religious dictates.

Mel Chin

The children’s school at the 27 February Camp. CREDIT: Mel Chin, 2011.

While I was in the camps, I came to understand that the symbolic and therapeutic benefits of designing the first Sahrawi currency with the refugees were not worthy enough goals. The Sahrawi people need a real economy. And to make that happen, the fictional currency I helped the refugees design had to be backed by something real and exchangeable on international markets.

As I mulled over the problem under the blazing sun, I realized that the desert holds the potential to bring Sahrawis economic and political independence—and the leverage necessary to help us all combat climate change.

What the world needs now is the first Bank of the Sun. The first solar energy–backed currency in the world could bring the Sahrawi people an independent economy and offer a major breakthrough in an environmental quagmire. We would create a new model of banking and currency, free from the dominance of gold and oil, for first-world countries to follow.

And this model would be delivered by the Sahrawi people, who have been waiting for freedom and self-determination for 39 years! By achieving worldwide renown for freeing people from hydrocarbon dependency, the Sahrawi could then barter with the global community for another form of independence: their right to self-determination.

Mel Chin Bank of the Sun Western SaharaFreedom is the concept propelling my action with the Sahrawi people. The sun on this poster for the Bank of the Sun is composed of the Arabic word for “freedom,” repeated 38 times—once for every year the Sahrawis have waited for the right to self-determination (as of last year). CREDIT: Mel Chin, 2013.

I admit that it was a pretty far-out and grand idea, but I suppose I did see a world of potential in Saharan solar energy, just like the jetway HSBC ad said. I was thinking like a bank.

After getting back from the Tindouf camps, I found myself in Texas, accepting a national award for my efforts in public art and, most likely, boring everyone with crazy talk about a Bank of the Sun in landmine-laced Western Sahara. My friends were more concerned about my diminishing sense of self-preservation than about anything I said—especially after I told them that my trip to Tifariti had been interrupted by the armed kidnapping of three foreign-aid workers from a neighboring refugee camp. They didn’t even entertain my ideas with any questions about how the bank idea could be pulled off.

As with most such gatherings, there was not much left to do after the award ceremony but drink and dance. So, with friends in tow, we honky-tonked through San Antonio, taking over a bar by the River Walk and proceeding to do what had to be done. While taking a break from the floor, I noticed a man about my age sitting at a table with a beer, tapping his feet to the bluesy beat. I had my posse pull him onto the floor. He began to move in a calculated way, like an engineer. Intrigued, I joined him and the party on the floor.

Over the din, I shouted, “What do you do?”

He shouted back, “I’m an engineer.”

“Really?” I asked. “What kind?”

“A solar engineer.”

I challenged Texas style: “So, ever heard of Western Sahara?”

Matter-of-factly he replied, “Yes, we designed a power station for the refugee camps there.”

For me, a light flicked on, burning away the haze of booze and turning the blaring R&B into a background of sweet birds; the bodies in frantic motion seemed to stand still. I urged him off the dance floor. He told me, in an Australian accent, that he was Dr. Richard Corkish, head of photovoltaic engineering at the University of New South Wales in Australia. Not only that—his colleague had just been in the same refugee camps I had visited, advising on how to power a women’s clinic. It was a profound coincidence, to say the least. We closed the bar, and I left clutching Dr. Corkish’s business card.

For me, a light flicked on, burning away the haze of booze and turning the blaring R&B into a background of sweet birds.

Since our night on the floor, Dr. Corkish has been an adviser to the Bank of the Sun, which is on its way to becoming a reality. He has assigned students the project as part of his curriculum and counseled us on the design of a modular, pragmatic stand-alone solar power plant in Western Sahara, as well as a cost-effective method for transmitting power. Following Corkish’s methodologies, we could generate more than enough energy for Sahrawi needs, creating a surplus to sell to neighboring countries or even to Europe. By working in the Western Sahara to retool our approach to energy, we would prove that the most advanced methods of solar-power storage and delivery are feasible even in a place with no infrastructure. The most appropriate technology for us all could be built from the sand up.

In February 2013 I discussed the project with Ahmad Bukhari, the Polisario representative to the United Nations, and later with Mohamed Yeslem Beisat, the ambassador to the United States for the Western Saharan people. Skeptical at first, they have both become advisers and creative collaborators.

To make the first Bank of the Sun a reality, we have to find a place where electricity can be generated that is both safe from armed conflict and close enough to someone interested in buying energy. Bukhari suggested placing the stand-alone solar power plant not in the camps but in Mijek, a nomadic outpost in the liberated territories. Mijek continues to be the most likely site because the energy could be sold to Zouérat, a town in northern Mauritania where an iron ore mine needs more power than is available. The Mauritanian ambassador recently confirmed that the country would buy any energy offered. I have started to seek funds for a fact-finding trek, during which I will finally step on the sands of Western Sahara.

Mel Chin

The site and plans for the potential Bank of the Sun. CREDIT: Mel Chin, 2013.

During my time in the Sahrawi refugee camps, I relearned a lesson I picked up in the flood-wracked and environmentally poisoned parts of New Orleans: you are not inspired by tragedy or human suffering—you are compelled.

My brilliant translator, a young man named Mohamed Sulaiman Labat, was born in the camps and has never traveled beyond his host country, Algeria, or the shameful wall of sand and explosives erected by Morocco in Western Sahara. Sulaiman is majestic in his capacity for optimism and his aptitude for imagining alternative futures based on ideas we discussed during my stay. On our last night together, he spoke with me about staring each night into the vast sky above the camps. He then asked, “No disrespect, but why is it so easy for an artist to see our need for justice when the rest of the world can’t?”

A question like that makes you think about what could be and about how our humanity is challenged if we don’t take action to amplify his question—and to force an answer.

———————–

This piece from Creative Time Reports is republished without trying to track down permission. Climate Reports is made possible by the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation. This series is produced in conjunction with the 2013 Marfa Dialogues/NY organized by Ballroom Marfa, the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation and the Public Concern Foundation. We hope that the authors will not mind our trying to publicize their very sound dream for a mos reasonable future. The only question is if the world will be enlightened enough to see that the true realists are the dreamers of today.

 

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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on May 16th, 2014
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)

 

Five Principles for Independent Media in 2014.

Friday, 16 May 2014  —  By Joe Macare and Maya Schenwar – respectably the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of  Truthout  – written as an Op-Ed piece.  We regard this as their professed CREDO, and post this at a time we realize – it has become justifiably hard for professional journalism to make ends meet if intent on providing the complete truth they know.

 

Today’s media landscape is constantly shifting. As the industry follows wider economic trends, steady writing jobs remain few and far between. Many talented reporters and critics move around from outlet to outlet in a largely freelance economy. The way audiences find news and analysis has also changed – more and more often, readers will follow those writers around, using social media feeds to find stories, rather than going directly to one web site (let alone one television network, radio station or print publication).

The line between “audience” and “media-makers” has eroded  amplifying voices and movements traditionally excluded from dominant journalistic platforms. Tweets and Facebook posts often travel farther and wider and faster than even the most “high-profile” newspaper articles.

