Crossposted from Tikkun Daily by Donna Nevel

In conversations about Gaza, I have heard many thoughtful people in the Jewish community lament the loss of Palestinian lives in Gaza but then say, "But Hamas...," as if that were the heart of the problem. I'd like to suggest that, when we have these conversations about Hamas and Israel's current bombing campaign, we begin with the necessary context and historical perspective.

Re: The Nakba

1. To create the Jewish state, the Zionist movement destroyed more than 400 Palestinians villages and expelled 700,000 Palestinians from their homes and land. Palestinians who remained in what became Israel were relegated to second-class citizenship, had much of their property confiscated, and, to this day, have fewer rights than Jewish Israeli citizens.

Re: The 1967 Occupation

2. In 1967, Israel occupied the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem and still occupies them until this day.

Re: Settlement expansion; the apartheid wall; and the siege of Gaza

3. Over the past 47 years of occupation, Israel has illegally confiscated more and more Palestinian land; built an apartheid wall; systematically denied Palestinians basic human and civil rights and engaged in state-sponsored violence; and forced the Palestinians in Gaza to live in appalling conditions that make it increasingly impossible to survive. Israel's latest bombing campaign, Operation Protective Edge, has killed over 1,900 Palestinians, at least 450 of whom are children, and has displaced hundreds of thousands more.

If those of us in the Jewish community who are committed to justice begin from these facts, I think it would become clearer - regardless of who the Palestinian leadership is - that the underlying problem really is the denial of freedom and basic human rights to millions of people, for decades. And, as a community, it should also become clearer where priorities need to be in order to have any integrity on this issue: addressing the Nakba of 1948 and the responsibility for the Nakba head-on - including the right of return for refugees; ending the occupation; ending the siege on Gaza; and recognizing the right to full equality for Palestinian citizens of Israel.

Donna Nevel, a community psychologist and educator, is a long-time organizer for peace and justice in Palestine/Israel. More recently, she is a founding member of Jews Say No!, on the board of Jewish Voice for Peace, and on the coordinating committee of the Nakba Education Project-US.

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Opponents of the Homeless Children and Youth Act, inexplicably a major national “advocacy” organization, are putting plenty of effort into denying the reality of families and youth experiencing homelessness. 

Let me ask a question:

Is your way— rebuffing the existence of millions of families, youth and adults with nowhere to go—working? 

In the 30 years I’ve been involved with homelessness I’ve seen homelessness go from a trickle to a flood. My book, Crossing the Line: Taking Steps to End Homelessness (Booklocker, 2005) describes people I saw as I ran shelters. I witnessed the steady increase of families and youth in those we’ve served. And it’s only getting worse.

I’ve seen the federal government, and many states, drastically retreat from providing affordable housing and supportive services to the growing beleaguered poverty populace, the source of the burgeoning homeless families and youth population, at the same time as federal welfare policy drastically scaled back family supports. Oh yeah, then the economy tanked….

What rarely gets mentioned—the astounding number of communities that lack any shelters or services for homeless families/youth—contributes to the trauma of millions. We seem to have dismissed their plight, tossing them into a survival mode that includes sex trafficking, prostitution, child abuse, hunger, physical and mental health issues and more.

Another question:

Why, after hearing the demands from policymakers to document the scope of the existence of homeless students, when we show dramatic increases in the numbers of children and youth experiencing homelessness (knowing that parents, and younger/older siblings are not included in the school census), do you dismiss their plight?

In the years since our nation’s economic meltdown began, 2006, public schools have identified an astounding 72% increase of students experiencing homelessness. The 2012-13 school year finds the census (albeit an undercount) at a record 1.2 million, not including parents, younger/older siblings. 

We’ve been counting students’ noses for about 10 years now to document the extent of their homelessness. Now what? Do they count or not?

And another question:

Do you think Congress will just wake up one day soon and decide to provide ample resources to ease the growth of family/youth homelessness?

Seeing that the paltry funds tossed at homeless by the feds came about because of massive grassroots actions, it makes sense to me that we need to be moving toward an expansion of advocacy, not retreating into a comfortable sense of we’ve got something, let’s not rock the boat. We need a concerted advocacy effort, not complicity with the status quo.

And my final questions:

Instead of hiding behind what appears to be a fear of not having enough resources to address homelessness for the pathetically inadequate programs now trying their best to ease and end homelessness, why not take a principled stand and say we need to expand HUD’s definition of homelessness to match the reality faced by millions of children, youth, parents and single adults with nowhere to go?

How do you sleep at night knowing that so many babies, toddlers, children, youth and parents struggle to survive with nowhere to go? 

To those uncomfortable with knowing that millions have nowhere to go, I urge you to take just a few moments and send this petition to your federal legislators to urge them to cosponsor the bipartisan Homeless Children and Youth Act. 

Having been instrumental in getting the Education for Homeless Children and Youth Act passed in 2001, I can assure you that Congress, not being accustomed to hearing that homelessness is an issue that besets families/youth, might just pay attention. We’ll all sleep better when that happens.

Crossposted from Tikkun Daily by Warren Blumenfeld

"The Lord bless you and keep you: The Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; The Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace."

Numbers 6:24-26

Biblical scholar Matthew Henry interprets this biblical passage as one in which, "The priests were solemnly to bless the people in the name of the Lord...while he mercifully forgives our sins, supplies our wants, consoles the heart, and prepares us by his grace for eternal glory...."

