Crossposted from Tikkun Daily by Warren Blumenfeld

Over 60,000 people in New York's Central Park and millions more around our planet were treated to the eclectic sounds of world-class performers at the third Global Citizens Festival on Saturday, September 27. Performers included Jay Z, Beyoncé, Carrie Underwood, The Roots, Tiesto, No Doubt, Sting, and Alicia Keys.

The organization Global Citizen, whose goal is to eliminate extreme poverty worldwide by 2030, sponsored the event to shed light on poverty, which continues to affect an estimated 1.2 billion people, and to empower individuals and the world community to take concrete actions to end this scourge. Specifically, Global Citizen urges people to contact world leaders to focus on issues of providing vaccines, education, and sanitation to all the world's citizens.

Internationally, more people have mobile phones than have clean potable water and sanitation facilities. An estimated 3.4 million people die each year of diseases caused by lack of access to clean water and adequate sanitation infrastructures. This shortage kills people around the world every four hours. This lack of clean water and vaccinations significantly lowers a person's chances for quality education, keeping them in extreme poverty. The vicious cycle continues.

Part of the Global Citizen Manifesto reads:

"I believe that 1 BILLION PEOPLE continuing to live extreme poverty is an affront to our COMMON HUMANITY AND DIGNITY. That it is unfair, unjust and unnecessary."

These words, "unfair," "unjust," and "unnecessary" have particular resonance for me as I learned that U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes recently refused to prevent city officials in Detroit, Michigan from shutting off water to customers who cannot afford to pay the skyrocketing costs of services, which have increased rapidly since the city filed for Chapter 9 bankruptcy last year. Monthly charges for water and sewer services in Detroit average $70.67 per household. In his ruling, Rhodes asserted that people do not have a fundamental right to water services. Since the shutoffs over the summer, thousands of protesters have taken to the streets.

In the wealthy suburbs circling Detroit, though, residents fill their enormous residential and country club swimming pools and artificial lakes around their pristine golf courses, as people in the inner city desperately lack water for drinking or bathing. And the tremendous income gaps ever expand within the U.S. and internationally.

Unfair

While city officials have negotiated long-term payment schedules for some customersthey rated "delinquent" on past payments, a number of residents, often through no fault of their own, simply do not have the funds necessary to pay for water. They regularly have to choose between putting food on the table for their children or paying for clean water. No one should have to make this choice!

Unjust

By shutting off the valves, city officials have consigned residents to increased rates of disease, dehydration, and lowered chances of escaping poverty. When children and adults are deprived of the basics to sustain life, their health suffers, which greatly impacts their educational and overall life opportunities.

Unnecessary

Our nation must redirect its priorities directly to serve its people through infrastructure improvements so cities like Detroit do not have to solve these problems in isolation resulting in forced terminations of clean and potable water. President Obama has urged Congress since he entered office to release the funding to upgrade our crumbling sewer systems, roads, bridges, and power grids, which as they currently exist, have put our nation at increased risk. Unfortunately, Congress seems unwilling to get to work, which stands in stark contrast to the vast number of our residents who live below the poverty line, and who often work multiple jobs, yet still barely getting by.

I personally abide by the entire Global Citizen Manifesto, especially this section:

"THE WORLD'S POOR ARE LEADING THIS PROGRESS FOR THEMSELVES, but they can't finish the job without the rest of us. I am committed to changing the systems and policies that keep people poor."

We all can and must end this worldwide unfair, unjust, and unnecessary travesty of extreme poverty. This reminds me of a TV commercial I watched last night for pistachios when Steven Colbert, seated beside an American Bald Eagle perched above, declares: "The pistachio: it's just like our politics. When the two sides are divided, that's when the nuts come out!"

On issues of poverty and for the sake of humanity, we all must work on the same side.