 

As corporate media companies have scrambled to adapt, sometimes in the process offering platforms to people who disrupt the hegemony of the mainstream, new outlets have emerged which can’t be categorized as mainstream, yet, but don’t fit clearly into the mold of independent media either. Some of them openly tack still further to the right than corporate news (Free Beacon, for example, or the Breitbart News Network), while others have drawn criticism for the extent to which they seem dominated by the same, already overrepresented voices.

Meanwhile, at the same time as social media has become increasingly recognized – though certainly not by everyone – as Media with a capital M (media to be taken seriously), it has enabled the emergence of new critiques of all sections of media – or perhaps more accurately, it has amplified critiques that were not new but now for the first time are too loud to be ignored.

 

In light of these developments, what principles should independent media follow? If we want the things we say about ourselves to ring true in the landscape in which we find ourselves in 2014, how should we act, write and envision our mission and purpose?

 

 

The following are principles to which Truthout already strives to adhere, but which we now feel are important to articulate explicitly. We hope to help inform a conversation which has already begun, but which needs to move with some swiftness from one that is reactive to one that is proactive. We hope to gesture towards an independent media that serves the future – whether that’s five minutes from now or 50 years ahead of us – and the people who live in it.

 

 

1. Be Intentional

 

Independent media has, on occasion, erred on the side of declaring not just an appropriate independence from corporations or political parties, but an independence from causes, ideologies, convictions, even points of view.

 

Most of us are not afraid to admit, privately, that we have intentions and that these intentions are political.
But elsewhere, we feel we must make a point of insisting on our objectivity and balance, lest we be accused of partisanship or bias. This fear is not without substance:

Accusations of bias have been used to discredit independent media, defund public media, and even to end mainstream careers. One of the earliest things both of us were taught about journalism was that it should strive, at all (or most) costs,  for the grand ideal of “objectivity.”

 

Yet every time we retreat behind the shield of “objectivity,” something is lost.  In part, that’s because the corporate media is not afraid to openly side with those with the most power – whether it’s the partisan conservative ties of Fox News or the “progressive” DNC partisanship of MSNBC. Fortunately, more and more reporters, and other media-makers, espouse the view, as we do, that “the myth of ‘objective’ journalism is not only false, but also unhelpful.”  The next step, then, is to embrace being intentional.

 

For independent media, what does it mean to take a truly intentional approach? It means making decisions with an informed, wider context in mind and with clear social justice aims – both editorial decisions and decisions about our own practices. It means reframing and sometimes even discarding the idea of “bias;”  in fact, we all should be “biased” toward truth, justice and freedom.

 

For us, at Truthout, it means constantly asking about everything we publish, whether it’s an original piece or one reprinted from a partner publication: Why are we publishing this? What does it add – to Truthout, to the broader conversation, to the struggle for justice?

 

It means being intentional about what voices we quote and promote; being aware that if we do not make conscious choices, invisible privileges will lead to the continued predominance of white, male, abled, heterosexual, cisgender and well-off voices. It means acknowledging power dynamics and seeking, wherever possible, to confront power and to avoid the cheap and easy satisfaction of criticizing those who do not have it – punching up, not punching down.

 

It means taking a stand on some issues and making it clear we do not believe they are up for debate. For example, we are not interested in “debating” the rights of trans and non-binary people to determine their own gender, to be accepted as such and to be afforded the same rights and basic human decency as cisgender people. We won’t represent “both sides” of a debate about whether it’s justified for the US government to pre-emptively murder a teenage boy.

 

2. Be Humble

 

An emphasis on talking heads, definitive opinions, and sound bites on cable TV has perpetuated the idea that being indisputably right is the main goal of both journalism and public dialogue. This closes out opportunities for questioning, and imagining, and experimentation. Independent media must take responsibility and serve as a forum for creative thought concerning social justice.

 

Confidence that one is 100 percent right – or 100 percent knowledgeable – about everything in a given area should not be a precursor for being granted a voice or a platform. Indeed, it could be argued that 100 percent confidence is usually a good indicator that something is being distorted or overlooked. When challenging the status quo, sometimes the “answer” is not immediately available, because the structures necessary to build those answers are not yet in place.

 

We must admit that we don’t know everything.

 

Non-corporate media can and should provide a space to puzzle out possibilities for both dismantling current systems and paving new paths, and for this journey, humility is an essential ingredient.

 

This approach has almost immeasurable intellectual, political and professional value. Intellectually, it is far more likely to yield new insights than the current fad for “explainer” journalism that assumes both that its audience is ill-informed in the extreme, and that the best way to rectify that is to have the subject at hand broken down into bite-sized flash cards by a wonkish figure of authority. Politically, it will broaden our understanding of who gets to speak with authority.

 

Professionally, it will simply lead to better journalism – by almost any standards. Journalism is a field that’s grounded in inquiry, and with inquiry must come a willingness and a capacity to learn.  As we carry on our work as independent journalists, we should carry with us the mindset that the world has a lot to teach us – and that when it comes down to it, much of our job is simply to listen.

 

 

3. Be Bold

 

At the 2014 annual meeting of The Media Consortium, Rinku Sen (president and executive director of Race Forward and publisher of Colorlines) encouraged attendees to make two paradigmatic shifts. Firstly, to value not only those stories which prove to be great successes but also the ones read, seen or heard by only a handful of people;  secondly, to move from a framework of scarcity to one of abundance.

 

What do these ideas have to do with being bold?  The answer is that both can free us from a fear of failure that hampers the kind of journalism we could otherwise be producing.

 

Of course it’s only sensible and good for media outlets to look at data about our audiences, to keep track of what is most read and what’s having the biggest impact on the wider conversation and the wider world. But if our approach as writers and editors is tied too closely to chasing a bigger and bigger audience, and our desire to reach this audience is primarily tied to ensuring we stay funded, we are putting the cart before the horse in a way that risks falling into the same traps that hamstring the corporate media.

 

If we commit to covering stories that would otherwise go untold, it should be with the understanding that this is a worthwhile act in and of itself. If we commit to giving a voice to the voiceless, it cannot be conditional on the immediate popularity of what the voiceless have to say. While of course we want to amplify these voices and disseminate these stories to as many people as possible, and should always be refining our approach to do that as effectively as possible, one thing is inevitable: Some stories that are worth telling will not be well-received.

 

Taking risks and putting out ideas that might make some people uncomfortable, even angry, is the only way to move dialogues forward. (As we discuss below, however, too many media outlets are only interested in provoking anger and discomfort in people whose anger will generate attention, but is assumed ultimately not to matter.)

 

As part of this process, testing the bounds of what’s considered “journalism” – and who should be given a platform in a publication – is crucial. “ Journalism” cannot remain confined to a scroll of “professionals” enacting formulas and filling in the blanks with interviews. If independent media is to provide a genuine alternative to corporate media, we must free ourselves from the respectability politics that not only keeps marginalized people in the margins but also limits the quality and range of public discourse.

 

 

4. Be Accountable

 

Too often, media have strived to maintain an airy distance from critique, an almost patrician-like separation from the “mob” of social media, comments sections, the mass of reader feedback emails and similar forums. The fear has been, perhaps, that to make media accountable would mean opening the floodgates and allowing oneself to be held hostage to anyone with a grudge.