Pastor T. W. Jenkins welcomes guests with these comforting words from Numbers 6:24-26 when contacting his website for the New Hope Missionary Baptist Church of Tampa, Florida. Jenkins explains his Church as "Christ-centered and biblically-based...[and] offers over 30 ministries, all of which are open to visitors searching for a spirit-filled place to call home." Well, this may hold true, except if your family wishes to assemble a funeral service when the deceased man happens to have been married in life to another man. In that case, this biblical command no longer applies, and the pastor declares it null and void.

During the wake of Julion Evans who had succumbed to amyloidosis (a rare disease of a certain protein building up in bodily organs), his mother, Julie Atwood, and his husband and life partner for over 17 years, Kendall Capers, found no hope after receiving word from Jenkins that he had cancelled Evans's funeral after reading a newspaper obituary that Evans was married to another man, that Capers was the "surviving husband." Jenkins told Atwood that conducting the funeral at New Hope Missionary Baptist Church would be "blasphemous."

Explaining his decision, Jenkins asserted: "I try not to condemn anyone's lifestyle, but at the same time, I am a man of God and have to stand upon my principles."

Well, Jenkins, in your refusal to conduct the funeral service, you have, indeed, condemned Evans's so-called "lifestyle." Actually, I never really understood why it is that heterosexual people and couples live their lives, while those of us who love and partner with someone of the same sex lead sorted "lifestyles." Be that as it may, Jenkins has the absolute right "to stand upon [his] principles" as he defines them, though he would do well to take note of an action taken by another branch of Baptists.

The Southern Baptist Convention, in their presumption believing that they and only they know ultimate truth, unfortunately, has a long history of justifying oppression through its interpretation of scripture.

The issue of slavery became a lightning rod in the1840s among members of the Baptist General Convention, and in May 1845, 310 delegates from the Southern states convened in Augusta, Georgia to organize a separate Southern Baptist Convention on a pro-slavery plank. Delegates asserted as one of their religious "values" that God had condoned the institution of slavery. Therefore, as a good Christian, one must support slavery and not endorse abolition. They cited scripture to justify their position, for example:

"Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, in singleness of heart, as you obey Christ; not only while being watched, and in order to please them, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart." (Ephesians 6:5-6).

"Let all who are under the yoke of slavery regard their masters as worthy of all honor, so that the name of God and the teaching may not be blasphemed. Those who have believing masters must not be disrespectful to them on the ground that they are members of the church; rather they must serve them all the more, since those who benefit by their service are believers and beloved." (1 Timothy 6:1-2).

In fact, many slave ships had on board a Christian minister to help oversee and bless the passage. Slave ship names included "Jesus," "Grace of God," "Angel," "Liberty," and "Justice."

Well, either by divine "inspiration" or due to political pressure, 150 years later in June 1995, the Southern Baptist Convention reversed its position and officially apologized to African Americans for its support and collusion with the institution of slavery (regarding it now as "original sin"), and also apologizing for its support of "Jim Crow" laws and its rejection of civil rights initiatives during the1950s and 1960s.

Later, in 2010, the Southern Baptist Convention passed its "Resolution on Homosexuality and the United States Military," which stated in part: "RESOLVED, That the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention...affirm the Bible's declaration that homosexual behavior is intrinsically disordered and sinful, and we also affirm the Bible's promise of forgiveness, change, and eternal life to all sinners (including those engaged in homosexual sin) who repent of sin and trust in the saving power of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)."

Fortunately, however, there exists no monolithic conceptualization, for other faith communities' "values" are progressively welcoming toward LGBT people, our sexuality, and our gender expression, and these communities are working tirelessly to abolish the yoke of oppression directed against us. After the Southern Baptist Convention passed its 2010 resolution, a coalition of progressive organizations, including the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists, Believe OutLoud, Faith in America, GetEQUAL, Soulforce, and Truth Wins Out sponsored a petition drive calling on the Southern Baptist Convention to apologize for the harm its teachings have caused the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community.

Similarly, not all members of the clergy interpret scripture as does Jenkins. Pastor Otis Cooper of New Rising Star Missionary Baptist Church in Tampa held Evans's funeral service at the funeral home that conducted his wake.

Human diversity is a true gift as evidenced by the fact that "families" come in a great variety of packages, with differing shapes and sizes, colors, and wrappings. If, however, we still need to cling to a common definition of "family," I would remind us of one offered by singers/songwriters, Ron Romanovsky and Paul Phillips, who tell us that "The definition's plain for anyone to see. Love is all it takes to make a family."

I hope one day Pastor Jenkins apologizes to Julion Evans's family and friends for inflicting even more grief upon the grieving.

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Rep. Mo Brooks (R, Alabama) recently accused Democrats of waging a “war on whites.” In Ferguson, Missouri, where Michael Brown — an unarmed, 18-year-old, young black man —  was shot and killed by a police officer, there is no question against whom war is being waged.

If there is a “war” on, whites are winning.