Dr. Warren J. Blumenfeld is author of Warren's Words: Smart Commentary on Social Justice (Purple Press); editor of Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price (Beacon Press), co-editor of Readings for Diversity and Social Justice (Routledge) and Investigating Christian Privilege and Religious Oppression in the United States (Sense), and co-author of Looking at Gay and Lesbian Life (Beacon Press).

To read more pieces like this, sign up for Tikkun Daily’s free newsletter, sign up for Tikkun Magazine emails  or visit us online. You can also like Tikkun on Facebook  and follow us on Twitter.

Crossposted from Tikkun Daily by David Harris-Gershon

On Saturday night, I looked out upon a standing-room-only audience, people fidgeting and giddy, barely able to conceal the significance of what was about to occur. I was on stage, the hall at Harvard University electric and buzzing, flanked by three distinguished professors – Judith Butler, Steven Cohen and Shaul Magid – the four of us representing various streams of Zionist, post-Zionist and anti-Zionist thought.

At first, I was awed by the company I had been asked to join, thinking, What on earth am I doing here? That thought was quickly replaced by another as the room erupted with boisterous cheers when a student organizer stepped to the microphone: this is a historic moment, a thought I Tweeted when the feeling came over me, a thought five days removed I still deeply believe.

So what occurred which was so historic? This: on Saturday night, a grassroots-led and student-driven movement called Open Hillel launched a three-day conference, determined to create what Jewish institutions have largely refused to permit: dynamic spaces where both Zionists and anti-Zionists can come together and discuss Israel as equals, with equally valuable perspectives as respected members of the American Jewish community.

The Open Hillel conference certainly succeeded in creating such spaces, where for three days rooms were packed to hear Jews and Palestinians discuss Israel openly and honestly. However, the conference also ended up creating something even more powerful than just spaces: a representative community of 350 committed, questioning Jews who demonstrated not just how out of step institutional Jewish organizations have become by exiling critical and post-Zionist voices, but how those organizations are going to have to change to remain viable, whether they like it or not.

Right now, these organizations are refusing to change, refusing to acknowledge that Jews who fervently critique Israel’s policies, who consider themselves post-Zionists or support BDS, are not anti-Semites, but valuable members in a growing segment of the American Jewish community. Hillel International is one such organization, and the one around which the Open Hillel movement is organized. Hillel is the world’s largest umbrella organization for Jewish life on college campuses, supporting over 550 student centers on campuses in North America and beyond. It purports to be a pluralistic organization, with a tent large enough to house every Jew and every perspective imaginable. Unfortunately, for Hillel, one’s Israel politics trumps its pluralistic ideals, for it has established Israel Guidelines which direct student centers to refuse partnership or cooperation with any student, speaker or organization which, among other things, apply a “double standard” to Israel, support BDS, or have post-Zionist political leanings.

It’s why students from Jewish Voice for Peace, which embraces both anti-Zionist and Zionist students who wish to dialogue openly about Israel, and happens to be the one of the fastest growing Jewish organizations in America, have been barred from Hillel. It’s why Jewish scholars have had book events cancelled at museums and Jewish musicians barred from JCC events. It’s why even someone like myself, a Jewish studies teacher and two-state Jew who supports Palestinians’ right to boycott Israel, has had book events cancelled on multiple occasions.

This isn’t new. For over 40 years, Jewish institutions have attempted to define one’s Jewishness and value to a community based solely on one’s Israel politics. In 1974, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) published The New Anti-Semitism, which attempted to redefine anti-Semitism as criticism of Israel rather than the vile hatred which has led to so many horrors visited upon my people, including the Holocaust, which took half of my family. The goal of this redefining was to shield Israel from critique by designating Israel as the “Jew among the nations,” conflating all Jews with the country and turning anti-Israel critiques into anti-Semitic sentiments.

What’s interesting is this: in 1974, supporting a two-state solution would have earned the charge of anti-Semitism and blacklisting. Today, the two-state solution is considered a dogma in the American Jewish community, with shifting politics propelling ‘new anti-Semitism’ proponents to smear those who empathize with Gaza, support Palestinian human rights or question Zionism as anti-Semitic.