 

To be sure, as we have outlined above, a media outlet that committed to never making any reader or subject of a story unhappy would be a media outlet that never published anything of value. If we have already decided to be bold, we have already decided that we are going to upset somebody. But if we have already decided to be intentional, then we can make decisions about to whom we are accountable.

 

In fact, pretty much every media outlet out there already makes these decisions – it’s just that usually, they decide that the only people whose feedback is worth listening to are the ones who already hold the most power, money and influence. George Orwell famously defined journalism as “printing what someone else does not want printed,” adding “everything else is public relations” – this now seems to us somewhat incomplete without specifying that journalism is publishing what someone with power does not want to see the light of day. There is sadly no shortage of journalism that is happy to be combative and take people to task, but only when they are people already marginalized.

 

If we are intentional, if we have a clear ethical and political compass, and if we are bold, then we will be able to stick to our guns when we anger powerful, wealthy and high-profile men, but think carefully about what we might have done wrong if we upset marginalized communities – not the other way around.

 

This also requires us to think differently about the people for whom we are writing and publishing. Independent media must embrace and value readers, not only as “audiences” but as communities.

Since we aren’t working for profit, our work only has a point if we are serving our communities and developing alongside them. That service and development is a collaborative effort, and we must remain conscious of the spirit of our involvement as journalists.

 

We must always remain conscious of whose stories we’re telling, and the impact these stories will make on not only the larger public but on the subjects of our stories themselves.

We must not, in the name of “good journalism,” ignore the effects of that journalism on the people about whom we’re writing.

 

This means going beyond a legalistic outlook in which anything heard or printed in a public forum is fair game, and damn the consequences. It means acknowledging that by virtue of the platforms we have, most of us enjoy  “a tremendous privilege and an even greater responsibility,” and that, to quote Susie Cagle, “At the least, we should seek to minimize harm to those we use – and yes, we do use them – to tell stories and ultimately earn livelihoods for ourselves.”

 

 

5. Progress, Not Perfection

 

The term “progressive” has been batted around in recent years to mean a number of contradictory things, some of which simply connote maintaining the status quo and tweaking it around the edges or returning to a mythical golden age when life was good for everyone.  Journalists are uniquely positioned to provide an example of what it might mean instead to strive to be “progressive” in a different sense: committed to improving ourselves, our work and our society, but acutely aware of the inevitability of imperfection.

 

A strawman often invoked in recent years against efforts to hold media accountable, especially media that self-identifies as progressive, left-wing or feminist, is that critics are demanding an unreasonable and unachievable perfection.

 

It is true that perfection is unachievable. But the claim “nobody’s perfect!” is offered too frequently as a defense mechanism. It’s a knee-jerk resistance to criticism that many of us can recognize from arguments in our personal lives. Since nobody is perfect, the thinking goes, we should surely not have our shortcomings pointed out but rather our accomplishments praised. Since the bar is set so low, surely we have done enough.

 

What would the media culture look like if, instead, we took “nobody’s perfect” to mean that we acknowledged our own limitations, shortcomings and past mistakes – and instead of either denying them, downplaying them or being discouraged by them, resolved to learn from them?

 

It’s hard to say, because that isn’t the media culture we currently have. But it’s the one we’re trying to build, not with a wholly defined end in sight but as a continual process, working to carve our own media landscape, transforming as we go.

 

We can’t promise perfection. We don’t pretend this practice will be easy – that there won’t be times when important priorities conflict or when the needs of different communities clash (after all, “there are some very real tensions for us to hold in the face of overlapping systems of oppression“).  All we can do is make our best good-faith effort to be intentional, humble, bold and accountable, more so today – than yesterday – and even more so tomorrow – working with the conviction that a better media world is possible. Starting with Truthout.

—————–

Maya Schenwar

Maya Schenwar is Truthout’s Editor-in-Chief. Her book, Locked Down, Locked Out: Why Prison Doesn’t Work and How We Can Do Better, will be out from Berrett-Koehler Publishers in October. Follow her on Twitter: @mayaschenwar.

Previously, she was a senior editor and reporter at Truthout, writing on US defense policy, the criminal justice system, campaign politics, and immigration reform. Prior to her work at Truthout, Maya was contributing editor at Punk Planet magazine. She has also written for the Guardian, In These Times, Ms. Magazine, AlterNet, Z Magazine, Bitch Magazine, Common Dreams, the New Jersey Star-Ledger and others. She also served as a publicity coordinator for Voices for Creative Nonviolence. Maya is on the Board of Advisors at Waging Nonviolence.

Joe Macare

Joe Macaré is Truthout’s Publisher. Follow him on Twitter: @joemacare.

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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on February 21st, 2014
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)

 

Sons of Abraham: A Candid Conversation about the Issues That Divide and Unite Jews and Muslims.

Overview

A prominent rabbi and imam, each raised in orthodoxy, overcome the temptations of bigotry and work to bridge the chasm between Muslims and JewsRabbi Marc Schneier, the eighteenth generation of a distinguished rabbinical dynasty, grew up deeply suspicious of Muslims, believing them all to be anti-Semitic. Imam Shamsi Ali, who grew up in a small Indonesian village and studied in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, believed that all Jews wanted to destroy Muslims. Coming from positions of mutual mistrust, it seems unthinkable that these orthodox religious leaders would ever see eye to eye. Yet in the aftermath of 9/11, amid increasing acrimony between Jews and Muslims, the two men overcame their prejudices and bonded over a shared belief in the importance of opening up a dialogue and finding mutual respect. In doing so, they became not only friends but also defenders of each other’s religion, denouncing the twin threats of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia and promoting interfaith cooperation.

In Sons of Abraham, Rabbi Schneier and Imam Ali tell the story of how they became friends and offer a candid look at the contentious theological and political issues that frequently divide Jews and Muslims, clarifying erroneous ideas that extremists in each religion use to justify harmful behavior. Rabbi Schneier dispels misconceptions about chosenness in Judaism, while Imam Ali explains the truth behind concepts like jihad and Shari’a. And on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the two speak forthrightly on the importance of having a civil discussion and the urgency of reaching a peaceful solution.

As Rabbi Schneier and Imam Ali show, by reaching a fuller understanding of one another’s faith traditions, Jews and Muslims can realize that they are actually more united than divided in their core beliefs. Both traditions promote kindness, service, and responsibility for the less fortunate—and both religions call on their members to extend compassion to those outside the faith. In this sorely needed book, Rabbi Schneier and Imam Ali challenge Jews and Muslims to step out of their comfort zones, find common ground in their shared Abrahamic traditions, and stand together and fight for a better world for all.