  • Whites earn more. In 2012, the median income for white households was $67,000, compared to about $40,000 for blacks and Latinos.
  • Whites have more wealth. Median net worth for white households is more than $90,000 — ten times that of black and Latino households. The racial wealth gap has grown steadily, nearly tripling between 1984 and 2009. By 2010, whites held about 88 percent of the nation’s wealth. Blacks held just 2.7 percent.
  • Whites fared better in the recession. White household wealth fell 11 percent, between 2007 and 2009, compared to a 31 percent drop for blacks, and a 44 percent drop for Latinos. White household wealth dropped 16 percent in 2011, compared to a 53 percent drop for blacks.
  • More whites are homeowners. Whites are more likely to own homes and live in better neighborhoods. A Brown University study found that affluent blacks and Latinos live in poorer neighborhoods than working-class whites.
  • Whites are less poor.  According to census data, the white poverty rate is 11.6 percent, compared to 26 percent for blacks, and 23 percent for Latinos.
  • Whites have lower unemployment. Whites are about half as likely to be unemployed as blacks, while blacks are “first fired” when business or the economy is weak.
  • Whites are more likely to go to college. Whites are more likely to graduate from high school and go to college than blacks or Latinos. Meanwhile, 74 percent of blacks, and 80 percent of Latinos attend segregated schools; 38 percent of blacks and 43 percent of Latinos attend “intensely segregated” schools — with just up to 10 percent white students. A 10 percent increase of non-white students in any school is associated with a $75 decrease in per student spending.
  • Whites are less likely to go to jail. Black men are seven times more likely to go to jail than white men. Whites use drugs more, but blacks are arrested for drug possession three times more often than whites. Black men also receive prison sentences 19.5 percent longer than white men, for similar crimes.
  • Whites experience less discrimination. Only about 10 percent of whites surveyed said they’d faced racial discrimination. Young white men with criminal records are more likely to be hired than young black men with similar qualifications and clean records. Black job applicants are often turned away by companies for having a “black- sounding name,” or on the assumption that they use drugs.

What white Americans have lost is primacy — a sense of being primary, preeminent, or more important than any other group. In a 2011 interview, anti-racist author Tim Wise said that white Americans are reeling from cultural and economic changes. Taught that they would be rewarded if they worked hard, many are now working harder for less, or finding themselves in the unemployment line with blacks and Latinos.

Economic insecurity is compounded by demographic trends. As the country becomes more diverse, more of its icons — political leaders, celebrities, and sports heroes — are people of color. For whites, America’s face is no longer a reflection of theirs. They no longer define the American identity.

Republicans have appealed to the economic and racial anxieties of their predominately white base to win elections. The recession made that even easier. A recent New York University study shows that economic disparity “enhances discrimination and contributes to racial disparities,” as  it makes people more racially biased.

Ferguson’s 94 percent white police department resembled an occupying force, as it confronted a 67 percent black community with weapons of war. The paramilitary gear came from the Department of Defense’s excess property program, which provides surplus military equipment to law enforcement agencies. Since 1992, the program has given $4.3 billion in military equipment — $450 million in 2013 alone — “free of charge,” to law enforcement agencies that say they’re part of a “High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area,” on a one-age form. The “free” surplus gear is paid for out of a bloated defense budget, funded by taxpayers.

Angela Blackwell Glover has suggested that the businesses partnering with President Obama’s “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative, should open their workforces to young black men, with internship and fellowship opportunities that open up career paths, and lead to jog opportunities. Unemployment among black men ages 16 to 19 is over 33 percent, compared to 18.9 percent among white youth.

Glover’s point underscores that our government has neglected to invest in jobs and education in communities of color. Young blacks and Latinos will play an important role in our economic future. Yet most contend with segregated, poorly funded schools, while America spends $4.3 billion on “surplus” paramilitary gear, and then gives it away. If we had invested even a fraction of that $4.3 billion in education, job training, etc., how great a difference might it have made by now?

Instead, police officers suit up for war, disproportionately treat black citizens as the enemy. Last year in Ferguson, 92 percent of searches, 80 percent of car stops, and 94 percent of arrests following car stops were of blacks; even though police only found contraband on 22 percent of blacks they stopped, compared to 34 percent of whites. Confronted with the same police force in riot gear, black protestors erupted in anger, and Ferguson’s police put their share of $4.3 billion in paramilitary gear to use.

No wonder Rep. John Lewis (D, Georgia), who has seen racist police violence up close, compared the violence in Ferguson to the violence he and others faced during the Civil Rights era. The same fears, anxieties, and resentments that drove violence generations ago are still with us today. The evidence is in our streets.

The niggerization of Michael Brown has begun in earnest. The police and the Right-wing media have decided that like all other black people who have been killed by the police and white (identified) vigilantes, Brown is guilty of causing his own execution-style murder.

Writing about the behavior of the police department in Ferguson, Missouri and their efforts to derail, obfuscate, lie, and dissemble about the murder of Michael Brown is an experience akin to Bill Murray's in the movie Groundhog Day. It is a cultural script that plays out repeatedly in the United States--the events of which are only a surprise to the naive, willfully ignorant, dishonest, and/or stupid.

Those of us who write about race and work the "racism beat" have to struggle to find something new to say about the seemingly endless parade of black unarmed men killed by police and other white-identified authorities. Being a truth-teller on such matters is tedious, not easy, and mentally exhausting.

Cornel West's use of the word "niggerization" to describe how black people are robbed of their humanity by the White Gaze and White Supremacy is cited and mentioned so frequently for a reason: it is one of the most precise and sharp ways of describing both the institutional as well as the ethical and moral violence visited upon black people by centuries of white racism in the United States and the West.

While "Black Twitter" developed a meme designed to point out the twin lying nature of the White Gaze and racial paranoia in how it selectively frames black people's humanity, Right-wing hate media such as the Drudge Report, Fox Newsand other conservative sewers defaulted to the black rapist "Bigger Thomas" frame, wherein Michael Brown is a "thug" who got "what he deserved":

Sociologist Joe Feagin's concept of the white racial frame dominates this moment:

In the book Systemic Racism I develop the concept of a white racial frame holistically and comprehensively. Since its development in the 17th century, this racial frame has been a “master frame,” a dominant framing that provides a generic meaning system for the racialized society that became the United States. The white racial frame provides the vantage point from which European American oppressors have long viewed North American society.