But anyone who was at the Open Hillel conference knows that such charges are false. Indeed, this is precisely what Peter Beinart noted after speaking there on Sunday:

The young American Jews at Open Hillel who are flirting with anti-Zionism are not anti-Semites. (Although, of course, some anti-Zionists are). They are merely doing what young people always do: Challenging settled assumptions based on a different life experience. They don’t need the American Jewish establishment’s legitimization; that establishment is illegitimate to them. What they need, in the best Jewish tradition, is to be argued with.

But I’m not sure the American Jewish establishment knows how. For years, mainstream American Jewish groups have short-circuited discussions about Zionism by accusing its critics of anti-Semitism. They’ve grown so dependent on that rhetorical crutch that they rarely publicly grapple with how Zionism – a movement that privileges one ethnic and religious group – can be reconciled with the pledge in Israel’s declaration of independence to offer “complete equality of social and political rights irrespective of race, religion or sex.”

Indeed, many of those who were at the Open Hillel conference this past weekend are among the most committed Jews in America. And they bristle (as do I) when someone charges them with anti-Semitism for questioning institutional assumptions about Israel and Zionism. What’s different about what happened this past weekend, and what made it such a historic moment, is that student activists coalesced for the first time in memory to explicitly and directly challenge the American Jewish community from within, as opposed to from without.

These Jewish Americans, who represent significantly growing numbers, symbolically knocked on the door of institutional Jewish organizations and yelled, We are the Jewish community, and you will either embrace us or embrace a fear of dialogue – the least Jewish of things – and the shrinking numbers such a fear will bring.

Why does this matter? From a political perspective it matters because, as Professor Steven Cohen said from the stage on Saturday night, American Jewish opinions on Israel deeply affect American policy, which in turn affect Israeli policy, something I have been trumpeting for years. From a communal perspective, it matters because the face of the American Jewish community is changing. Jewish institutions have demanded, for decades, that Israel be placed at the center of Jewish life, and at the center of one’s Jewish value to a community. Today, at a time in which Israel’s policies, from the continued occupation to settlement expansions, are generating increasing critiques from American Jews, Israel has become just that – the center of Jewish life for many. Only, not in the way the ADL envisioned in 1974. Instead, Israel is being placed at the center by those who do not support its misdeeds, and who demand a change for the sake of both Jewish Israelis and Palestinians.

Jewish institutions have gotten what they asked for: Israel as the communal fulcrum point. But the balance is shifting. And the Open Hillel conference signaled that such shifting isn’t just reactive, but coordinated and communal.

People are shifting together with intentionality.

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.

Credit: Creative Commons / Wikipedia

Crossposted from Tikkun Daily by Warren Blumenfeld

Multicultural education is a philosophical concept built on the ideals of freedom, justice, equality, equity, and human dignity.... It challenges all forms of discrimination in schools and society through the promotion of democratic principles of social justice.

- National Association for Multicultural Education, emphasis added

October is LGBT History Month. It originated when, in 1994, Rodney Wilson, a high school teacher in Missouri, had the idea that a month was needed dedicated to commemorate and teach this history since it has been perennially excluded in the schools. He worked with other teachers and community leaders, and they chose October since public schools are in session, and National Coming Out Day already fell on October 11.

I see this only as a beginning since lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer, (LGBTIQ) history is all our history and, therefore, needs to be taught and studied all year every year. Why do I feel this way?

A few years ago, the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Alliance at a private Boston-area university asked me to give a presentation on LGBT history at one of its weekly meetings. During my introductory remarks, in passing, I used the term "Stonewall," when a young man raised his hand and asked me, "What is a 'Stonewall?'"

I explained that the Stonewall Inn is a small bar located on Christopher Street in Greenwich Village in New York City where, in the early morning hours of June 28, 1969, during a routine police raid, patrons fought back. This event, I continued, is generally credited with igniting the modern movement for LGBT liberation and equality.

