Senate Republicans voted unanimously last week for elections that are competitions of cash, with candidates who amass the most money empowered to shout down opponents.

The GOP rejected elections that are contests of ideas won by candidates offering the best concepts.

Forty-two Republican Senators on Thursday opposed advancing a proposed constitutional amendment called Democracy for All. It would have ended the one percent’s control over elections and politicians. It would have reversed the democracy-destroying Citizens United and McCutcheon decisions by permitting Congress and state legislatures to once again limit campaign spending. Republicans said no because they favor the system that indentures politicians to wealthy benefactors.

As it stands now, corporations and billionaires may spend unbounded and unreported billions to buy elections. They’re likely to invest $2 billion in this fall’s contests. That’s thanks to the activist, right-wing, so-called justices on the Supreme Court who upended a century of campaign finance law with rulings like Citizens United in 2010 and McCutcheon this year.

The result is that everyone retains their free speech rights, but the wealthy and corporations, who can afford gigantic amplifiers, can now use their money to buy the loudest voice, one that overwhelms and silences those of tens of millions of working Americans. The right-wingers on the Supreme Court said it was fine for the wealthy and corporations to use their money to drown out the pleas of the non-rich. And Senate Republicans agreed last week.

This has made the majority of Americans very, very cynical about politicians and elections. The typical voter knows his or her $5 or $25 or $100 contribution to a candidate can’t compete with the $10,000 or $100,000 or $1 million gifts from corporations and billionaires.

Americans aren’t stupid. They knew what big bucks buy.

They pay for access. The Senator will make time to see the CEO whose corporation donated $250,000. The Senator won’t do the same for the worker who gave $25.

Big bucks also buy votes. Americans believe politicians’ positions on issues are the ones that the biggest benefactors told them to take. In private meetings, of course. A poll by the Opinion Research Corporation in 2012 found that 68 percent of voters, including 71 percent of Republicans, think that a corporation that spends $100,000 to help elect a Congressman could successfully pressure him to change position on proposed legislation.

While Republican politicians celebrate that outcome, most Americans do not. And that includes Republican voters. A poll in July by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research found 73 percent of voters in the 12 most competitive Senate battleground states want the Citizens United ruling reversed, including significant majorities of Republicans.

In 2012, Montana voters passed a referendum by 74 percent telling the red state’s congressional delegation to support a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United. In purple Colorado, voters passed a similar referendum by 73.8 percent. Fourteen other states, the District of Columbia and 600 communities have called for reversal of Citizens United.

Still, Senate Republicans, groomed by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, ignored the sentiments of the majority of citizens and blocked the Democracy for All amendment. McConnell, who once supported a similar constitutional amendment, now praises unlimited, unregulated, undisclosed campaign contributions. He told a group of fat cat GOP donors in June that he just didn’t know where he’d be without them.

Well, not in office, that’s for sure. He would be in far greener – as in greenbacks – pastures, cleaning up with former House GOP Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who lost his primary this year, then quickly resigned so he could grab $1.8 million as vice chairman at a Wall Street investment bank. Wealthy donors and corporations reward their indentured servants even when they lose elections.

Republicans didn’t always endorse this corruption. Conservative GOP Sen. Barry Goldwater, the party’s nominee for President in 1964, supported campaign finance reform in 1983, saying: “Our nation is facing a crisis of liberty if we do not control campaign expenditures. We must prove that elective office is not for sale. We must convince the public that elected officials are what James Madison intended us to be, agents of the sovereign people, not the hired hands of rich givers.”

Former Sen. Warren Rudman, a Republican from New Hampshire who campaigned for reform, wrote after the Citizens United ruling, which he called rash and immoderate: “Supreme Court opinion notwithstanding, corporations are not defined as people under the Constitution, and free speech can hardly be called free when only the rich are heard.”

Another Republican Presidential nominee, John McCain, whose name graced the bipartisan McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform act of 2002, said after it was struck down by the Citizens United ruling: “What the Supreme Court did is a combination of arrogance, naiveté and stupidity the likes of which I have never seen."

Still, McCain joined all of the other Republicans in the Senate Thursday to obstruct a constitutional amendment to fix that problem. 

Sen. Tom Udall, the New Mexico Democrat who proposed the amendment, said he’ll continue to press for its passage. He must because that limitless campaign cash is ruining the American democracy.

Voters know that money tends to corrupt, and infinite money corrupts infinitely. 

Crossposted from Tikkun Daily by David Harris-Gershon

The University of Illinois administration is imploding under the weight of a swiftly growing academic boycott and a rash of no-confidence votes by numerous university departments. All of this has come in response to the firing of Professor Steven Salaita by Chancellor Phyllis Wise in August for his social-media critiques of Israel. The story of that firing is a sordid and rapidly deteriorating one on the verge of concluding. It has also become the story of how university administrations across America, unsettled by the Salaita case, are responding with calls for 'civility,' a preemptive strike threatening the principle of academic freedom.

To explain, it's first necessary to briefly tell Salaita's story as it currently stands, which indeed is a strange one. A former English professor at Virginia Tech, Salaita was hired away by Wise to a tenured professorship at Illinois, where he was to teach Native American Studies beginning this fall. However, Salaita was suddenly fired before he even stepped into a classroom just before the academic year began because of his severe critiques of Israel on Twitter.

For nearly three weeks, as outrage grew and academic boycotts by professors around the country spread, Wise and the administration remained silent. Then, finally, Wise released a statement explaining the Salaita firing in which she wrote:

"I firmly believe that a tenured faculty position at the University of Illinois is a tremendous honor and a unique privilege. Tenure also brings with it a heavy responsibility to continue the traditions of scholarship and civility upon which our university is built."

Wise's leaning upon the principle of "civility" to justify firing Salaita further inflamed the academic community, particularly given that it was being applied not to his professional performance, where by all account Salaita's collegiality and classroom performance were stellar, but to his outside political opinions.

The Acadame Blog, published by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), immediately responded to Wise's letter with this:

"Wise's grotesque mistake is imagining that one of the rights of an individual is to be protected from the possibility of hearing 'disrespectful' criticism. To the contrary, one of the fundamental rights of individual students is the right to hear dissenting points of views without censorship, and Wise is clearly violating that right of students to hear Salaita teach when she imposes her personal standards of 'civility'on a university."

Soon after, the AAUP wrote directly to Wise, rejecting her "civility" rationale, expressing concern for the state of academic freedom at the University of Illinois and charging it with breaching Salaita's rights by punishing him for Tweets critical of Israel:

"We see Professor Salaita's online statements as extramural activity as a citizen rather than as faculty performance, and the 1940 Statement of Principles cautions that when faculty members 'speak or write as citizens they should be free from institutional censorship or discipline...'"