In this racial framing, whites have combined racial stereotypes (the cognitive aspect), metaphors and interpretive concepts (the deeper cognitive aspect), images (the visual aspect), emotions (feelings), and inclinations to discriminatory action. This frame buttresses, and grows out of the material reality of racial oppression. The complex of racial hierarchy, material oppression, and the rationalizing white racial frame constitute what I term systemic racism. This white racial frame includes much more than the usual concepts we use in the study of racial matters, such as stereotyping and prejudice or discrimination.

Black people who have had violence visited upon them by the white racial state and its agents are forced into a type of bizarro world. Like women who are the victims of sexual assault, black victims are forced to defend their right to exist; rapine logic as applied to women is a neat analogy for white racial logic as it applies to black victims of white police (and other) abuse. In this framework, Michael Brown, Renisha McBride, and Trayvon Martin were somehow asking to be killed.

As social scientists have repeatedly documented, there is a deep connection between white racial animus, a fear of black criminality, support for guns, and what is euphemistically labeled as "law and order" politics. White conservative politicians have skillfully exploited that bundle of attitudes for great electoral gain from the end of Reconstruction and "Redemption", to the Southern Strategy, and the present.

The mainstream corporate media dances around a basic fact, one that I have no fear or compunction about stating clearly and directly. Michael Brown is dead because the police are empowered by a good percentage of the white American public to kill black and brown people preemptively and with extreme prejudice. If you doubt the glee that the White Right and the silent majority feel for the killing of Michael Brown, a quick examination of the comment sections on CNN and other news sites will disabuse you of that notion.

During the Cold War, it was "better to be dead than red". Historically, in the United States "it is better to be safe than sorry" by killing black people--who may or may not have committed a crime--as due process is jettisoned in favor of white rage and brutality as a means of enforcing the color line.

There has been an amazing amount of racial progress in the United States. Barack Obama, a black man, is President of the United States. Black culture is American culture.

However, it is the "exceptional" and "special negro" who is lauded and praised, made acceptable and embraced as an exemplar of white tolerance and the virtues of American exceptionalism and superiority.

But what of the black stranger who exists in a type of liminal space? Where he or she is just an idea or concept for the collective White psyche and white racial consciousness, in which cultural biases and old fashioned racism too often deem black personhood as dangerous, predatory, and criminal?

On both sides of the color line, it is easy to love the idea of the exceptional negro. By comparison, for the White Gaze, it is far harder to possess a common feeling of shared humanity and decency with a black stranger, one who even in the Age of Obama and the post civil rights era is overlaid and embossed with the stain and shadow of Whiteness's paranoia, nightmares, fantasies, fetishes, anxieties, longing for, desires, fears, arousal, envy, hostility, and other assorted feelings.

White Supremacy colours black and brown people with a reflective patina that shines back to it a projection of what white racism desires to see people of color as, instead of who we actually are.

The substantive racial progress required to finally vanquish White Supremacy from American cultural life will mandate that all Americans accept the full humanity of non-whites...even as some of the latter, like all people, are less than perfect in their behavior and comportment.

Loving an exceptional and perfect black person is easy; loving less than perfect human beings who happen to be black, and simultaneously extending to them their basic human rights on an interpersonal level, is a far more difficult task for white folks--and those others--who are infected by the racial logic of Whiteness and White Supremacy.

The United States Navy is equipped to take down any enemy around the globe and is, by far, the most formidable seaborne fighting force known in the history of humankind. It’s larger than the next 13 navies of other countries combined, and no credible military threat exists on the planet that’s capable of realistically surmounting the massive killing capacity of the American fleet. Why, then, does such a feared force slink away in abject cowardice when it comes to upholding the U.S. Uniformed Services sworn Constitutional oath which all officers and NCOs are bound to solemnly affirm? Aren’t all armed forces personnel bound by the once-sacrosanct commitment to defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, both foreign and domestic? 

Sadly, this doesn’t seem to be the case. This truly pathetic state of affairs was illustrated just late yesterday (August 14, 2014) by the abrupt and exceedingly wretched capitulation by the U.S. Navy to the shadowy forces of domestic religious extremism. Indeed, the powerful Christian fundamentalist lobby has successfully fought to make Gideons Bibles a permanent, proselytizing fixture in the global network of U.S. Navy-administered, federally funded, military installation lodging facilities or hotels.

The drama played out earlier this week when a critically important directive from senior Navy leadership was initially made public. This new Navy order, announced by Naval Exchange Service Commander (NEXCOM) Rear Admiral Robert J. Bianchi, stipulated that Gideons Bibles would no longer be allowed in the rooms of the 34 Naval Lodges and 24,000 rooms at Navy Gateway Inns and Suites located throughout the entirety of the United States Navy. The removal came after a complaint was submitted by our allies at the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) – NOT to be confused with the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), the civil rights organization that I lead. 

However, almost immediately after Admiral Bianchi’s Constitutionally laudable directive had been announced, the all too predictable and abominable refrain of a faux “war on Christianity” rang fully throughout the Dominionist Christian echo chamber. Quite expectedly, once the Navy’s senior leadership caught wind of the disingenuous cry that “Lord Jesus had a hard time getting a room at the inn, and now, His Holy Word will no longer be welcome either,” they "turned about” 180 degrees and took off like terrified terriers with their tails between their scrambling legs. The Navy suddenly reversed its merely 3-day-old prior decision and is now “temporarily” placing the Bibles back in the lodges while it takes a breather to figure out what the final "new policy" going forward will be. Uh huh. Yeah, let’s just call it what it is: C-O-W-A-R-D-I-C-E!