The young man thanked me, and he stated that he is a first-year college student, and although he is gay, he had never heard about Stonewall or anything else associated with LGBT history while in high school. As he said this, I thought to myself that though we have made progress over the years, conditions remain very difficult for LGBT and questioning youth today, because school is still not a very "queer" place to be.

In my own high school years during the 1960s, LGBTIQ topics rarely surfaced, and then only in a negative context. Once, my health education teacher talked about the technique of electro-shock treatment for "homosexuals" to alter their sexual desires. In senior English class, the teacher stated that "even though Andre Gide was a homosexual, he was a good author in spite of it." These references (within the overarching Heterosexual Studies curriculum at my high school), forced me to hide deeper into myself, thereby further damaging my self-esteem and identity.

I consider, therefore, the half-truths, the misinformation, the deletions, the omissions, the distortions, and the overall censorship of LGBTIQ history, literature, and culture in the schools as a form of violence.

I am seeing increasingly an emphasis within the schools on issues related to bullying and harassment prevention. Current prevention strategies include investigation of issues of abuse and unequal power relationships, issues of school climate and school culture, and how these issues within the larger society are reproduced in the schools, among other concerns. Often missing from these strategies, however, are multicultural curricular infusion. Unfortunately, still today educators require courage to counter opposing forces, for example, the current attacks on Ethnic Studies programs underway in states like Arizona.

Throughout the United States, under the battle cry of "preserving traditional American family values," conservative and theocratic forces are attempting to prevent multicultural curricula from being instituted in the schools. On the elementary school level related to LGBTIQ issues, they are targeting books like And Tango Makes Three, by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, a lovely true story about two male penguins in the New York City Central Park Zoo raising a baby penguin; also, King and King, by Linda de Haan, about a king meeting his mate, another king. Not so long ago, the Right went after Daddy's Roommate written and illustrated by Michael Willhoite, about a young boy who spends time with his father and father's life partner, Frank, following the parents' divorce, and Gloria Goes to Gay Pride by Lesléa Newman, with illustrations by Russell Crocker, a story of young Gloria who lives with her two mommies: Mama Rose, a mechanic, and Mama Grace, a nurse.

For LGBTIQ violence and suicide prevention strategies to have any chance of success, in addition to the establishment and maintenance of campus "Gay/Straight Alliance" groups, on-going staff development, written and enforced anti-discrimination policies, and support services, schools must incorporate and imbed into the curriculum across the academic disciplines and at every level of the educational process, multicultural perspectives, including LGBTIQ, age appropriately from pre-school through university graduate-level programs and courses, from the social sciences and humanities, through the natural sciences and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math). LGBTIQ experiences stand as integral strands in the overall multicultural rainbow, and everyone has a right to information that clarifies and explains our stories.

I was encouraged to see one state, California, leading the way. The California legislature passed, and Governor Jerry Brown signed into law in 2011, SB 48, the first in the nation statute requiring the state Board of Education and local school districts to adopt textbooks and other educational materials in social studies courses that include contributions of LGBT people.

For LGBTIQ, questioning youth, and allies, this information can underscore the fact that their feelings and desires are in no way unique, and that others like themselves lead happy and productive lives. This in turn can spare them years of needless alienation, denial, and suffering. For heterosexual students, this can provide the basis for appreciation of human diversity and help to interrupt the chain of bullying and harassment toward LGBTIQ people, for in truth, very few real-life families resemble the mythical "Brady Bunch," the Andersons in "Father Knows Best," or the Huxtables of "The Cosby Show."

No matter how loudly organizers on the political and theocratic Right protest that this is merely a "bedroom issue," we know that the bedroom is but one of the many places where we write our stories. Therefore, while each October is a good time to begin the classroom discussions, I ask that our full stories be told throughout the year. For what is true in AIDS education holds true for our history as well: "Silence = Death."