It's now been revealed by internal email dialogues, via an FOIA request by The News-Gazette, that Wise's decision to fire Salaita came from pressure by pro-Israel donors to the university who threatened to take their money elsewhere if Salaita stepped foot upon the Illinois campus. These revelations have caused Wise to publicly express regret for the decision and send Salaita's hiring to the university board, which will decide the Palestinian-American's fate.

However, while Illinois may be backtracking, other university administrations have suddenly, within the past week, doubled down on the concept of "civility." In strange statements, which can only be seen as preemptive strikes against the Salaitas of the world, a movement is underfoot which threatens academic freedom at American universities.

Calls for "Civility" Spread in Salaita's Wake

On Friday, students and faculty at UC Berkeley received an unsettling email from Chancellor Nicholas Dirks, who wrote:

"[W]e can only exercise our right to free speech insofar as we feel safe and respected in doing so, and this in turn requires that people treat each other with civility."

The letter was roundly criticized, with the word "civility" being seen as a front for censorship and a direct attack on the concept of academic freedom. Some wondered whether Dirks' letter, which closely echoed Wise's "civility" argument, was a direct response to the Salaita case.

Then, on the same day, Pennsylvania State University made a similar, unprompted call for civility, couching it as a plea to the community in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky abuse scandal. However, officials admitted that no specific incident at the university prompted the statement.

"Penn State spokeswoman Lisa Powers said there was no specific incident that triggered the statement. Rather, she said, growing in civility is a national issue, and the leadership of Penn State felt that the beginning of the semester was a good time to begin a conversation on civility and respect."

Since Friday, other university presidents have mentioned "civility" in their opening remarks, forcing academics and observers to wonder whether presidents and chancellors are independently responding to the Salaita case, or whether there is coordination among some university leaders to establish "civility" as a normative academic principle capable of providing cover for firing the likes of Salaita.

At Ohio University, there is no question as to whether a connection exists. What happened there? University President Roderick J. McDavis called upon student senate president Megan Marzec to take the "ice bucket challenge." Which she did, subverting the meme - as other Palestinians have done - by pouring fake blood over her head to call attention to those killed in Gaza.

In response, McDavis wrote,

"I take great pride in the fact that Ohio University is a community that tackles hard issues head-on. The conflict in Israel and Gaza is no exception. But the manner in which we conduct ourselves as we exercise our right to free speech is of utmost importance.

In my First Year Student Convocation address, I emphasized the idea that we are a University family. As members of a University family, we will not always agree, but we should respect one another. And when we engage in difficult dialogue on issues such as this, we must do so with civility and a deep appreciation for the diverse and resilient international community in which we live."

All of these calls for civility, from the University of Illinois to Ohio University, have had one thing in common: the trumpeting of "civility" by university administrations as a prerequisite to free speech.

Of course, such a stance runs counter to academic freedom. Professors and students are not supposed to be punished for their external political views, with protest and dissent being, by definition, both uncivil (in that they challenge comfortable norms) and integral to the free exchange of ideas.

This concept of "civility" is currently being used specifically to attack pro-Palestinian voices. Which means that everyone who holds difficult opinions are under attack. For if Salaita can be punished for Tweeting severe critiques of Israel, anyone can be punished for any political opinion.

David Harris-Gershon is author of the memoir What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife?, published recently by Oneworld Publications.

Follow him on Twitter @David_EHG.

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13 years have passed since Al Qaeda attacked the continental United States. There is a particular type of hurt when outsiders attack the "homeland".

On the morning of September 11, 2001, many Americans stood with mouths agape, wondering "how could they do this to us?" Others shook their heads, asking, "why do they hate us so much?" The American people, drunk on lies of their country's exceptional nature, willfully blind to the deeds and acts done in their name abroad, too many of whom would rather watch stupid human tricks on the TV, they the products of failed school systems and a deceptive 4th Estate, latched on to such empty questions--questions which both then and now have readily available answers.

Ignorance is a sweet pablum until it makes one sick. The pundits, policy wonks, and other inside experts knew, understood, and could readily explain the concept of blowback, its relationship to American foreign policy in the Middle East, the rise of Osama bin Laden, and the organization that the Western media would christen as Al Qaeda. Alas, truth-telling about 9/11 would be punished. It was and remains far easier to embrace lies such as "unknown unknowns" where 9/11 is framed more as some mystical, bizarre, and unpredictable event than it is to talk in a direct and clear fashion about how America's policies abroad can and do have implications for the American people at home.

In many ways, the noted American public intellectual Cornel West has the first and last word on the emotional and psychic impact of September 11th on the (white) American public. When the planes were brought down on that day, and the national security surveillance state reached out to touch even white folks (in relatively minor ways) as compared to how it has historically treated people of color, West brilliantly observed that white Americans had been, for a moment, "niggerized".

They were made to feel unsafe, insecure, vulnerable, and subject to random violence. White privilege works as a shield against such feelings as experienced by white Americans en masse. The lie that Whiteness is a type of existential innocence means that most white Americans are complicit in a type of historical and contemporary amnesia--what is a break in the chain of cause and effect--that makes it extremely difficult for them to understand how they could be disliked as a people and targeted for group violence.

Al Qaeda's attack on the United States was not a motherless child.

In many ways, the attacks on September 11, 2001 were a gut punch to the stomach of White American racial innocence.

By comparison, black and brown Americans have a long experience with "niggerization" and what it means to be subjected to random, unjust, violence that is designed to make them feel insecure. In total, Black and Brown America have had centuries of practice in trying to navigate white racial terrorism, and also developing the defense mechanisms necessary to survive its assault.

Stated differently, September 11th was an attack on the American people by a foreign terrorist organization.

But, what if your experience as an American was that of being routinely attacked and terrorized by your own country and fellow citizens because you were a person of color on the wrong side of the white on black enforced color line?

The activist Bill Fletcher Jr. has written a great short essay called Suspected of Being Black. It grapples with questions of terrorism and the American habit that is the extra-judicial murder of black people in a snug and powerful way.

Fletcher begins with the following observation:

Two recent killings, one of Eric Garner in New York and Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, speak to a very different reality experienced by African Americans compared with whites in the USA. Without going through the details, there are certain questions that can be asked to anyone in the USA and, depending on the answer, one can ascertain what I would call the ‘racial terror index.’

Here are a few examples:

Are you generally afraid of the police?

To what extent do you expect there to be a possibility that you will be stopped by the police? Have you ever been trained on how to respond if you have been stopped?

If you were in a car that broke down, how likely are you to knock on someone’s door seeking help?

If you are man, how likely are you to drive long distances with a female of another ‘race’?

If you had difficulty getting into your own home, how likely would you be to contact the police and ask for their help?