Sure, the re-placement of the Gideons Bibles is “temporary.” If you believe that, then I’ve got a beach bungalow in Mosul, Iraq to sell you.

As the frontline civil rights force ensuring Constitutional compliance within the byzantine, insular and xenophobic culture of the U.S. Military, MRFF has been fighting for the removal of the Gideons Bibles from all service branches' installation Lodges for the better part of the last decade. In 2012 MRFF succeeded in forcing the DoD to remove official U.S. Military emblems from the Holman Military Bibles being sold in military base exchanges worldwide. MRFF knows all too well the ultra-tribal, adversarial, communal and ritualistic nature of our nation’s military “ethnicity.” We’ve received literally hundreds of these specific complaints from MRFF clients every year about the unsolicited planting of these Gideons Bibles. MRFF's years of aggressive advocacy to remove these Gideons Bibles from armed forces base lodges likely aided nontrivially in the passage of the initial directive, which followed the formal complaint courageously submitted by the FRFF. Considering the foregoing, you can appreciate the absurd headline of one fundamentalist Christian article regarding the issue: “Mikey Weinstein Strikes Again!”

Of course, our problem isn’t with the New Testament Bible or any other revered text of faith or of even no faith. Indeed, our problem is with the purposeful and brutal destruction of the Constitutionally-mandated wall separating church and state in the technologically most lethal organization ever created; the United States armed forces. There should be absolutely no confusion between the right to freely exercise one’s religious faith and the right of powerful sectarian interest groups like the pernicious Family Research Council and the American Family Association (both officially designated as hate groups by the venerable Southern Poverty Law Center) to lobby for the official establishment of a "national religion”… and you guessed it right, that national religion would be fundamentalist (or dominionist) evangelical Christianity.

It is just incontestable that there exists an obvious, insuperable proselytizing advantage afforded this vicious and twisted perversion of an otherwise most noble faith by the omnipresence of the Gideons Bibles at TAXPAYER-FUNDED Navy Lodges. This illicit bonanza for fundamentalist Christianity is a literally crystal clear violation of the Establishment Clause of the United States Constitution, which is precisely why the original Naval directive to remove the Gideons Bibles was absolutely correct as a matter of law. MRFF, along with our client base of tens of thousands of United States military members and veterans, would have been similarly incensed if, rather than Gideons Bibles, the Navy-run lodges carried the Book of Mormon, the Bhagavad Gita, the Hebrew Scriptures, Richard Dawkins’ God Delusion, or similar material of an exclusivist religious, atheistic, or sectarian nature.

Additionally, by ONLY making available Gideons Bibles, the U.S. Navy was also brazenly violating two bedrock DoD regularity directives which (1) strictly prohibit the provision of a selective benefit to and/or (2) endorsing a non-Federal Entity, like Gideons International, which is singularly devoted to evangelizing the New Testament. This concept is simple. For example, DoD cannot endorse Burger King over McDonalds or Crest over Colgate. There is, however, no separation between "hamburger and state" nor "toothpaste and state" in our Constitution.

That said, how in the hell could DoD endorse one fundamentalist version of extremist Christianity over all other Christian denominational sects, not to mention non-Christian and non-faith communities? Easy answer; DoD cannot do such a thing. Yet it just did, and has been doing so for decades now!

Unfortunately, we’ve grown used to the weapons-grade Constitutional cowardice displayed by the Pentagon. DoD always ignobly runs for cover at light speed when Christian extremist “Chicken Littles” squawk about the “falling skies” of so-called religious repression due to alleged “Christian victimization". Listen up now; there IS no Christian victimization. There is only "Christian equalization”. Now, previously (unconstitutionally) privileged Christian fundamentalists have to share their toys with everyone else. And they sure don’t like it, do they? The usual rogues’ gallery of theocratic, fundamentalist Christian parachurch monstrosities, along with their bootlicker Congressional lapdogs, has a direct and unfettered line to the Pentagon. They possess an unmatched ability to frighten and cow the top DoD brass into a compliant, pathetically supine state of “Stepford Wife” blind obedience. Damn the torpedoes and Constitution, full proselytizing speed ahead!

This horrifying national security threat begs the question: what are Americans prepared to do about the surging evangelical fundamentalist Christian coup which threatens to subsume the United States military?

I will suggest this for an answer; fight back against these Christian fundamentalist terrorists with every fiber of our collective beings and to the full limits of our legal, ethical and moral ability to do if our very lives depended upon it. 

Because they do.

The Military Religious Freedom Foundation is up against well-funded extremist religious organizations. Your donations allow us to continue our fight in the courts and in the media to fight for separation of church and state in the U.S. military. Please make a fully tax-deductible donation today at

Michael L. “Mikey” Weinstein, Esq. is founder and president of the six-time Nobel Peace Prize-nominated Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), an honor graduate of the Air Force Academy, and a former J.A.G. in the U.S. Air Force. He served as a White House counsel in the Reagan Administration and as the Committee Management Officer of the “Iran-Contra” Investigation. He is also the former General Counsel to H. Ross Perot and Perot Systems Corporation. His two sons, daughter-in-law, son-in law, and brother-in-law are also graduates of USAFA. In December 2012, Defense News named Mikey one of the 100 Most Influential People in U.S. Defense. He is the author of “With God On Our Side”(2006, St. Martin’s Press) and “No Snowflake in an Avalanche” (2012, Vireo).


You would think the world's oldest civil rights organization, as the NRA calls itself, would speak out about the events in Ferguson. Aren't the law enforcement personnel in the hot seat the same jack-booted thugs the NRA screeched about 20 years ago?