For my two-part LGBTIQ PowerPoint presentation, go to my blog site at: www.warrenblumenfeld.com. On the right side, click "Slide Presentations," which will take you to LGBTIQ History parts 1 and 2. Enjoy!

Dr. Warren J. Blumenfeld is author of Warren's Words: Smart Commentary on Social Justice (Purple Press); editor of Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price (Beacon Press), co-editor of Readings for Diversity and Social Justice (Routledge) and Investigating Christian Privilege and Religious Oppression in the United States (Sense), and co-author of Looking at Gay and Lesbian Life (Beacon Press).

To read more pieces like this, sign up for Tikkun Daily’s free newsletter, sign up for Tikkun Magazine emails  or visit us online. You can also like Tikkun on Facebook  and follow us on Twitter.

Crossposted from Tikkun Daily by Paul Koberstein

The bodies and minds of children living on the Hawaiian island of Kaua'i are being threatened by exposure to chlorpyrifos, a synthetic insecticide that is heavily sprayed on fields located near their homes and schools.

For decades, researchers have been publishing reports about children who died or were maimed after exposure to chlorpyrifos, either in the womb or after birth. While chlorpyrifos can no longer legally be used around the house or in the garden, it is still legal to use on the farm. But researchers are finding that children aren't safe when the insecticide is applied to nearby fields.

Like a ghost drifting through a child's bedroom window, the airborne insecticide can settle on children's skin, clothes, toys, rugs, and furnishings.

In fact, it's likely that the only people who needn't worry about exposure to chlorpyrifos are adults living far from the fields in which it is sprayed. That includes civil servants who work for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which regulates the stuff, and executives with Dow Chemical, the company that manufactures it.

In a regulatory process known as re-registration, the EPA will decide in 2015 whether it still agrees that chlorpyrifos is safe for farming, or whether it will order a complete ban, as Earthjustice, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the Pesticide Action Network have demanded in lawsuits filed in 2007 and in 2014.

Dow has long insisted that its chlorpyrifos products are safe, despite tens of thousands of reports of acute poisoning and multiple studies linking low-level exposures to children with lower IQ. The company also has a long history - going back decades - of concealing from the public the many health problems it knew were linked to chlorpyrifos.

In 1995, the EPA found that Dow had violated federal law by covering up its knowledge of these health problems for years. In 2004, then-New York Attorney General Elliot Spitzer found that Dow had been lying about the known dangers of the pesticide in its advertising for nearly as long. Together, the EPA and the State of New York have levied fines against the company approaching $3 million.

On Kaua'i, subsidiaries of four transnational chemical companies - Dow Chemical, DuPont, Syngenta, and BASF - spray chlorpyrifos and several other potent pesticides to protect their experimental genetically engineered crops (GMOs) against a wide variety of bugs and weeds. Because of the heavy pesticide use, Kaua'i's GMO testing fields are among the most toxic chemical environments in all of American agriculture. The island, with its precious ecosystems and diverse wildlife, seems particularly ill-suited to be a laboratory for such experiments.

In two incidents in 2006 and 2008, all students at the Waimea Middle School on Kaua'i were evacuated and about 60 were hospitalized with flu-like symptoms like dizziness, headaches, and nausea. Many people in town blamed the outbreak on chlorpyrifos dust and vapors that they believed had drifted from the nearby GMO test fields. The corporations denied that any illnesses were caused by their products and officials only tested for a few of the possible chemicals that could have contaminated the school and children.

The companies conduct their experiments on Kaua'i because it has a 12-month growing season, and they can get in three or four crops each year. As Steve Savage, a former research manager for DuPont, has stated that they protect their GMO crops with chemicals to protect their large investments.

"The pesticides used on the seed farms are mostly just there to protect these very valuable seeds from pest damage," he said. "That is more challenging because there is no winter to set-back the populations of things like insects. Some of the tropical weeds are also very challenging to control."