How many neighborhoods do you need to be careful in transiting for fear that the police will stop you?

What white America largely misses is that there is a system of terror under which African Americans constantly live. It is not the terror of Al Qaeda but a terror that began with slavery and continued during the reign of the Ku Klux Klan. But it is also represented by lynchings and false arrests. It is truly terror because it can come at any time and be directed at any individual, but it also is the use of violence against civilians in order to advance a political objective. In that sense it is no different—in fundamentals from a car bombing.

He continues:

The personal uncertainty and insecurity that so many white Americans felt and expressed post-September 11th terrorist attacks came as such a shock to the system…but not for African Americans. For African Americans, living with uncertainty is about living in the USA. Living with the reality that at any point and for any reason, we may be ‘misidentified’ by the authorities, and jailed or killed; we may be targeted for extra-judicial harassment and killings; we may be humiliated by the authorities, yet obtain no apologies. We may be otherwise silenced.

The (apparent) surprise nature of the events of September 11th cause the American people deep pain.

Al Qaeda's attacks on the American mainland pierced a veneer of invulnerability, caused national trauma, and excited a war fever blood lust that almost destroyed the American economy while killing thousands of American soldiers, crippling and otherwise injuring many thousands more, and subsequently wrecking the American middle class.

If "terrorism" is wrong when directed at the American people, it should be wrong when used abroad, and especially as directed by one group of Americans against another in the "homeland".

Moral consistency ought to demand that the tears, memorialization, pathos, reverence, and public memory of 9/11 be similarly reflective about the terrorism which has been visited upon the people of Ferguson and Michael Brown. A mature understanding of terrorism, state violence, and race would also locate white on black and brown state violence within a continuity of terrorism both in the United States and around the world.

In many ways, American Exceptionalism is a bridge too far. Consequently, the adherents to that civic religion are unable and unwilling to acknowledge that terrorism and state violence are American traditions.

It is far easier to find righteous anger when "those people" attack "us". White privilege and the white racial frame make it difficult for the owners of Whiteness to be introspective, and thus to ask, "what must it feel like to be a person of color, and a member of a community, that is routinely terrorized by the police and other white-identified vigilantes?"

The killing(s) of Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, John Crawford, Eric Garner, Jonathan Ferrel, and so many other unarmed black people by white police and other street vigilantes are acts of political violence and terrorism. The attacks on 9/11 were more spectacular. The killings of black people by white police and white-identified street vigilantes every 28 hours, within a decades and centuries-long continuum, has exacted a far higher body count and is no less traumatic to our families and communities.

It is tragic that the flag waving patriotism of September 11th has not been turned to larger questions of social justice, equality, and how to make sure that no American is ever subjected to terrorism and violence by their own government.

 

 

 

Size Inflation Gives Americans a False Sense of Thinness

 

 

It is a sad fat that many want to ignore. The more we work out, the more "diet foods" we eat, the fatter Americans are actually getting. A chilling documentary released this summer, Fed Up, narrated by Katie Couric, highlights Americans losing battle with the bulge and indicts government capitulation to the agricultural industries that make the most fattening food. According to the New York Times, the average American man now weighs 194 pounds and woman, an astounding 165 pounds. In 2002, the average American woman weighed 153 pounds and in 1994, 147 pounds, say Florida State University researchers. Does anyone see a trend?

 

Nor are pounds the only sign of the growing American adiposity: the average American woman in the 1950s had a 25 inch waist and today has a waist of  34 inches. Maybe that should be "waist."

 

Not surprisingly, our growing girth is a big problem to the fashion industry. In fact, one industry captain was heard to comment that designers are no longer dressing American women but "upholstering" them. Overweight people do not rush to buy clothes and when they do find themselves squeezed between the garment racks, they do not buy clothes that don't fit or have an insulting size label. It is the same reason shoe stores sometimes leave the size off women's shoes.

 

Enter size inflation, sometimes called vanity sizing, with its ego-flattering Size Zero denomination. Size Zero is said to fit women who measure from 30-22-32 to 33-25-35 inches. But a little quick fashion research shows that those dimensions used to describe a Size 5! In the 1970s, those dimensions described a Size 10.

 

If anyone has a doubt about how size inflation has made us all thinner without losing a pound, go to a resale shop and try to try on the Jones New York Size 7 off-white linen pencil skirt. Prepare to be demoralized.

 

Men don't scour resale shops the way women tend to do but if they did they would likely be just as demoralized if they tried to try on the three-piece powder blue disco suit similar to the one John Travolta wore in Saturday Night Fever. Can a vest be left casually unbuttoned?

 

Many say baggy Hip Hop fashions, low riding pants that sit on the hips and stretchy yoga pants and leggings have enabled Americans to balloon in size without realizing it because their clothes still fit. Once upon a time, our ancestors called elastic waistbands "the Devil's Playground" for exactly that reason.

 

It is often said that Marilyn Monroe wore a Size 14 dress, a fact that is supposed to show that being "plump" used to be more acceptable than it is today. But it is just the opposite. Ms. Monroe rarely weighed as much as 120 and usually weighed between 115 and 118--putting her close to today's Size Zero category, no doubt.

 

No, the truth is that like cars, McMansion houses, food portions and soft drink sizes, Americans are getting bigger every day--and because it is happening everywhere, few notice. Worse, the harder we try to lose poundage with low calorie foods, fitness centers and personal trainers, the bigger we are becoming.

 

While people in industrialized countries other than the United States are also packing on the pounds, it is said that women in France have remained enviably thin. Why?  Because unlike so many of us, they do not "diet." They eat what they want, including  higher calorie foods or even high fat diet foods but not in our super-sized American portions.

 

Clearly, U.S. "dieting" is doing a lot more for diet food manufacturers and fitness centers than the American waistline. Meanwhile, the fashion industry wonders where to go after Size Zero.

 

 

 

 

Crossposted from Tikkun Daily by David Swanson

Editor's Note:Tikkun seeks to present a range of views that you wouldn't hear in the mainstream media, without necessarily endorsing those perspectives. Please remember thatTikkun's own position is articulated only in our editorials.

In my view, the important article by David Swanson that I'm sharing below may be underestimating the venality and murderous nature of the ISIS coalition that he describes. Unlike Hamas and unlike the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, ISIS appears to have genocidal intent toward Christians and Shia Muslims (and possibly also toward Sunnis who don't share their perspective and almost certainly toward Jews).

On the other hand, I know that I don't know who they really are or even what they are really doing. I've read enough lies about previous run-up to wars in the Western media to know not to believe anything I read, but only to consider that the media's account is one possible way of viewing the reality.

I also know that the gruesome accounts of murders committed by ISIS are shocking to a U.S. audience in part because the far greater number of people killed by the U.S. interventions in the Middle East, South East Asia, Central and South America have never been presented in an honest way to the American people. Most of us have not heard the gruesome details or stories of the families that have lost loved ones as a result of U.S. military and CIA actions.