Read More

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

Sons of Abraham represents the culmination of years of work by Rabbi Schneier, my partner at the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, Imam Ali, and myself to bring Muslims and Jews together all across the world.  Few people thought that these orthodox religious leaders could be friends, and even fewer believed their work would succeed, but Sons of Abraham shows how their friendship has created a model for a worldwide Muslim-Jewish reconciliation.”
—Russell Simmons, Chairman of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding and co-founder of Def Jam Records“Through a robust discussion of the history and mindsets that define both Judaism and Islam, Imam Shamsi Ali and Rabbi Marc Schneier offer that the truest illustration of faith lies not in traditions or a myopic approach to piety, but rather in a deeply held belief in one God, a concern for human dignity, and a commitment to mutual respect.  The authors—in their friendship and in their service—offer a rare example of cooperation and provide a beacon of hope as we pursue peace between peoples torn apart by millennia of misunderstanding and mistrust.  Sons of Abraham is a work of political, social, and religious significance and a roadmap for how we should and can move forward.”
—Congressman André Carson

“In this book my friends Rabbi Marc Schneier and Imam Shamsi Ali show us that Muslims and Jews are not enemies, but friends who are united by our belief in a monotheistic god and our lineage to our forefather Abraham. The Rabbi and Imam’s friendship is a reminder that peace and friendship are possible between our peoples.”
—S. Daniel Abraham, Chairman, Center for Middle East Peace  

Read More

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780807033074
  • Publisher: Beacon
  • Publication date: 9/17/2013
  • Pages: 240
  • Sales rank: 291,633

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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on February 1st, 2014
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)

 

Launch media viewer
Robert M. Gates in April 2011 on a visit to Irbil, Iraq, as secretary of defense. His new memoir covers his service under Presidents Bush and Obama. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Robert M. Gates gives us a forthright, impassioned, sometimes conflicted account of his four and a half years as defense secretary in his fascinating new memoir “Duty,” a book that is highly revealing about decision making in both the Obama and Bush White Houses.

Mr. Gates — who has won plaudits from both Republicans and Democrats over the years for his pragmatic, common-sense approach to his job — has a doctorate in Russian and Soviet history, was director of central intelligence in the early ’90s, and worked under eight presidents. His writing is informed not only by a keen sense of historical context, but also by a longtime Washington veteran’s understanding of how the levers of government work or fail to work.

Unlike many careful Washington memoirists, Mr. Gates speaks his mind on a host of issues, freely expressing his dismay with the micro-managerial zeal of White House national security aides and his unfettered fury at a dysfunctional Congress. The majority of it, he says, is “uncivil, incompetent in fulfilling basic constitutional responsibilities,” “hypocritical, egotistical” and eager to put “self (and re-election) before country.”

Launch media viewer
Alessandra Montalto/The New York Times

Some of his more detailed descriptions of debates within the administration over Afghanistan will be of interest mainly to Washington policy wonks. They can be read as Mr. Gates’s efforts to set the record straight or to take issue with accounts already in print, like in Bob Woodward’s 2010 book “Obama’s Wars.” But while his overall portraits of Mr. Obama (“the most deliberative president I worked for”) and George W. Bush (he “had strong convictions about certain issues, such as Iraq, and trying to persuade him otherwise was a fool’s errand”) are familiar enough, they are fleshed out with myriad, telling glimpses of the two men at work. Mr. Gates — whose nickname in the Obama White House was Yoda — also gives us his shrewd take on a range of foreign policy matters, an understanding of his mission to reform the incoherent spending and procurement policies of the Pentagon, and a tactile sense of what it was like to be defense secretary during two wars. (For security reasons, he traveled to Iraq inside “a sort of large silver Airstream trailer” placed in the hold of a military cargo plane, which, he says, felt “a lot like being FedExed halfway around the world.”)

Headlines have already been made by passages in this book relating to Mr. Obama’s stewardship of the war in Afghanistan. Mr. Gates writes that while he “never doubted Obama’s support for the troops,” he did question his support for their mission there. From early on, he writes, there was suspicion in the White House that the president was “getting the ‘bum’s rush’ from senior military officers” over the question of a troop increase in Afghanistan, and that that suspicion grew over time.

During a heated March 2011 meeting, Mr. Gates says, the president suggested he was possibly “being gamed” by the military. Listening to this, Mr. Gates says he thought, “The president doesn’t trust his commander,” Gen. David H. Petraeus, “can’t stand” the Afghan president Hamid Karzai, “doesn’t believe in his own strategy, and doesn’t consider the war to be his. For him, it’s all about getting out.”

Such widely quoted bits of the book — now being dissected on TV — give the impression that as a whole it is less nuanced and measured than it actually is. In fact, Mr. Gates seems less intent on settling scores here than in trying candidly to lay out his feelings about his tenure at the Pentagon and his ambivalent, sometimes contradictory thoughts about the people he worked with.

He writes that he found President Obama’s methodical approach to problem solving “refreshing and reassuring,” and commends his ability to make tough decisions “regardless of the domestic political consequences.” But he also talks about coming close to resigning, feeling “deeply uneasy with the Obama White House’s lack of appreciation — from the top down — of the uncertainties and inherent unpredictability of war.” In a note to himself, he wrote: “They all seem to think it’s a science.”

Mr. Gates says he found it dismaying to hear Hillary Rodham Clinton talk about her opposition to the 2007 surge in Iraq in terms of domestic politics and the Iowa primary. But in another passage, he praises her as “smart, idealistic but pragmatic, tough minded, indefatigable, funny, a very valuable colleague, and a superb representative of the United States all over the world.”

Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. does not fare as well. Mr. Gates says Mr. Biden is “impossible not to like” though, in his opinion, Mr. Biden “has been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades.”

Launch media viewer
Clockwise from top left, Ehud Olmert, the former prime minister of Israel; King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia; Denis McDonough, the White House chief of staff; and Ben Rhodes, the deputy national security adviser for strategic communications. Clockwise from top left: Nicholas Kamm/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images; Pool photo by Brendan Smialowski; Charles Dharapak/Associated Press; Jim Bourg/Reuters 

Mr. Obama’s national security aides like Denis McDonough and Ben Rhodes are singled out for some of Mr. Gates’s most stinging criticism. He suggests that such advisers were often “out of their depth” in foreign policy and military matters, and blurred the chain of command by circumventing more senior officials. In this respect, this book echoes the journalist James Mann’s 2012 book “The Obamians,” which argued that the president leaned heavily on an inner circle of young aides who had been with him through his 2008 campaign, while keeping more experienced hands at a distance.

The Obama White House, Mr. Gates writes, was “by far the most centralized and controlling in national security of any I had seen since Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger ruled the roost.” He adds that its “controlling nature” and “its determination to take credit for every good thing that happened while giving none to the people in the cabinet departments — in the trenches — who had actually done the work, offended Hillary Clinton as much as it did me.”

Mr. Gates points out continuities in national security policies between Mr. Bush’s second term and Mr. Obama’s first. And he notes other similarities between the two presidents: both “had the worst of both worlds on the Hill: they were neither particularly liked nor feared” and did little to reach out to individual members of Congress; nor did either “work much at establishing close personal relationships with other world leaders.” In short, both seemed “very aloof with respect to two constituencies important to their success in foreign affairs.”

Regarding the Bush administration, the most compelling parts of this book concern Iran and Mr. Gates’s worries about “the influence of the Israelis and the Saudis” on the White House, particularly the Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert and King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and “their shared desire to have problems like Iran ‘taken care of’ while Bush was still president.” Mr. Gates repeatedly warned of the dangers of “looking for another war” when America was already at war in Iraq and Afghanistan. At one point, he says, he was so worried that Mr. Bush might be persuaded by Vice President Dick Cheney and Mr. Olmert “to act or enable the Israelis to act” (that is, to take military action to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon) that he made an intense private call to Mr. Bush in which he argued “we must not make our vital interests in the entire Middle East, the Persian Gulf and Southwest Asia hostage to another nation’s decisions — no matter how close an ally.”