There's no doubt that chlorpyrifos is efficient at killing insects. But the question before the EPA re-registration process is, "What is it doing to children?"

The EPA's Tepid Investigation of Dow

The last time chlorpyrifos went through the re-registration process was in 2000. (The EPA is required to do that every 15 years.) At the time, Dow was fighting off several lawsuits from families with children poisoned by the chemical. It also faced an almost certain regulatory crackdown by the EPA. A large number of children and adults were being poisoned by more than 800 different chlorpyrifos-containing products that were commonly used around the house, including Dursban, Raid, Black Flag Liquid Roach and Ant Killer and Hartz Mountain Flea and Tick Collar. Chlorpyrifos applied by pest control operators also often led to serious health effects.

Under the terms of an agreement between Dow and the EPA, chlorpyrifos products for indoor use were taken off store shelves at the end of 2001 and were banned in schools, parks, and at day care centers. They continued to be used on the farm under the trade name Lorsban.

Dow Chemical started selling chlorpyrifos in 1965. In 1972, when the EPA banned DDT and other bug-killers, chlorpyrifos was there to take their place. There was a time when chlorpyrifos was invited into most homes in America on a daily basis. Approximately 21 to 24 million pounds were used annually in the U.S., of which about 11 million pounds were applied in the home, where the chemical's main job was to kill termites.

Because of its extensive use in the home before the ban in 2000, the vast majority of the U.S. population was exposed to chlorpyrifos or its environmental breakdown product, trichloropyridinol (TCP). A 1998 Minnesota Children's Exposure Study found that 92 percent of the 89 children evaluated had measurable amounts of TCP in their urine. A 1998 study of 416 children in North and South Carolina found TCP in the urine of all the children evaluated.

Chlorpyrifos belongs to a class of pesticides known as organophosphates, which are designed to interfere with the way insect brains operate. They can also interfere with human brains. Some people are more sensitive to chlorpyrifos based on their genes, according to the EPA.

A 2000 EPA review of "incidents" caused by chlorpyrifos notes, "Children under six were three times more likely to be hospitalized, five times more likely to beadmitted for critical care in an intensive care unit (ICU), and three times more likely to have experienced a life-threatening outcome or death when exposed to an organophosphate than when exposed to non-organophosphate pesticides."

By 1984, the number of chlorpyrifos poisonings in the home had begun to rise, according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers.

The Poison Control Centers found that the annual number of reported chlorpyrifos poisoning cases before 2000 was close to 7,000. Many of these exposures involved small children who never developed symptoms, but several hundred cases per year were serious enough to require special medical attention. At least three children died. For example, in 1996, among the victims who received medical follow-up care, 567 experienced moderate, major, or life-threatening effects.

"These data do suggest that inhalation or dermal exposure can lead to life-threatening effects," the EPA said in 2000.

The EPA accused Dow of concealing what it knew about the negative health effects of chlorpyrifos from 1984 to 1994 when CBS News investigated an incident in which the parents of a disabled child obtained a judgment against Dow for injuries that a court found were caused by a prenatal exposure to chlorpyrifos.

Under the Federal Insecticide, Rodenticide, and Fungicide Act (FIFRA), the nation's main law regulating pesticide use, pesticide manufacturers like Dow are required to report to the EPA any complaints they receive about pesticide poisonings within 30 days. The law is designed to warn the EPA of all known health dangers associated with a product so it can prevent further poisonings and save lives. The EPA fined Dow $876,000 for 327 violations of FIFRA, but it failed to investigate any deeper.

The EPA never determined how many lives were ruined or lost as a result of harm caused by chlorpyrifos or Dow's cover-up. Nor did the EPA ever open a criminal investigation to find out who at the company knew about the health problems or why they didn't report them to the EPA. The EPA never determined whether responsibility for the cover-up extended all the way to the top of the corporate ladder or was limited to lower-level employees.