Accounts of how ISIS members used waterboarding on their captives have been told in a way that dramatizes the inhumanity of a tactic that was used on many, many of those held by the United States in Guantanamo and in more secret detention and torture facilities run by or contacted by the United States around the world.

Yet U.S. feelings of rage about waterboarding were never directed at those who perpetrated and those who approved that torture, so people like George W. Bush and former vice president Cheney and the many under them in the chain of command who carried out these outrageous acts have never been brought to trial.

When it's ISIS that commits these abuses, we are encouraged to think of their actions as reasons for war; when it's our U.S. leaders who commit the same abuses, we don't even think it sufficient reason to put them in prison!

On the other hand, my outrage at acts that we in the U.S. have committed does not diminish my outrage at what ISIS is doing, if the media accounts are even partially correct, and my desire to want to stop them before more people are murdered. But how? Not in a way that will have even worse consequences, in the way that the U.S. ouster of Saddam Hussein's (who should have spent the rest of his life in prison) led to the growth of ISIS.

Our inclination always atTikkunis to ask the following question of any group espousing hateful ideas (including haters among Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist fundamentalist movements; followers of secular right-wing or fascist groups; and those who adhere to the ultra-nationalistic, ultra-militaristic tendencies within American and Israeli nationalism, as well as any other kind of nationalism):What are the underlying needs that these movements are speaking to that might be legitimate needs of the people who respond to them? And how do we then develop strategies to separate those legitimate needs from the fascistic, racist, or irrational ways that people seek to meet those needs through these hateful and sometimes violent movements?

These are the questions that I've answered in some detail in my booksThe Politics of Meaning,Spirit Matters, andThe Left Hand of God: Taking Back our Country from the Religious Right. The goal is not to excuse outrageous and murderous acts, but to figure out how to disempower the murderers, whether they be American, Iraqi, Chinese, Russian, Israeli, or from Hamas. The goal is to ensure that their followers don't move on to some other equally terrible movement or murderous sect or religion or nationalism once these particular murderers are gone.

If you read those books you'll see why I'm inclined to think that Swanson is moving in a good direction but lacks some of the psychological and spiritual tools necessary to make his strategy successful. One of those tools is a Global Marshall Plan (please download it attikkun.org/GMPand read the full 32-page brochure). The problem with mentioning the GMP is that people immediately think it's primarily about giving money. But it's not. It is predicated on a strategy of showing respect and genuine caring for the well-being of all people on the planet. This caring would be conveyed partly through money, but more importantly through a fundamental transformation brought about by the Western world in adopting the New Bottom Line laid out in detail attikkun.org/covenant.

Without that approach, the United States will have no tools for dealing with ISIS, and so inevitably the people of this country will fall back onto violence and war making.

"Fine," you may say, "but what are we supposed to do NOW? Don't you realize that these people are a real menace?" That may be true, but the reason it's true is because people always go to that formulation - the one that led us into a war to overthrow Saddam Hussein in the first place without having any idea of what could replace him. Without that alternative, Swanson's point is that we created the preconditions for the rise of ISIS.

So, truth is, I don't know what we should do with ISIS in the short run, except to follow some of the steps that Swanson proposes, other steps that are defined in the Global Marshall Plan and in the Network of Spiritual Progressives' Spiritual Covenant atspiritualprogressives.org, and yet others that I'll propose in a subsequent article within the next few weeks.

While these steps may not be sufficient, I know for sure that taking any other path that doesn'talsoinclude these steps is bound to simply recreate the set of circumstances that have led us into the current mess. The one thing I'm sure about: if some kind of intervention is justified, and I think it may be, it should be genuinely led by the United Nations andnotby the United States. And it should not occur solely at the initiative of the United States.

If the people of the world are ready to take some action, let us follow their leadership rather than intervene alone - U.S. hands are, as they say in law, "dirty hands" and hence not able to provide ethically credible leadership. So please do read Swanson's insightful article. And then please also read David Sylvester'spost on Tikkun Dailywith its call for the Abrahamic religions to lead an international summit of religious forces to develop a response to the increasingly murderous realities we face.

Meanwhile, have a joyous Labor Day 2014! Wouldn't it be great if this year working people used this day off to figure out how to take back control of our country from the super-rich and powerful so that we too could participate in the discussions that the elite have about which wars to drag us into? Maybe next year?

- Rabbi Michael Lerner

(RabbiLerner.tikkun@gmail.com)--- What to Do About ISISby David Swanson

 

Originally published onwarisacrime.org

Start by recognizing where ISIS came from. The U.S. and its junior partners destroyed Iraq, left a sectarian division, poverty, desperation, and an illegitimate government in Baghdad that did not represent Sunnis or other groups. Then the U.S. armed and trained ISIS and allied groups in Syria, while continuing to prop up the Baghdad government, providing Hellfire missiles with which to attack Iraqis in Fallujah and elsewhere.

ISIS has religious adherents but also opportunistic supporters who see it as the force resisting an unwanted rule from Baghdad and who increasingly see it as resisting the United States. It is in possession of U.S. weaponry provided directly to it in Syria and seized from the Iraqi government. At last count by the U.S. government, 79 percent of weapons transferred to Middle Eastern governments come from the United States, not counting transfers to groups like ISIS, and not counting weapons in the possession of the United States.

So, the first thing to do differently going forward: stop bombing nations into ruins, and stop shipping weapons into the area you've left in chaos. Libya is of course another example of the disasters that U.S. wars leave behind them - a war, by the way, with U.S. weapons used on both sides, and a war launched on the pretext of a claim well documented to have been false that Gaddafi was threatening to massacre civilians.

So, here's the next thing to do: be very skeptical of humanitarian claims. The U.S. bombing around Erbil to protect Kurdish and U.S. oil interests was initially justified as bombing to protect people on a mountain. But most of those people on the mountain were in no need of rescue, and that justification has now been set aside, just as Benghazi was. Recall also that Obama was forced to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq when he couldn't get the Iraqi government to give them immunity for crimes they commit. He has now obtained that immunity and back in they go, the crimes preceding them in the form of 500-pound bombs.

While trying to rescue hostages and discovering an empty house, and racing to a mountain to save 30,000 people but finding 3,000 and most of those not wanting to leave, the U.S. claims to know exactly whom the 500-pound bombs are killing. But whomever they are killing, they are generating more enemies, and they are building support for ISIS, not diminishing it. So, now the U.S. finds itself on the opposite side of the war in Syria, so what does it do? Flip sides! Now the great moral imperative is not to bomb Assad but to bomb in defense of Assad, the only consistent point being that "something must be done" and the only conceivable something is to pick some party and bomb it.