But wait! The racial unrest is doing a better job of selling product than the NRA's "they're gonna take your guns" marketing after President Obama's election and the Newtown massacre. It has started a feeder frenzy of gun sales among area residents, says CNN. People are scooping up shotguns, AR-15s, concealable handguns, Glocks, Rugers, firearms with high capacity magazines and a "boatload" of ammunition, as fast as they can says Steven King, owner of Metro Shooting Supplies, a gun shop in the St. Louis suburb of Bridgeton.


At Mid America Arms in St. Louis, sales have jumped 50 percent.


Much as it tries to update its image with its African-American spokesman Colion Noir and Gabby Franco (not only a woman but an Olympic shooter from Venezuela who legally emigrated--3 PR points!) NRA can't shake its White Power roots. In 1967, it supported California Governor Ronald Reagan's Mulford Act that restricted people carrying guns--because Black Panthers were carrying them. “There’s no reason why on the street today a citizen should be carrying loaded weapons,” said Reagan at the time.


As recently as 2007, a racial-fear mongering NRA brochure draft was leaked to the press that shows an Aryan nation under siege by African-Americans. The brochure, called Freedom In Peril; Guarding the 2nd Amendment in the 21st Century, was intended for fundraising but is so paranoid and racist, it seems right out of the satirical newspaper the Onion. In high budget illustrations, homeowners are shown defending themselves from a Helter Skelter-like apocalypse by shooting from their rooftops. "Thousands of lawful Americans were reduced to the final and purest form of self-reliance in the face of terrifying anarchy," said the brochure about the unrest after Hurricane Katrina,


While the NRA has almost equal fear of "bad guys" which usually means African-Americans and government officials with their black helicopters, in New Orleans both fears were combined in one entity since most law enforcement personnel were African-American. No wonder the brochure spells out special hatred for former New Orleans Police Department Chief Eddie Compass as a top enemy.


Does the NRA's recruitment of Colion Noir mean it is no longer a tacit White Power organization? Only if you ignore the comments of NRA board member Ted Nugent who characterized President Obama as a "sub human mongrel." Nugent also said the President is "a piece of s**t, and I told him to suck on my machine gun." If the "world's oldest civil rights organization" disagreed with the uncouth and racist remarks, would Nugent still be a board member?



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(Crossposted from Tikkun Daily by Valerie Elverton Dixon)

President Obama has ordered airstrikes against the non-state actor the Islamic State (IS) a.k.a. Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) a.k.a. the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). He has also ordered an airlift of food, water and medicine to Iraqi religious minorities who have fled their homes and who are now living on Mt. Sinjar. IS, a ruthless militant organization, has fought its way through Iraq with surprising speed and, as I write this, is only a few miles outside of Erbil, a major city in the Kurdish region of Iraq and where a US consulate is.

In his weekly address, President Obama said that the broad strategic goals of the US military operations in Iraq are to protect US citizens in Erbil, address the humanitarian crisis, prevent Iraq from becoming a safe haven for terrorists, and to urge Iraqis to reconcile, unify, and defend their country. While the president insists that this military operation will be limited, that the United States will not slide into another protracted military engagement, that there will be no commitment of US troops on the ground, we hear complaints that limited airstrikes will not be enough to stop IS.

This is a fighting force that is well armed with US weapons abandoned by some members of Iraq's military. The group robbed a bank full of money provided by US taxpayers. The group also receives funding from wealthy people in the region who are sympathetic to their cause. They attract fighters from Europe and the United States who have a misguided view of the meaning of the concept of jihad in Islam.

This is a ruthless, determined, well-funded, well-armed organization. There is no question about this. The nonsense rolls in like an early morning fog when some journalists and analysts tell us that IS owes its strength to President Obama's unwillingness to become more militarily involved in Syria at the beginning of its civil war. IS, they say, filled a vacuum.

Enough of this nonsense. Enough. President Obama did not intervene in Syria and did not do more to arm the Syrian rebels for good reasons. The Syrian opposition lacked unity then and now and it included groups such as IS. There was no reason to believe the weapons given to "moderates" would not end up in the hands of IS. Besides that, all of the various military options would have come with a high price tag and uncertain outcomes.

In a July 19, 2013 letter to Senate Armed Services Committee chair Sen. Carl Levin, General Martin Dempsey, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff outlined an unclassified assessment of military options in Syria. At the time of the letter, the US military role was limited to humanitarian assistance to the thousands of Syrian refugees, security help to Syria's neighbors who were dealing with a tremendous influx of Syrians and "nonlethal assistance to the opposition."

Dempsey outlined five options: train, advise, and assist the opposition; conduct limited stand-off strikes; establish a no fly zone; establish buffer zones; control chemical weapons.

On the first option - train, advise, and assist the opposition - Dempsey said: "The scale could range from several hundred to several thousand troops with the costs varying accordingly, but estimated at $500 million per year INITIALLY (emphasis mine) About the risks he says:

"Risks include extremists gaining access to additional capabilities, retaliatory cross-border attacks, and insider attacks or inadvertent association with war crimes due to vetting difficulties."

On the second option - conduct limited stand-off strikes - would require "hundreds of aircraft, ships, submarines, and other enablers. Depending on duration, the costs would be in the billions." There was also a probability of civilian casualties with this option.

The third option - establish a no-fly zone - would require "hundreds of ground and sea-based aircraft, intelligence and electronic warfare support, and enablers for refueling. Estimated costs are $500 million dollars initially, averaging as much as a BILLION DOLLARS PER MONTH over the course of a year. . . (emphasis mine) Risks include the loss of U.S. aircraft, which would require us to insert personnel recovery forces." Dempsey also says that this may not reduce the violence because "the regime relies overwhelmingly on surface fires - mortars, artillery, and missiles."