The EPA's disinterest in investigating Dow was shared by Congress. A review of the Congressional Records from 1994 to 2014 revealed that only one Member of Congress - Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont - spoke out about any concerns over chlorpyrifos. Congress' indifference toward the chlorpyrifos poisonings stands in stark contrast to its recent grilling of General Motors CEO Mary Barra over the deaths of drivers caused by accidents due to faulty ignition switches.

It may no longer be possible to conduct such an investigation. The EPA has destroyed many of the relevant documents, according to spokeswoman Jennifer Colaizzi.

Dow, meanwhile, asserts that chlorpyrifos has never been proven to be a danger to public health, despite the fines. "The information in question involved unsubstantiated allegations made in the course of litigation," said Dow spokesman Garry Hamblin. He claimed the company "never agreed that this material represented 'factual information' which the company needed to report to EPA. As a means of resolving the dispute, [it] paid a negotiated settlement for late delivery of information and changed its reporting practices to better address EPA's expectations."

But Dr. Janette Sherman, an internist and toxicologist with a workers' compensation practice in Detroit and Maui, disputes Dow's assertions of innocence. She examined some of the most seriously injured victims, including:

  • 9-year-old Joshua Herb of Charleston, West Virginia, who became a quadriplegic after his home was treated with chlorpyrifos. He had been exposed in utero to Dursban and another organophosphate, propetamphos. A court found that animal tests performed at Duke University showed that chlorpyrifos, when combined with the other chemical, caused "catastrophic destruction" of the nervous system in lower doses than it would have alone. Dow settled his case for a reported $10 million; and
  • The Ebling sisters in New Albany, Indiana. Connie, 9, and A.J., 6, had developed seizures, incontinence, and learning disabilities after their apartment was repeatedly sprayed with Dursban. One day, Connie was admitted to a hospital following a round of intense seizures. "I found her face-down in her eggs," her mother told a reporter in the hospital room one evening. The young girl sat on her bed, gaping at a visitor, drooling, and hooting as she struggled to assemble a simple puzzle.

"The children were the most tragic," said Sherman. "These kids had no future whatsoever. None."

Sherman developed medical histories of the victims and testified about them in court. She also wrote about them in 12 articles that were published in peer-reviewed medical journals.

In 1999, an article in the European Journal of Oncology described eight children with a pattern of similar birth defects. Each had a history of in utero exposure to chlorpyrifos during their first trimester. All eight had birth defects of the brain, including four who had a missing or defective corpus callosum, the band of nerves connecting the two hemispheres in the brain. Five had heart defects. Other defects affected the eyes, the face, and the genitals. All of the children were developmentally disabled, and all but one required feeding, diapering, and constant monitoring.

Sherman explored family histories for alcohol consumption and maternal smoking for possible alternative explanations. She interviewed parents and other family members, reviewed medical files, and conducted physical examinations of six of the children.

Monitoring for pesticide levels was not conducted during any of the pregnancies. Thanks to Dow's failure to report the incidents in a timely manner, a significant amount of time elapsed before pesticide contamination was even considered as a possible cause, or before other parents could be warned about the hazards known to be associated with exposure to chlorpyrifos, according to Sherman.

In advertisements, Dow tried to assure the public that when used as directed, chlorpyrifos is "safe." The state of New York deemed that such claims were false, and in 1994 Dow agreed to stop making them.

But a 2004 investigation by then-New York Attorney General Elliot Spitzer found that Dow had continued to make misleading claims for a decade, including these statements:

"Chlorpyrifos is one of the most important, safe and widely used insecticides in the country."

"No significant adverse health effects will likely result from exposures to Dursban, even at levels substantially above those expected to occur when applied at label rates."

Spitzer's office fined Dow $2 million for making these and dozens of other "fraudulent" safety claims. "Pesticides are toxic substances that should be used with great caution," Spitzer said at the time. "By misleading consumers about the potential dangers associated with the use of their products, Dow's ads may have endangered human health and the environment by encouraging people to use their products without proper care."