But why is that the only conceivable thing to be done? I can think of some others:

1. Apologize for brutalizing the leader of ISIS in Abu Ghraib and to every other prisoner victimized under U.S. occupation.

2. Apologize for destroying the nation of Iraq and to every family there.

3. Begin making restitution by delivering aid (not "military aid" but actual aid, food, medicine) to the entire nation of Iraq.

4. Apologize for role in war in Syria.

5. Begin making restitution by delivering actual aid to Syria.

6. Announce a commitment not to provide weapons to Iraq or Syria or Israel or Jordan or Egypt or Bahrain or any other nation anywhere on earth and to begin withdrawing U.S. troops from foreign territories and seas, including Afghanistan. (The U.S. Coast Guard in the Persian Gulf has clearly forgotten where the coast of the U.S. is!)

7. Announce a commitment to invest heavily in solar, wind, and other green energy and to provide the same to democratic representative governments.

8. Begin providing Iran with free wind and solar technologies -- at much lower cost of course than what it is costing the U.S. and Israel to threaten Iran over a nonexistent nuclear weapons program.

9. End economic sanctions.

10. Send diplomats to Baghdad and Damascus to negotiate aid and to encourage serious reforms.

11. Send journalists, aid workers, peace workers, human shields, and negotiators into crisis zones, understanding that this means risking lives, but fewer lives than further militarization risks.

12. Empower people with agricultural assistance, education, cameras, and internet access.

13. Launch a communications campaign in the United States to replace military recruitment campaigns, focused on building sympathy and desire to serve as critical aid workers, persuading doctors and engineers to volunteer their time to travel to and visit these areas of crisis.

14. Work through the United Nations on all of this.

15. Sign the United States on to the International Criminal Court and voluntarily propose the prosecution of top U.S. officials of this and the preceding regimes for their crimes.

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Crossposted from Tikkun Daily by Valerie Elverton-Dixon

Michael Brown, the African-American young man killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, has been laid to rest. His homegoing celebration was at once a period to his earthly life and the blank space before the next chapter of activism that his family and a variety of communities promise to write.

After peaceful protests, marching in the street, chants of "hands up, don't shoot" and "no justice no peace", after fires, looting, a militarized police force aiming weapons of war on its own citizenry, smoke, tear gas, and national and international news coverage, the question now is: what is next? Some commentators have suggested that President Obama come to Ferguson and give another speech on race. Others have suggested that we as a nation engage in another conversation on race, this time with different contours.

I say, what this country does not need is yet another presidential speech on race. Is there anything new to say? And I am too tired of the conversation on race. I have been having this conversation my entire life, and I am weary of it. I remember watching Martin Luther King, Jr. give his "I Have a Dream" speech at the first March on Washington. I was a little girl watching with my parents. Twenty years later, I was in Washington DC for the anniversary march. In the 1990s, I taught race and racism at Temple University. In the first decade of the 21st century I taught courses on the civil rights movement and on "The Letter from Birmingham Jail." Since the election of President Obama, I have written about race within the context of birther madness, and after the George Zimmerman verdict, I wrote about the myth of the super-physical black man that explains why so many people see the African-American male body as at once less than human and more than human that requires extraordinary force to subdue.

I have made my contribution to that conversation, and I am done with it.

Let us talk instead about cop psychology. What kind of psychological screening must one pass before we hand him or her a badge and a gun and give them the power to administer lethal force in the name of the state? What is the level of education required of police officers? How are they trained? Does this training include diversity and racial sensitivity training? Do they learn to subdue a suspect without illegal choke holds or gun fire? What goes through the mind of an officer when he is beating an unarmed woman by the side of the road, or when he is choking an unarmed man to death while the man says over and over and over again that he cannot breathe? What goes through the minds of the other officers on the scene who are pressing the man's head into the pavement as if the man were not human? What is an officer thinking when he shoots six shots into an unarmed young black man and kills him? What police procedures allow for a body to lie in the streets for hours?

Let us have the conversation about radical humanism. This is the humanism that Malcolm X articulated when he said, "We declare our right on this earth to be a human being, to be respected as a human being, to be given the rights of a human being in this society, on this earth, in this day, which we intend to bring into existence by any means necessary." Let this conversation include what it means to be human and how we lose a portion of it when we fail to respect the human dignity of other human beings. How does the Golden Rule that says, "In everything do unto others as we would have them do unto us" inform and shape our humanity?

Let us talk about class. Let us talk about how a suggestion of white privilege that a global political-economy gives conceals white poverty. When we talk about race, for the most part, we side with our own in-group. It becomes an us against them conversation. We are good. They are evil. The system is neutral. We are blind to the yin and yang of the thing, that there is a little evil in the good in us, and there is a little good in the evil in them. And our social, cultural, political, and economic system is not neutral. It is organized for the benefit of the richest one percent.

White people are still the majority of Americans and are the majority of poor people in this country. The poorest people with the worst education and health care live in red states in the former confederacy. St. Louis County where Ferguson is located is not the poorest county in the state. With some of the poorest counties in the nation, Missouri legislators refused to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. People who could have health care under the ACA do not. Let us talk about why so many of these poor people vote against their economic interests.

Let us have the conversation about power. Power is everywhere. We all have power. The question is: what kind of power do we have? We have the power of presence, and we have the power of how we move through the world. There is power in our own dignity and self- respect. We have the power of our own artistic presentation to the world, how we dress and decorate our bodies. We have the power of speech and organization and citizenship. This includes voting in local elections - city council, mayor, school board, and judges. We have economic power, how we spend and invest our money. Power is not only top down, but it is also bottom up. This is why President Obama need not fly into Ferguson. The good people of Ferguson will have to summon the "do for self" spirit that has been an important element of African-American culture since the first African set foot on American soil. They will have to implement strategies and tactics for their own liberation that will last long after the celebrities and the cameras have gone onto the next crisis with exciting pictures.

We can end police brutality. We can end the national psychosis that wants to see the Other as less than human and robs us of our own humanity. We can end poverty for all of our citizens. We can exercise our power in organized and concentrated ways. Let us have this conversation.

Valerie Elverton-Dixon is the founder of JustPeaceTheory.com and author of "Just Peace Theory Book One: Spiritual Morality, Radical Love, and the Public Conversation."

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The defenders of Darren Wilson, the white police officer who repeatedly shot an unarmed black teenager named Michael Brown at least 6 times in Ferguson, Missouri claim that “the facts” will clear their champion of any wrongdoing.

Unfortunately for Darren Wilson, the facts of what transpired on the day when he shot Michael Brown in the face and body with multiple bullets have not been kind to him.