About the fourth option - establish buffer zones - Dempsey says: "Thousands of U.S. ground forces would be needed, even if positioned outside Syria, to support those physically defending the zones. A limited no-fly zone coupled with U.S. ground forces would push the costs over one billion dollars per month." One risk: "The zones could also become operational bases for extremists."

Finally - control chemical weapons. I will quote the paragraph in its entirety.

"This option uses lethal force to prevent the use or proliferation of chemical weapons. We do this by destroying portions of Syria's massive stockpile, interdicting its movements and delivery, or by seizing and securing program components. At a minimum, this option would call for a no-fly zone as well as air and missile strikes involving hundreds of aircraft, ships, submarines, and other enablers. Thousands of special operations forces and other ground forces would be needed to assault and secure critical sites. Costs could also average well over one billion dollars per month. The impact would be the control of some, but not all chemical weapons. It would also help prevent their further proliferation into the hands of extremist groups. OUR INABILITY TO FULLY CONTROL SYRIA'S STORAGE AND DELIVERY SYSTEMS COULD ALLOW EXTREMISTS TO GAIN BETTER ACCESS.
(emphasis mine) Risks are similar to the no-fly zone with the added risk of U.S. boots on the ground."

I have quoted this paragraph in full because it is imperative that we cut through the nonsense that says President Obama showed himself weak when he did not attack Syria after its use of chemical weapons. He drew a red-line and did not follow through. The mistake was a rhetorical one. He ought not to have drawn a red-line in the first instance. However, not bombing Syria was intelligent, not weak.

Let us recall the sequence of events. After it became clear that Bashar al Assad had used chemical weapons against his own citizens, the president was prepared to act. He started to gather an international coalition. France said yes, but the British Parliament refused Prime Minister David Cameron's request. The president decided to ask for a congressional vote because the people of the United States was against US involvement in another war. Pope Francis called for a day-long fast. Russia brokered a deal whereby Assad would give up his stockpiles of chemical weapons. There was no longer a need to strike Syria. The strategic objective had been met. And, it was more than "control" of the weapons, but it was "destruction" of the weapons done without all the costs and risks outlined in Dempsey's letter.

It would not have been intelligent for President Obama to strike Syria for the sake of striking Syria. People who say that this is a sign of weakness, that our allies in the Middle East cannot trust the president's word are working out a hidden agenda that is not in the interest of the people of the United States. Journalists who report that their "sources" tell them that the United States cannot be trusted because President Obama was intellectually and tactically nimble enough to achieve a strategic goal without firing a shot are being bamboozled.

There were not then and are not now any good options in Syria or Iraq. And, if the president must err, I hope he errs on the side on not inserting more lethal weapons into Syria. At the same time, I think it is wise to arm the Kurds so they have a fighting chance against the Islamic State. It is the Kurds and the Iraqi army who will have to provide a safe corridor for the people on the mountain to find better shelter. Humanitarian assistance is always in order.

However, the leaders in Iraq and around the world must wake to a new international reality. We are at a tipping point in world affairs. We the People of the United States are tired of perpetual war. We are no longer willing to spend billions, trillions, of dollars playing the part of the world's police force. Iraqi military forces cannot lay their weapons down before IS and think the United States military is coming to fight their battles. Other governments in the region also ought to disabuse themselves of this notion.

In his remarks on Saturday, August 09, President Obama said: "So we're going to be pushing very hard to encourage Iraqis to get their government together. Until they do that, it is going to be hard to get the unity of effort that allows us to not just play defense, but also engage in offense." I say: "what do you mean us?"

Unless the governments in the region want IS to achieve its goal of an Islamic caliphate on their soil, they will have to step up with funding and their own military personnel to fight the battle and President Obama ought to make this clear to all of them.

As President Eisenhower warned, we pay for each jet fighter, each warship, each tank with roads and schools and food security and health care for our own citizens. No more. This is not weakness, this is intelligent. And our own analysts and journalists ought to stop buying nonsense and then selling it to us. Enough is enough.


Valerie Elverton Dixon is founder of and author of "Just Peace Theory Book One; Spiritual Morality, Radical Love, and the Public Conversation"


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On Sunday evening, there were acts of civil unrest in Ferguson, Missouri. These disturbances were in response to the killing of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, who was shot multiple times by a police officer and whose body was left laying in the street for several hours. Witnesses to the event reported that Michael was shot without reason. The officer apparently shot him many more times once his body was on the ground. The police, have as expected, concocted a wildly ridiculous story to cover up the misdeeds of one of their own.

In response to the civil unrest, the commentariat class issues the 1) requisite condemnation of the "rioters" and 2) acts as though there is some great mystery for why people would take to the streets, "confront" the police, and "loot" businesses in their own community.

And of course, there will be an obligatory quote from Brother Doctor King that is taken out of context in order to condemn the "bad blacks" in Ferguson, Missouri.

The pressure to follow this public script is especially heavy for black and brown people.

I choose to deviate from those trite rhetorical norms.

Black people are not allowed to be angry. Black people are also not allowed to show the full range of righteous anger and indignation that is common to the human experience.

The outbreak of unrest in Ferguson was predictable and understandable. In fact, I am surprised that more communities which have been subjected to onerous, tyrannical, racist, classist, violent abuse by the police do not erupt in protest.

Like New York and other major cities, the small town of Ferguson has a history of racial profiling and harassing its black residents.

The murder of Michael Brown is a proximate cause of the unrest in Ferguson. It is not the deeper systemic root of the protests. Here too, the news media on both the left and the right will focus on the symptoms--righteous anger and rage--as opposed to the cause (over-policing; the militarization of the police; police racism; social inequality).