Mr. Gates says little more about Mr. Cheney’s influence in the White House, observing that by 2007 the vice president “was the outlier on the team” with President Bush, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley “and me in broad agreement on virtually all important issues.” He is also curiously elliptical when it comes to his predecessor at the Pentagon, Donald H. Rumsfeld, whom he replaced in December 2006. Instead, he talks in more general terms about the chaotic war in Iraq he inherited, writing that he was “stunned by what I saw as amazing bungling after the initial military success.” He also confides that Mr. Bush told him in January 2008 that “he wished he’d made the change in secretary of defense ‘a couple of years earlier.’ It was the only thing I ever heard him say even indirectly critical of Rumsfeld.”

Critics of the Bush administration, he writes, fail to understand the sense of fear and urgency that Sept. 11 left on the White House. He adds, though, that “the key question for me was why” several years later, with improved defenses in place, “there was not a top-to-bottom review of policies and authorities with an eye to culling out those that were most at odds with our traditions, culture, and history, such as renditions and ‘enhanced interrogations.’ ” He says that in the summer of 2008, he and Ms. Rice argued “for an aggressive effort to get legislation that would permit us to close” Guantánamo Bay prison but did not prevail.

Mr. Gates is at his most emotional — and moving — in talking about his love for the men and women who serve in the military. “Signing the deployment orders, visiting hospitals, writing the condolence letters and attending the funerals at Arlington all were taking a growing emotional toll on me,” he writes near the end of this plain-spoken memoir. “Even thinking about the troops, I would lose my composure with increasing frequency. I realized I was beginning to regard protecting them — avoiding their sacrifice — as my highest priority. And I knew that this loss of objectivity meant it was time to leave.”

In retrospect, Mr. Gates says, his time as secretary of defense reinforced his “belief that in recent decades, American presidents, confronted with a tough problem abroad, have too often been too quick to reach for a gun — to use military force” even though “wars are a lot easier to get into than out of.”

DUTY
Memoirs of a Secretary at War
By Robert M. Gates
Illustrated. 618 pages. Alfred A. Knopf. $35.

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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on January 12th, 2014
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)

 

 

CTMD Upcoming Events

 

Center for Traditional Music and Dance & Verite sou Tanbou present

Verite Sou Tanbou   

VODOU IS NATURE!

A conversation about Vodou and the Environment

followed by a Vodou singing session

 

WITH SPECIAL GUESTS

 

OUNGAN DIEUDONNÉ JEAN-JACQUES

AND

MANBO MARIE CARMEL

 


Sunday, Jan 19th, 6:30PM
138 South Oxford Street, 2nd Floor
Brooklyn, NY
FREE ADMISSION – PRIOR RSVP IS REQUIRED
(Kindly RSVP by January 18th to econdon@ctmd.org.
Your RSVP will be confirmed via e-mail.)
The Center for Traditional Music and Dance and its Haitian Community Cultural Initiative, Verite sou Tanbou (formerly known as Ayiti Fasafas), invite you to “Vodou Is Nature,” an educational workshop on Haitian Vodou practice and performance in New York City. Oungan (Vodou priest) Dieudonné Jean-Jacques and Manbo (Vodou Priestess) Marie Carmel will lead a conversation discussing the roots of Haitian Vodou with respect to the environment, in its “four elements” (air, earth, fire, and water), and the Vodou spirits (lwa) which guard and represent the powerful forces and precious resources of the natural world.  The conversation will be translated into English and Kreyol and will be followed by a question-and-answer session, plus a performance of traditional Vodou songs on nature themes. Audience participation is encouraged!
WikiCommons Tree

  

FOR UP-TO-THE-MINUTE SUBWAY DIRECTIONS VISIT WWW.HOPSTOP.COM

Verite sou Tanbou image design by Kesler Pierre.     kp@keslerpierre.com

Roots/water photo by Pam Fray, 2007 (public domain via Wikimedia Commons).

Support for this program is provided to the Center for Traditional Music and Dance and Verite sou Tanbou by the National Endowment for the Arts, New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature, and New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, Con Edison, the Emma A. Sheafer Charitable Trust, the Fan Fox and Leslie R. Samuels Foundation, the Gilder Foundation, the Hearst Foundation, the Mertz Gilmore Foundation and the Scherman Foundation.

Find out more about CTMD!
For more information about upcoming events, what’s happening in New York City’s traditional music and dance scene, to join or to donate, go to CTMD’s website.  

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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on December 28th, 2013
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)

 

From Daniel Pipes of Middle East Forum about his new book

“Islam and Bebop Jazz”

 

Dear Reader:

To commemorate the publication of this look at the connections of Islam to jazz, I posted today “Bibliography – My Writings on Music and Islam.” It contains nine items. 

Yours sincerely,

Daniel Pipes

Islam and Bebop Jazz

by Daniel Pipes
December 27, 2013

www.danielpipes.org/blog/2013/12/islam-and-bebop-jazz

The passing of Al-Hajj Dr. Yusef Abdul Lateef, 93, on Dec. 23 in Massachusetts brings to mind the exotic, semi-forgotten influence of Islam on the American music scene in the 1950s, when Islam, and specifically Ahmadiyya Islam, was cool.

Lateef was born William Emanuel Huddleston on Oct. 9, 1920, in Chattanooga and grew up in Detroit, where his father changed the family name to Evans. He began as a saxophonist in 1946, then went on to play the flute, oboe, bassoon, and many other instruments. In a very long and important career, he made music with such renowned figures as Cannonball Adderley, Donald Byrd, Dizzy Gillespie, and Charles Mingus, as well as being a band leader in his own right.

 

Yusef Abdul Lateef died at 93 on Dec. 23, 2013.

Lateef become one of the first black jazz musicians to associate with Islam, converting in 1948 and changing his name at that time, then twice going on the pilgrimage to Mecca and writing a PhD dissertation in 1975 titled “An Overview of Western and Islamic Education.” As an implicit indication of his piety, from 1980 on he banned alcohol from his performances.

Missionaries of the small Ahmadiyya movement out of Pakistan had eye-popping success among leading jazz musicians of the 1950s, converting in addition to Lateef such luminaries as Nuh Alahi, Art Blakey (Abdullah Ibn Buhaina), Fard Daleel, Mustafa Daleel (Oliver Mesheux), Talib Daoud, Ahmad Jamal (Fritz Jones), Muhammad Sadiq, Sahib Shihab (Edmund Gregory), Dakota Staton (Aliya Rabia), and McCoy Tyner (Sulaiman Saud).

 

Dakota Staton, aka Aliya Rabia (1930-2007).

Superstars whispered to have converted included John Coltrane (who first married a Muslim), Dizzy Gillespie (whose band included several Muslims), Charlie Parker (Abdul Karim), and Pharaoh Sanders (whose work contains Muslim themes). One listing of Muslim jazz players contains about 125 names. These musicians preferred to perform at clubs owned by fellow Muslims, many of whom hailed from the Caribbean.

In short, Islam was the unofficial religion of bebop.