Independent witnesses have told the press and federal investigators how Michael Brown was unarmed, had surrendered with his hands in the air, and was repeatedly shot by Darren Wilson. These witnesses are African-American.

For the white bigots who defend Darren Wilson, as well as the Right-wing hate media that stoke the flames of white racial resentment and white supremacy, black people’s truth claims about racism (regardless of the mountains of empirical evidence in support of their experiences) are de facto and a priori judged to be insufficient by the White Gaze.

This is part of a centuries-long tradition in America, where for most of the country’s existence, African-Americans were not allowed to testify in court or to have any type of legal standing.

In the post civil rights era--and especially since the election of Barack Obama--the Tea Party GOP and the White Right have demonstrated that they would like to return to an arrangement of civic and public affairs in which black people are silenced and muted. In all, the Tea Party GOP and its allies yearn for the civic erasure of black and brown people—it enrages the White Right that they cannot follow through on their wishful dreams of social and political death for black Americans.

The American Right-wing’s defense of the killer cop Darren Wilson is instinctive: it is an extension of a base hostility to the freedom, well-being, life, liberty, and happiness of black and brown Americans.

To point. The most morally rotted and ethically suspect supporters of Darren Wilson have collectively donated at least 500,000 dollars to protect him from the consequences of killing Michael Brown.

As I wrote here, donating money to Darren Wilson (and other white vigilantes and extra-judicial killers of black people such as George Zimmerman) is the new lynching photography of the 21st century. Instead of buying postcards of hung, tortured, and burned alive black bodies, those who donate to Darren Wilson enjoy the vicarious pleasures of killing a black person by proxy. Michael Brown, and by extension other black American men, are born with a bounty on their heads.

Darren Wilson is the white gunslinger who brought the black “thug” to “justice”. This is cathartic violence for the White Right and its Fox News driven propaganda machine.

The supporters of Darren Wilson are enjoying the fun of a thrill kill; they are sharing ownership over the deed by donating money to their idol Darren Wilson.

Two new witnesses to the shooting of the unarmed black teenager Michael Brown by Darren Wilson have now come forward. As reported in Sunday's edition of the newspaper St. Louis Post-Dispatch, two white construction workers watched Darren Wilson shoot dead an unarmed and surrendered Michael Brown.

According to their accounts, Michael Brown was not “charging at” or “attacking” Darren Wilson as the professional liars in the Right-wing hate media have suggested to their supplicants--and an easily duped 24/7 corporate mainstream media which is desperate for any new “information” on the Brown case, however specious or incorrect it may in fact be.

The account provided by the new witnesses corroborates the version of events offered by previous witnesses in which Darren Wilson repeatedly shot an unarmed person from some distance away whose hands were raised in the universal sign of surrender.

Darren Wilson chose to shoot Michael Brown. As detailed by the witnesses, as well as the audio recording of the events that day, Darren Wilson chose to stop shooting Michael Brown for several seconds…before then delivering the final shots to his head and face.

The white racial paranoia of the American Right demands that Michael Brown be vilified, “niggerized”, and thus made responsible for his own killing at the hands of Darren Wilson. The White Right (and too many members ofthe white American public, more generally) is cognitively, emotionally, and materially invested in the over-policing, harassment, and violence of the police against black and brown communities.

Those sentiments have deep historic roots.

During the 19th and 20th centuries at least 10,000 African-American men, women, and children were killed by white racial terrorists. The white owned newspapers and other media of the era justified and legitimated this violence.

The Southern press would often detail how the lynch mob was comprised of “honorable men”, doing their “civic duty”, and who were burdened with the “responsibility” of “protecting” white society against black “criminals” and “troublemakers”.

The spirit and energy channeled by the white 19th and 20th century press to legitimate and honor the white supremacist terror afflicted on black people by the white public is none too different from that channeled by the American Right-wing media in the 21st century, when the latter defends the killers of unarmed black people by white cops and other white-identified vigilantes.

Writing in the journal American Nineteenth Century History, Susan Jean describes this phenomenon in the following way:

The Courier-Informant’s reporting was typical of portrayals of ‘warranted’ or
‘respectable’ lynchings. The most conspicuous feature of such reports was the salacious language used to describe the black man, his alleged crime, and the lynch mob’s actions…

Newspapers that branded a lynching victim a ‘black brute,’ an ‘inhuman fiend,’ or an ‘imp of inferno’ were from the start helping to exonerate the lynch mob. In depicting the bestiality of the black man and by contrast the sweet, delicate, and innocent nature of his alleged victim, reporters were courting the fury of their readers and encouraging them to identify with the lynchers…

The people who punished the negro considered that they were doing their duty to their community, and they went about the business in the most orderly manner, and no unseemly passion or excitement was shown whatever.’

When a white mob lynched Charles Scarborough for attempted rape in 1909, ‘There was no excitement in the matter at all. The people were determined that the negro should pay the penalty for his attempted crime: that was all.’

White supremacy and white privilege are interrelated political and social projects that have evolved over time and which continue to exist in the present: white violence towards the black body is a fixture of this system.

In the 19th and early 20th centuries Michael Brown would be a black “fiend”, “beast”, or “giant negro”. In the 21st century, Michael Brown (and other black and brown victims of police violence) is depicted by the Right-wing media as a “thug”, or as a person who was “armed” with his “strong, scary, self.”

The Right-wing media and its public will lie and misrepresent the information provided by the new witnesses to the killing of Michael Brown by Darren Wilson because they are racial paranoiacs who have so internalized white supremacy and white privilege that it has distorted their understanding of reality.

While some psychologists and mental health professionals have suggested that racism is a type of mental illness, I have long-subscribed to the idea that white racism is as much a choice about personal behavior, as it is a system of power relationships.

The defenders of Darren Wilson are not all mentally ill or pathological racists (althoughundoubtedly some of the latter are among that group). Rather, they are morally bankrupt people who devalue the lives of non-whites, and believe both consciously and subconsciously, in the superiority of those who are “white” over those who are “black” and “brown”.

The most salient facts about the killing of Michael Brown by Darren Wilson are not complicated. Numerous witnesses have said that Darren Wilson shot Michael Brown multiple times. Michael Brown was unarmed. Michael Brown had surrendered.

The context for the killing of Michael Brown by Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri is provided by a country that has a centuries-long history of racist violence by the police against people of color.

For example, Darren Wilson is a member of an organization that engaged in a racist police riot against the black community in Ferguson. In addition, the police department in Ferguson has been targeting the black community in a racist debt peonage/collection racket where over-policing (tickets; court fees; fines and arrests for petty crimes on exaggerated charges) has been used to fund the township.

And perhaps most damning, prior to his employment with the Ferguson police department Darren Wilson was a member of another police force that was disbanded because of a history of racial violence.