The Kerner Commission Report in response to the urban unrest of the 1960s offered a diagnosis and several suggestions that would likely still apply today. For example, the report noted the following:

* The final incident before the outbreak of disorder, and the initial violence itself, generally took place in the evening or at night at a place in which it was normal for many people to be on the streets.

* Violence usually occurred almost immediately following the oc­currence of the final precipitating incident, and then escalated rapidly. With but few exceptions, violence subsided during the day, and flared rapidly again at night. The night-day cycles con­tinued through the early period of the major disorders.

* Disorder generally began with rock and bottle throwing and win­dow breaking. Once store windows were broken, looting usually followed.

* Disorder did not erupt as a result of a single "triggering" or "precipitating" incident. Instead, it was generated out of an in­creasingly disturbed social atmosphere, in which typically a series of tension-heightening incidents over a period of weeks or months became linked in the minds of many in the Negro community with a reservoir of underlying grievances. At some point in the mounting tension, a further incident-in itself often routine or trivial-became the breaking point and the tension spilled over into violence.

* "Prior" incidents, which increased tensions and ultimately led to violence, were police actions in almost half the cases; police actions were "final" incidents before the outbreak of violence in 12 of the 24 surveyed disorders.

Protests and civil unrest are part of the American cultural tradition: they are politics by other means.

There is a large literature on the topic and many experts in sociology, history, psychology, and political science who could offer sharp and smart insights on the unrest in Ferguson. It is unlikely that they will be given an opportunity to speak on national TV or radio, or to write essays for major online magazines or websites.

The unrest in Ferguson, Missouri in response to the cowardly murder of Michael Brown by the local police fits neatly within a cultural narrative of black violence, black irrationality, black hyper-emotionalism, black crime, and white racial resentment. This is the dominant discursive frame for discussions of black suffering at the hands of the racial state and white police authority. It is a type of default "common sense" knowledge; to deviate from it would mark one as "irrational" or "irresponsible". Unfortunately, this rule results in lazy thinking and a Fourth Estate which has abandoned its responsibilities to monitor the powerful, and to properly educate and inform the citizenry.

(Cross-posted from Tikkun Daily by David Harris-Gershon)

Much has been written about the silencing of anti-war dissent in Israel by a populace almost universally supportive of military action in Gaza. Such support - inspired by feelings of vulnerability amidst rocket fire and informed by the country's rightward shift - has made speaking out against the violence not just uncomfortable, but dangerous. Not a single anti-war demonstration in the past month has concluded without participants being attacked and beaten by nationalistic counter-protesters.

And yet, while the silencing of anti-war dissent has been a troubling manifestation of Israelis' support for war, even more troubling has been the societal numbness, the societal disregard for Palestinian suffering which has been manifested in unsettling, and sometimes shocking, ways.

It's not bombastic to say that empathy is dead in Israel right now from a societal standpoint, a metaphorical casualty of the current violence. Evidence of this isn't just being seen in statistical polls, but in a seemingly endless stream of incidents. Consider the following three, representative of a real phenomenon few in Israel deny:

These scenes are just three representing countless such episodes happening online and in everyday life. Of course, they're not scenes taking place within a vacuum. A conflict is ongoing. Israelis have had to run to bomb shelters with each rocket attack. People are being traumatized by the constant threat of war.

However, within this context, many leaders are doing their part to incite the populace and ensure that the unspeakable suffering of Palestinians, not to mention their humanity, remain invisible. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has been responsible for this, repeating the refrain that Palestinians in Gaza don't care about life, and reminding everyone that the thousands of dead are not so much victims as desired public relations weapons in Hamas' fight against Israel.

Netanyahu's words have been tame when compared to those of the Knesset's Deputy Speaker, who proposed placing Palestinians in tent encampments in Gaza before shipping them off to other countries. This call was preceded by a prominent chief rabbi who (falsely) declared that genocide with regard to Gaza was permitted by Jewish law to protect Israel.

Some might argue that all of this should be placed within the context of the growing issue of racism in Israel, which 95 percent of Israelis in March agreed is a national problem. However, such racism in many ways is just one more symptom, along with the disappearing empathy for the 'other,' of a decades-old conflict which is tearing at the soul of a country I love.

Decades of occupation and conflict have led to this societal moment in which, after killing nearly 2,000 Palestinians and obliterating parts of Gaza, Israeli society is unwilling to acknowledge what it has done to the other side. As though admitting such would be tantamount to losing in a zero-sum game where only one side can be right, can be just.

Such an environment prompted Gregg Carlstrom to write an article entitled "The Death of Sympathy," which he opens with the following panoramic paragraph:

Pro-war demonstrators stand behind a police barricade in Tel Aviv, chanting, "Gaza is a graveyard." An elderly woman pushes a cart of groceries down the street in the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon and asks a reporter, "Jewish or Arab? Because I won't talk to Arabs." A man in Sderot, a town that lies less than a mile from Gaza, looks up as an Israeli plane, en route to the Hamas-ruled territory, drops a blizzard of leaflets over the town. "I hope that's not all we're dropping," he says.

Yes, there are lone voices calling for the recognition of both Palestinian and Israeli suffering. Voices calling for Israelis to acknowledge what it has done to the other side. What it is doing to itself. Unfortunately, such lone voices are being silenced, and sometimes physically attacked.

Just as I mourn for the dead in Israel and Palestine, for the young soldiers killed and innocent civilians lost, I mourn for a society that seems to be slipping into numbness, and what that numbness portends.


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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