The musicians turned to Islam in part for genuine religious reasons; in part because (in the words of 1953 Ebony article), “Islam breaks down racial barriers and endows its followers with purpose and dignity”; and in part because Islam served them as a mark of distinction in a United States where Muslim numbered only about 100,000 out of a population of 150 million.

Comments:

(1) This connection contains a certain irony, given Islam’s dubious and sometimes directly hostile attitude toward music. For example, when the singer British Cat Stevens first converted to Islam in 1977, he stopped recording music for two decades. For a time in 2010, Somali Islamists not only banned all music but even school bells. Their counterparts in Mali in 2013 banned mobile phone ringtones.

(2) Ahmadis also harbor reservations about music, especially what they call pop music (which presumably includes jazz): Replying to a question on this topic, Mirza Tahir Ahmad, the fourth caliph of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community, replied in 2010:

it all depends on the degree of the habit and the nature of the music. The music in itself, as a whole, cannot be dubbed as bad. … In these things it is a matter of taste. … as far as pop music is concerned I don’t know how people can tolerate that! Just sheer nonsense! I don’t disrespect music altogether, because I know the classical music had some nobility in it. … the taste left behind by this modern “so-called music” is ugly and evil, and the society under its influence is becoming uglier and more permissive, more careless of the traditional values, so this music is obviously evil and sinful. … an occasional brush with music which draws you into itself at the cost of higher values, at the cost of memory of Allah, at the cost of prayers, where you are taken over by music and that becomes all your ambition and obsession; if that happens then you are a loser, obviously.

(3) The Islam of the bebop era enhanced the musicians’ cool factor and was apolitical.

(4) That stands in sharp contrast to American Muslim music of subsequent years, which is characterized by alienation and anger. In the 1990s, for example, the Nation of Islam could count on the support of Ice Cube, King Sun, KMD, Movement X, Queen Latifa, Poor Righteous Teachers, Prince Akeem, Sister Souljah, and Tribe Called Quest. The Five Percenters, a splinter group of the Nation, had Grand Puba, Big Daddy Kane, Eric B. and Rakim, and Lakim Shabazz in its corner. Normative Islam also had a smattering of artists such as Soldiers of Allah. Mattias Gardell, a biographyer of Louis Farrakhan, finds that the “hip-hop movement’s role in popularizing the message of black militant Islam cannot be overestimated.” (December 27, 2013)

 

Louis Farrakhan was a talented violinist when young and still Eugene Walcott. He made his mark in the late 1950s with theatrical and musical creations, the only ones the Nation of Islam countenanced in its early decades.

 This text may be reposted or forwarded so long as it is presented as an integral whole with complete and accurate information provided about its author, date, place of publication, and original URL.

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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on December 14th, 2013
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)

 

 

I recognized the stories from decades of living in the East End of London.
There are fifty thousand homeless people in New York City and 22,000 homeless children.
Governments across the world have abandoned their poorer or disadvantaged citizens to their fate.
I didn’t find this story either hopeful or pleasant but I read it carefully.

I congratulate EKATERINA LOUSHNIKOVA on this piece of work.

 

 

The lower depths in Russia today.

Over a century after Maksim Gorky’s famous play about homeless people – ‘The Lower Depths’ – Ekaterina Loushnikova has been looking around her home city of Kirov to see if anything has changed.

 

The church porch

I stood in the porch of Kirov’s St Serafim’s church, a traditional place for beggars to congregate. I wasn’t asking for anything, but someone handed me two roubles (about 4p). Ordinary Russians are kindhearted and I didn’t turn it down. I passed it on to my new acquaintance, an elderly woman in a flower-patterned headscarf sitting on a wooden box that once contained fruit. Lyudmila Petrovna is eighty years old, and begs for alms outside the church during morning and evening services. She doesn’t get a lot – it’s a rare day that she collects one hundred roubles (just less than two pounds sterling) – but people also bring her food: bread, toffees, biscuits, pea soup in a glass jar. Lyudmila Petrovna is cheered by their offerings, and asks each of them if there’s someone they’d like her to pray for.


Lyudmila Petrovna on the church porch. Cast out of her apartment by her own family,
Lyudmila is now forced to supliment her pension with begging.. Photo (c) Ekaterina Loushnikova.

Lyudmila Petrovna rarely collects as much as 100 roubles (just less than £2), but people also bring her food… and she offers to pray for them in return.

The elderly woman has a monthly pension of 6000 roubles (£110); the average Russian earns about 30,000 roubles (£550) a month.
A third of Lyudmila Petrovna’s money goes on the rent for a room in a communal flat in a nearby jerry-built block; the rest has to meet all her needs for the month. In Kirov, bread costs 20 roubles, potatoes 30, milk also 30, tea 40, and sugar 50 roubles. You can survive, of course, but you can forget about buying meat, sausage, fish, eggs and other non-essentials, and you buy any clothes you need in the second-hand shop. Here, amongst a heap of clothing from Europe and the US, Lyudmila Petrovna finds a frilled linen skirt ‘made in Germany’, a Dutch-made jacket and American shoes, which are two sizes too big but will be fine if she wears three pairs of socks with them. She can buy the socks here too, and the whole lot sets her back about 500 roubles. The old lady is as pleased as punch at finding such cheap stuff from European countries she has never seen.

‘Lyudmila Petrovna,’ I ask, ‘do you know where Holland is?’

‘I couldn’t tell you exactly’, she replies, ‘but I know it’s in Europe. I used to get good marks for geography! I was a good learner; I had ten years of school.’

Down and out

Before she retired, Lyudmila Petrovna was a postwoman, but she’s not keen on talking about the years when she worked and had her own flat – or about her children and grandchildren either. ‘They said, “Go and stay with relatives or somebody, Ma… or we’ll put you in a care home. You’re in the way here, you get on our nerves with your preachifying.” I’d already transferred the flat to their names. I went to stay with my sister but it didn’t work out, so I came back, and was homeless. Sometimes I’d sleep in an attic, sometimes in a cellar, sometimes right on the street under a tree. People would beat me up, boys would throw stones at me, the police would pick me up and throw me in a cell, then they’d let me go – this happened over and over again. But what could they do with me? The children had taken my name off the register for the flat, but if I wasn’t registered anywhere I couldn’t get my pension. I was living off bread and holy water from St Tryphon’s well.’

‘They said, “Go and stay with relatives or somebody, Ma… or we’ll put you in a care home. You’re in the way here, you get on our nerves with your preachifying.”’

Lyudmila Petrovna didn’t go to the social services. She was too embarrassed about her tattered clothes, her hands black with dirt, and the rumbling in her hungry stomach, and even more about her inconsolable grief. Sorrow doesn’t like company: it prefers solitude, wrapped in a cocoon of tears that have dried to a crust around the heart. Many people find consolation in a bottle of wine, but you don’t get much wine or vodka in a church porch. What they drink here is hawthorn berries and hot peppers infused in spirit from a chemist’s shop or hardware store – cheap and cheerful at thirty roubles a bottle. It’s not something you can drink for long: after a couple of years your skin turns yellow and becomes ulcerated, you lose your feet, then your memory, and finally your right to be called human. If a living corpse like this is lucky, they get picked up and taken to a drug dependency unit or a psychiatric clinic; if not, it’s straight to the cemetery for burial at government expense. While homeless people are alive they survive whatever way they can. They try to avoid contact with social services and charities, thinking that instead of help they’ll end up with servitude.