The facts are not kind to Darren Wilson and his decision to kill Michael Brown. Unfortunately, white privilege, white supremacy, and the racial paranoia that sustains the defenders of Darren Wilson and the White Right exist independent of empirical reality.

White supremacy is one of the biggest lies in modern human history. Its supporters and adherents live in a fantasy world of white innocence and superiority, one that is juxtaposed to a fictive belief that black people are a natural race of violent degenerates.

Those who defend Darren Wilson are simply following an old American cultural script.

puzzled_boy
Why do some “advocates” deny the suffering of families and youth experiencing homelessness?

Maddy and her middle school daughter lived in a Naperville motel, with Maddy paying nightly using her meager wages from her McDonald’s job. That doesn't make them less homeless than if they relied on the local shelter for a place to stay.

But, according to a national homelessness organization, Maddy and her daughter don’t need to be called “homeless” because their situation isn’t as dire as some. Oh?

What’s this line of desperation that must be crossed for families and youth to be declared “truly homeless” in the eyes of the all-knowing HUD (U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development)? And why does HUD make the distinction that ignores the plight of millions of families/youth with nowhere to go?

Way back in 2007, as I continued my nonprofit mission of HEAR US Inc., traveling across the country giving voice and visibility to homeless children and youth, I was asked to testify before Congress on the issue of the definition of homeless families/youth. Perplexed as to what was behind HUD’s refusal to count millions of kids and parents as homeless, I called and spoke to a Capitol Hill staffer working on this issue.

I asked why HUD’s definition did not include the million+ babies, toddlers, youngsters, youth and parents as homeless who were doubled up or staying in motels. The response flabbergasted me. “We don’t want to open up a floodgate,” the staffer dismissively replied. I sputtered something to the effect, “Yeah, our country hasn't done too well with floods,” picturing the devastation I witnessed in New Orleans post-Katrina. 

With Maddy and her daughter, as with countless (because they don’t count) others, I know how precarious their situation is. Maddy could get sick, even a common bad cold, and not go into work, which means she doesn’t get paid, therefore she’d not be able to pay her room rent. She and her daughter would get tossed into the shelter system (at least DuPage County has somewhat of a safety net). A few sneezes and they’re "really" homeless. Wah-lah!

I met Tina and her 6 kids in Las Cruces, City of the Crosses that lacks any shelter for homeless families. The school homeless program had stretched their boundaries to pop for a few nights in a motel. As I interviewed Tina, I was quite aware that in a couple hours she and her precious children, including an infant, would have nowhere to go. No amount of imagination could comprehend the stress this desperate, devoted mom was experiencing.

What’s behind that fine line that HUD hides behind when it comes to defining—much less addressing—homelessness? 

Does it boil down to money?

Or is it based on the history of this federal agency’s insensitivity toward families? Is that insensitivity based on racism, sexism or anti-poverty-ism? 

Why wouldn’t advocates from across the country clamor for more funding to house those with nowhere to go? 

What will it take to change this woefully inadequate response to what is painfully real homelessness among millions of families and youth?

What could turn the tide is to pressure your member of Congress to sign on as cosponsor of the bipartisan Homeless Children and Youth Act. It’s simple. You don’t need to be a policy wonk. And it takes just a few seconds on this site. 

Homelessness among families and youth is far more extensive than even I realize, and I’ve been doing this kind of work for almost 30 years. As I drive through cities and towns of all sizes, I recognize the places that are providing “shelter” for families with nowhere to go. I’ve spoken to countless kids, youth and parents in that dreadful plight. They’re not living the life of security that HUD apparently thinks comes with their circumstances. It’s hell. And worse. 

What we want is an honest accounting of the depth and breadth of homelessness in America. 

And I'd like an explanation of how people who obstruct the expansion of services for homeless families and youth sleep at night knowing that parents, their kids, and youth on their own have nowhere to go. 

 

Let's perform a quick exercise here. Imagine that you're just walking into work on a Monday morning and your manager wants to talk to you. Thanking you for the fine work you've been doing up until this point, your manager informs you that your reliability is in question – along with your continued success, and very future, at the company. In fact, you learn, management suspects that you're a vain, wishy-washy, and rather empty-headed member of the team who's undeserving of trust. Bewildered at the sudden questioning of your integrity, your boss tells you that you can turn it all around, regain trust, and continue your workday after placing your hand on a leather-bound religious book and stating a simple oath along the lines of "There is no god but Allah," or "I Accept Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior."

Surely this nightmare is the product of some far-flung, back-water and oppressed land, right? ISIS territory, perhaps? That could never happen in the United States, the beacon of religious freedom and human rights. . . or could it?

Regrettably, this truly horrific scenario is indeed the case within the United States Air Force (USAF). Just the other day, the USAF public affairs office at the Pentagon informed the world that "Reciting 'So help me God' in its official reenlistment and commissioning oaths is a statutory requirement under 10 U.S.C. §502". In short, you had better repent and swear your oath to "God" or be gone. Interestingly, that just cited U.S. Code provision (which the Air Force is pathetically using to support its "sorry, our hands are tied" position of abject cowardice here) also makes it clear that armed forces members may "affirm", in lieu of swearing, this enlistment or commissioning oath. When one "affirms" such an oath of office, there is NO need to "swear" to "God" to do so. Such is the very distinction between "swearing and affirming." 10 U.S.C. §502 allows either to be done by the enlisting or commissioning Air Force member. The USAF's transparent duplicity and specious motivations for basing its new decision to force service members to swear to God are dangerous, disingenuous and despicable.

One airman based at Creech Air Force base in Nevada learned about this renewed religious requirement the hard way. He was informed that unless he speaks and signs the religious oath, his days as an airman are through. "So help me God" isn't optional anymore. It is now a basic condition of Air Force enlistment.

The oft-repeated and much vaunted core values of the U.S. Air Force are, ostensibly: (1) Integrity First; (2) Service Before Self; and, (3) Excellence in All We Do. One must ask – when airmen are asked to take an oath that's unambiguously untrue from their own perspective of personal belief, where's the "integrity"? Why should service members, who've already made the weighty decision to place their well-being, freedom, and safety on the line, also be coerced into religious submission and humiliation via the forced repetition of religious oaths that egregiously contradict their own core beliefs as individuals? Perhaps, for the sake of verity and consistency, the first core value of USAF should be altered to "Integrity Last."

Under such a tyrannical regime of theological oppression, even selfless heroes such as the late U.S. Army Corporal Pat Tillman, whose atheism was well know, would be deemed unfit for service in our nation's armed forces. Is the lunacy of this USAF stupidity really that hard to see? Will the USAF actually have to be dragged into federal court before it acknowledges its disgusting position of religious extremism here?