A saviour appears

Lyudmila Petrovna was lucky – she was saved by a happy marriage. ‘I got married when I was eighty. My suitor lived in the block of flats next to the church, and would come and sit in the porch with us for a chat. The old fellow was lonely – all his family had died or moved away. But he was nearly ninety, and one day he said, “If only someone would come and help me a bit at home. I haven’t washed the dishes for three years; my porridge is full of grubs; I put my laundry to soak last year and never got round to washing it, and the neighbours are cursing me day and night because of the smell.” So I went round and did a bit of washing and cleaning for him. Then one day I said, “Well, you might give me a bit of floor and a coat to sleep on, it’ll be warmer than the street”. And he said, “You may as well come and live with me. I’m fond of you.”

Off we went to the registry office, all dressed up – him in a jacket with all his war medals on, and me in a nice flowery dress and I even put lipstick on, believe it or not!

‘He registered me at the flat, so I could claim my pension. But our happy life together didn’t last long. My old man’s health started going – if it wasn’t his heart it was his blood pressure; and I’d be phoning for the ambulance every day. One day he proposed to me: “Let’s get married, love. You never know when I’ll die.” So off we went to the registry office, all dressed up – him in a jacket with all his war medals on, and me in a nice flowery dress and I even put lipstick on, believe it or not! We arrived and they said they couldn’t marry us straight away: “You might change your minds, just wait for a month to be sure of your feelings for each other”. So we waited a month and went back, and this time we got married. We didn’t have what you’d call a proper wedding; we had tea and sweets and I baked a cake. I don’t drink wine, but I gave some to the winos to warm the cockles of their hearts on our special day. Everyone drank to us and wished us a long and happy life together, but my old fellow died not long afterwards. The drunks in the porch didn’t even have time to dry out – one day they were drinking to his health, the next to his eternal rest.’

Lyudmila Petrovna has a photo album to remind her of her husband, as well as his jacket with the medals, and, most importantly, a roof over her head. She’s also adopted a stray dog called Naida, and the two of them live happily together.

People of No Permanent Abode

Splavnaya Street still has wooden pavements from the time of the Second World War, and is lined with cheap one-storey wooden housing blocks of the same era, probably built by German prisoners of war. The only stone building in the area is the rather grandly named Centre for the Rehabilitation of People of No Permanent Abode or Occupation. Here the social services give homeless people a warm bed with clean sheets, a hot shower and a packed lunch consisting of pasta, vegetable oil, sugar, tea and instant Chinese noodles. There’s no meat for the homeless. It’s also not supposed to become a permanent place of residence: the rules state that you can spend the night there but in the morning you have to go to work. However, many of the people there are unemployed, and some are disabled as well. Aleksei, who was brought up in a children’s home, lost his toes to frostbite when he lived in an unheated hut. The 37-year-old, who looks 20 years younger, has nothing: no father or mother, no place to live, no work, no money – just a younger sister who has a bed in the next room. This is their home; they have nowhere else to go. And there are many like them. The centre has fifty permanent residents and no room for any more.


Former Lieutenant-Colonol Nicholas took to drinking while serving in Vietnam, Afghanistan and Chechnya.
His wife has left him and he now spends his days in the rehabilitation centre. Photo (c) Ekaterina Loushnikova.

‘Don’t take my photo!’ warns Valera, a thin man of indeterminate age with a swarthy impassive face. It’s not hard to tell that he’s spent a lot of his life behind bars; and indeed he recently left prison after serving a 20-year sentence. What for? Robbery, burglary – all sorts, but no, he’d never killed anyone.

‘Do you have a family, any relatives?’

‘Not a soul’, he tells me, ‘no relatives, no friends, no home. Just me. So I’m living here for the time being.’

It feels as though the ex-con is finding it difficult to get used to freedom. He needs to start a new life, but how do you do that if you’ve spent 20 years behind bars? After struggling on the outside for a few months or a couple of years, former prisoners usually revert to crime just to get back home – to jail.

Some have a bit of luck. One of Valera’s roommates, another ex-con, has found a job in the north. His name is Alexander and he did time for murder.

If only I can stay off the bottle!’ he says in the tone of a man who is doomed to suffering or some other unavoidable disaster.

‘Yeah, I stabbed one of my colleagues with a knife. I’d had too much to drink. They gave me 15 years, and I served every day. But now I’m out I’m starting a new life. My mother’s in a care home and I have two sons. I have no contact with one of them – his mother has a new family now and she doesn’t want to see me. But my elder son, from an earlier marriage, is doing his military service, and when he finishes he might join me. My mother can come and live with us too. If only I can stay off the bottle!’ he says in the tone of a man who is doomed to suffering or some other unavoidable disaster.

A retired KGB Lieutenant-Colonel

In the next room I meet a man who is in such a state of chronic insobriety that it’s impossible to tell when he last drank – this morning, yesterday, the day before – or whether his breath just permanently reeks of alcohol. He unexpectedly introduces himself as Nicolas, in the French manner, and he turns out to be a retired KGB Lieutenant-Colonel. ‘I served in Vietnam, Afghanistan, Chechnya’, he tells me. ‘Carried out government instructions. I have medals to show for it – and wounds. I started drinking on active service – war drives you to all sorts of things. But that’s it – I’m quitting. I’ve made my mind up.’

‘Do you get any visitors here?’

‘Yes, my wife came to see me yesterday, but she’s found someone else, she’s left me. Are you married? I’m still a young man, after all;’ and the retired colonel winks at me provocatively.


One-time murderer and career criminal, Yury Flegontovich now works as a religious activist. Photo (c) Ekaterina Loushnikova

I’ve never had so many conversations about marriage as in this homeless centre and the prisons I’ve visited. It’s like a dream of paradise for them. ‘I long to meet someone and have a family. There’s nothing worse than loneliness,’ says a talkative, plumpish man as he gets up from his bed, introducing himself as Yury Flegontovich. ‘Wait a minute while I get dressed and I’ll tell you everything about my life. I have such a tale to tell you!’

‘Wait a minute while I get dressed and I’ll tell you everything about my life. I have such a tale to tell you!’

I hear his ‘tale’ in the centre’s library. Its shelves are full of books by Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Chekhov, Durrenmatt and Cortázar, as well as contemporary detective fiction, but my new acquaintance’s life beats them all. He arrives for his appointment with a journalist in an expensive suit, a silk shirt and a colourful tie complete with tiepin.

‘I now work for the Church of the New Testament [an evangelical protestant church] but I used to be a professional criminal’, he begins. ‘When I was young I messed about a fair bit – thieved, murdered, beat people up, went to prison once or twice. The first time I got sent down I was 18 – I roughed up a cop and got two years for it. When I came out I got my own gang together, and we stole cars, took the windscreens off. Did good business! Then I got sent down again, this time to a high security place. Came out of there, and started thieving and murdering again. I don’t know how many people I killed. Our boss was a guy known as “Cheburashka” [after a children’s TV cartoon character], but then I set up my own business dealing in stolen precious metal goods. I had loads of money, a car, a flat – but I lost it all playing the machines in casinos. They tried to kill me and they buried me alive, but I managed to scrabble my way out.

I set up my own business dealing in stolen precious metal goods. I had loads of money, a car, a flat – but I lost it all playing the machines in casinos.

‘I repented of my sins and became a pilgrim – I walked 7,000 kilometres around holy places, churches and monasteries. The one that made a particular impression on me was the Holy Trinity monastery in Perm, where I walked into a cell to find one monk had pulled up another monk’s habit and was buggering him like there was no tomorrow! And he didn’t even stop when I came in – he just said, “Brother, you should knock before you come in.” I left the next day and went off the Orthodox Church. We have people living here in the Centre that were buggered in prison [and so considered the lowest of the low in the prison hierarchy], and you need to be careful around them. You can help them, but don’t shake their hands!’

‘I’ve been shaking everyone’s hand!!!’ I cried in horror. Yury Flegontovich gave me a look of sympathy. ‘You’d better wash your hands with household soap then. Of course you’re a woman, not a bloke, but wash them anyway. You could catch some kind of itch or heaven knows what – they’re all tramps here, after all. In Perm I used to crash out in a shaft at a district heating plant, and I’d wake up in the morning on top of a thick black pile of cockroaches, all crawling around under me. Men and women would be sitting around eating and drinking, and there’d be a stinking corpse lying in the corner. No one had even thought about burying it!

‘And listen to what I saw here yesterday. There was a fight between an amputee and his girlfriend, who’s completely off her head. She had epilepsy and it’s turned into schizophrenia. She bashed him over the head with his own crutch, and he broke a stool over her. When the manager found out he threw them both out. He’s a strict man, but fair.’

Managing – just…

The Centre’s manager is Vladimir Zmeyev, a retired Lieutenant Colonel of police from Soviet times. He began his career as a police officer attached to the women’s department of a sexual health clinic, and later was in charge of detention centres and sobering-up stations for arrestees and alcoholics. Now he runs a homeless centre. Such is life. There’s never a dull moment.

‘My predecessor here was a woman, who sometimes had to hide under her desk when inmates got rough…. ’

‘My predecessor here was a woman, who sometimes had to hide under her desk when inmates got rough,’ he tells me. ‘One of our employees even got murdered by a homeless guy. The member of staff made some critical remark to him, and he grabbed a knife and stabbed him. The blade pierced his lung and he died instantly…’

The dead man’s wife still works at the Centre. She is coming up to retirement age so it’s not easy to find another job. Not that it’s easy here – staff salaries are sometimes lower than the wages of some residents. A construction worker, even if he’s a former tramp, can earn up to thirty thousand roubles a month, while an administrative worker at the Centre can’t earn more than five thousand, and there’s nothing they can do about it, that’s the rate for the job. Staff usually have two jobs, just to survive. After the murder, CCTV cameras were installed everywhere – a mouse would find it difficult to avoid them, but experienced ex-cons can and do.


A new arrival to the centre. Having fallen on hard times, he had taken to drinking fufyrika, a chemist-grade pepper lotion. Kirov, a city of 473,000 people, has about 2,000 homeless residents. Photo (c) Ekaterina Loushnikova

‘They still bring in drink and food, from who knows where,’ laments Vladimir Zmeyev. ‘We can’t feed them properly here. We have an annual budget of just 150,000 roubles (£3,000) for food and drink. But we do get donations and residents who are earning well help the rest out. We’ve had businessmen, bureaucrats, intellectuals; all kinds of military people living here. I remember one police officer that spent a long time working in Chechnya and came home to find his wife had left him for someone else. He did the right thing by her – didn’t take her to court over the flat, left her everything and went to live in a vault in the cemetery. Started to drink of course – his friends brought him here.’

‘And do people really get back on their feet after coming here?’ I asked.

‘Unfortunately, most of them go back to where they came from – cellars, doorways, heating plant shafts. They stay here for the winter, but as soon as it gets warmer they’re off. What can you do, it’s their decision.’

As I’m leaving I see one more sight. They’ve just signed in a new resident. His face is covered in bruises and ulcers, he has the watery blue eyes of a habitual drunkard, and the look of someone who no longer expects anything out of life…

The Centre staff fuss around the newcomer; they will wash him, give him medical treatment, delouse his clothes, establish his identity and renew his papers, but how can they re-establish his life, half of which is already lost?

Back at home, I spend a long time washing my hands with household soap, and wipe them with disinfectant, just in case. After all, you can’t avoid yourself…

 

 

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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on December 2nd, 2013
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)

 

 

EXIL: BRUCHSTÜCKE UND LEBENSMODELLE

JULYA RABINOWICH IN TEXT UND GESPRÄCH.

 

 

Julya Rabinowich: österreichische Schriftstellerin, Dramatikerin, Malerin und Simultandolmetscherin.

 

Moderation: Isolde Charim, Autorin und Philosophin

Anmeldungen unter:

Tel.: 3188260/20

Fax: 318 82 60/10

e-mail: einladung.kreiskyforum@kreisky.org

Melitta Campostrini
Bruno Kreisky Forum
for International Dialogue
Armbrustergasse 15
www.kreisky-forum.org

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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on December 2nd, 2013
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)

 

Media Decoder

Turning to Public to Back Investigative Journalism.

If you suspect your local town government is corrupt, would you pay a journalist to investigate?
We re-post this and add the question – Would you bother spending money on investigating the UN that wastes your money?

 

  Asie Mohtarez

Israel Mirsky, founder of the journalism site Uncoverage.

Uncoverage, a website that will be announced on Monday {that is today}, will test whether the public cares enough about investigative journalism to pay for it. The site, to be at Uncoverage.com, will allow journalists and nonprofits to seek crowdsourced funding for both articles and topics like, for example, the Syrian war. Money for general topics will be split up among projects by the site’s editors.

The nonprofit investigative group the Center for Public Integrity has signed on as a partner whose projects will be featured on the site.

The commercial site is being founded by Israel Mirsky, an entrepreneur who said that the current model for financing investigative journalism was broken.

“I am passionate about depleted uranium” he said, “but if I want to see more on the topic, my only choice is to buy a paper where reporting on the topic has appeared before and watch for future articles. I can’t imagine a less effective and satisfying way to get journalism on a topic I care about.”

Investigative journalism, he said, is shrinking as web journalism grows, and tends to cater to celebrities and other traffic-driving topics. “There is a lot of things digital journalism can do well, investigations is not one of them,” he said.

He said that sites like Kickstarter, which lets people back a broad array of projects like movies or new businesses, are not suited to investigative journalists who might require serial funding, instead of a one-time infusion.

Uncoverage, which will take 5 to 7 percent of every transaction, will provide specific services to journalists and other safeguards like fact-checkers who verify the quality of the pitches and editors who hone the pitches and help shape and sell the final product.

Editors will receive a portion of the funding of each article they work on beyond the site’s take, a compensation structure Mr. Mirsky said was intended to give an incentive to editors to build followings for their topics.

Topic cans be proposed by would-be backers, but only on subjects of public interest. “I won’t take money for journalism on Miley Cyrus — it is not an open season,” Mr. Mirsky said.

He also said that the site was only for journalists with significant experience. “This is not a place to start your career,” he said.

The site will post completed work, but hopes journalists will also be able to sell their articles to other outlets for the widest possible distribution.

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