Whatever the USAF core values might be, such reprehensible examples of blatant religious coercion fly in the face of the Constitution of the United States of America and an enormous amount of related Constitutional case law stretching back at least 125 years. Indeed, the bulk of the First Amendment is devoted to our guaranteed freedom of religion (or freedom therefrom, if one so chooses). There is the Establishment Clause, which explicitly prohibits compulsory religious oaths, and then there is the Free Exercise Clause, which prevents a person from having to submit to coerced practices and affirmations of a scathingly sectarian nature. Let us neither forget the "No Religious Test" mandate of Clause 3, Article VI of the Constitution which, by itself, would be wholly dispositive here of the USAF's vile iniquity. Indeed, the issue of religious oaths has long been settled via bedrock legal precedents fortifying Constitutional equal protection which formidably underscores the already unequivocal guarantees laid out in our Constitution.

The case law is so universally settled in this precise area that even actors who play lawyers on TV or in the movies could win this one in court.

Of course, for some, that pesky document serving so ably as the inalienable foundation of the Law of the Land throughout the United States, merely comprises an obnoxious obstacle that stands in the way of the sectarian agendas of fundamentalist Christian exceptionalism and supremacy. This disingenuous evangelical, fundamentalist Fifth Column loves to hide behind phrases like "family," "Judeo-Christian," "values" and "tradition" to disguise their ignoble goal, which remains the absolute theological takeover of the Pentagon, White House, and Capitol Hill.

The civil rights foundation that I lead, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), has fought tooth-and-nail against these and similar manifestations of the theocratic, Christo-fascist tsunami within the U.S. Military. Over 38,200 service members, civilian personnel, and armed service veterans have reached out to us for help with grievances running the gamut from disrespectful spiritual denigration and marginalization to what can only be described as outright religious and/or spiritual rape. In fact, last year we refuted the lie that "So Help Me God" is some sacred legacy of the George Washington-era Officer's Oath, and our civil rights struggle successfully led the Air Force to state that the oath would be optional. Tragically, now the USAF has reversed its prior decision and reinstated the unconstitutional, mandatory oath.

"Freedom isn't free," or so we hear, and this maxim certainly is the case within the service branches of the U.S. Military. However, why should our brave service members be asked to sacrifice and destroy their pride, integrity, honor and character and waive their basic Constitutional freedom to choose their god or not?  Mandating that re-enlistment oaths must include "So Help Me God" merely institutionalizes religious exclusivism and brutally imposes severely deleterious repercussions on airman morale, good order, unit cohesion and discipline. Further it erects a de facto "Constitution-Free Zone" within the Air Force that nefariously nullifies the Constitution's First Amendment and Article VI. Less importantly, it also directly contradicts the prohibition of oaths mentioned in the New Testament. In Matthew 5:33-37, which is an important part of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, it clearly states: "Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God's throne. But let your communication be, Yea, Nay, for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil."

I guess the Air Force would have rejected Jesus as well?

 

 

Chicago

 

About 45 people gathered on a hot August night at a Chicago LBGT community center  to hear a chapter in Chicago history that is often forgotten--how John Gacy prowled the streets of Chicago's northside from 1972 through 1978, picking up young men and murdering at least 33 of them. Gacy, one of the most vicious mass murderers in U.S. history, was found guilty of the murders, sentenced to death and executed by lethal injection at Stateville Correctional Center in Joliet, Illinois on May 10, 1994.

 

Author and activist Patrick Dati spoke about his acclaimed memoir, I Am Me: Survivor of Child Abuse and Bullying Speaks Out which recounts how Dati overcame a life of bullying and emotional terror which included an assault by mass killer John Gacy when he was only 9-years-old. The book has been acclaimed by Fox News, the Chicago Sun-Times and Kirkus Reviews. Dati told the group he hid his true identity as a gay man through two failed marriages and that sharing his story in his memoir, as he has finally done, is the "ultimate coming out journey to find acceptance and love."

 

The book started as a personal diary that Dati's psychiatrist recommended he write to "release the trauma" Dati told the group. But when his best friend who was a writer read the manuscript, he told Dati that the powerful narrative of overcoming shame, childhood abuse and bullying would have national appeal. Soon a book was born and I Am Me: Survivor of Child Abuse and Bullying Speaks Out was launched by Amazon Digital Services earlier this year.

 

Many who now live in Boystown, Chicago's LBGT neighborhood, were not alive when Gacy cruised its streets. On the day of Dati's encounter with Gacy in the winter of 1973, he had been playing outside in the snow with his brother and other children. The boys went into Goldblatt's at Belmont and Central, a prominent Chicago department store chain now closed, to warm up and continue playing. But when he went to the men's room something happened to Dati that meant he "was never a child again," he says. He was sexually assaulted by a knife-wielding John Gacy. Dati fought back, he told the audience, refusing to "leave with" Gacy and possibly saving his own life.

 

Dati was likely only the second of Gacy's scores of victims, Dati told me. The crimes would continue until 1978, with victims usually losing their lives.

 

Dati said the shame and guilt about the violent assault kept him from telling anyone about it for many years. Ironically, when police finally arrested Gacy in 1979, Dati was with a friend of his who lived close to the Gacy Chicago residence. It was only then that he realized who had assaulted him. As soon as he saw Gacy's face flash on the TV screen, Dati said he ran to the bathroom and "I was throwing up and I was crying."

 

In addition to the assault, Dati said he has coped with bullying and abuse most of his life made all the more acute by a strict Catholic upbringing. The youngest of five children, Dati was bullied by his brother and his father would dismiss the abuse as "boys will be boys," he said.  But it wasn't good natured pranks or teasing, says Dati, "It was bullying."

 

Dati struggled with depression and thoughts of suicide after the assault, enduring more abuse in personal relationships because the emotional landscape of exploitation was so familiar to him. Dati also had two marriages before coming out and has a daughter. Since I Am Me has been published, Dati has become an advocate for survivors of sexual abuse and bullying as well as closeted gay men. Eighty to 85 percent of men who have been abused never come forward and reveal the harm and violence done to them, he says. He hopes to become a public speaker on the topics and his talk at the community center was videotaped for an upcoming CD.

 

“Too often in life the person we were raised to be is not the person we are,” Dati explains. “I lived my life to please others and it doesn’t work. I suffered so much and now I want to share my journey with others to that they too can come out of their darkness and into their light. Just be who you are. That’s the message!”

 

In addition to regularly speaking at national forums, he is active in several local and national anti-bullying and child abuse prevention organizations including, RAINN the Rape, Incest National Network.

 

Dati says he now regrets that he "didn't come forward" and reveal his traumatic experience sooner than he did. "I may have been able to save so many other kids' lives," he reflects. Dati is planning a second book to educate parents, teacher and school superintendents about the signs of bullying and abuse.