Chlorpyrifos Today

The EPA says that the number of chlorpyrifos poisoning reports in home settings declined by 95 percent in the decade after 2001, when urban uses were banned.

In 2004, researchers at Columbia University found that babies born in upper Manhattan after January 1, 2001 were larger and longer - and had less chlorpyrifos in their umbilical cord blood plasma - than babies born before that date.

Several recent studies show that chlorpyrifos, as it is used today, still harms the developing brains of children.

"Toxic exposure during this critical period can have far-reaching effects on brain development and behavioral functioning," said Virginia Rauh, a professor at the Columbia University's School of Public Health. "Some small effects occur at even very low exposures."

In 2008, another Columbia University study of 265 children found that, after pregnant women were exposed to chlorpyrifos, their babies had a lower intelligence rating.

In 2011, researchers at the Mt. Sinai School of Medicine in New York linked chlorpyrifos to a reduction in a child's ability to solve problems.

From 1998 to 2011, the CHAMACOS (Center for Health Assessment of Mothers and Children of Salinas) studies were conducted on farm workers near Salinas, California. The studies examined associations between prenatal and postnatal exposure to low levels of organophosphate pesticides like chlorpyrifos and cognitive abilities in school-age children. The studies found that higher concentrations of chlorpyrifos in the mothers' urine were linked to declines in working memory, processing speed, verbal comprehension, perceptual reasoning, and IQ of their children. Children of mothers with the greatest urinary concentrations had an average deficit of seven IQ points compared with those in the lowest concentrations - the equivalent of being a half-year behind their peers, according to The Nation.

The EPA says it will consider these human epidemiological studies before it makes a final re-registration decision. But according to a June 25, 2014, memo written by the agency's Health Effects Division, the EPA appears ready to dismiss them in favor of two unpublished, non peer-reviewed studies conducted by Dow scientists in 2013.

These studies claimed that chlorpyrifos cannot possibly do any harm to bystanders, even at "the highest possible concentration in the air," the EPA memo said. It reasoned that, "if there is no hazard to the vapor for these pesticides, there is no risk."

The memo goes on to say, "The results of these studies have significantly changed how [the] EPA considers the hazard to chlorpyrifos."

The two Dow reports were based on the company's own experiments with five groups of lab rats. Sherman said a peer review would have questioned some of the assumptions made by the authors of the study. The lab rats were given chlorpyrifos through the nose but, in reality, children also absorb the chemical through the skin, by putting toys in their mouths, by rolling around on the rug, and even through breast milk. She also said that the sample size - five groups of eight rats each - is not statistically significant.

While the EPA so far seems content to rest its decisions on industry-sponsored studies with lab rats, independent research clearly shows that chlorpyrifos can put children's futures at risk. Advocates, meanwhile, wait for the EPA to rule on their seven-year-old petition, demanding that the pesticide be banned completely, on farms as well as in houses.

This article is part of a collaborative effort by The Media Consortium investigating corporate control of our democracy and our dinner plates, made possible in part by the Voqal Fund. To read more pieces like this, sign up for Tikkun Daily’s free newsletter, sign up for Tikkun Magazine emails  or visit us online. You can also like Tikkun on Facebook  and follow us on Twitter.  

Crossposted from Tikkun Daily by David Harris-Gershon

Israel’s Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, told President Obama during a face-to-face meeting on Wednesday that he needed to “study the facts” the next time he, or his administration, planned on critiquing Israel’s settlement expansions. Netanyahu then, with incredible chutzpah, tried to impy that anti-Semitism was behind such critiques by Obama.

Netanyahu’s thorny words came after Washington blasted a new settlement expansion plan, characterized by the White House as poisonous, which was announced by Israel just before Netanyahu’s meeting with Obama. This plan calls for 2,160 new housing units to be built in the neighborhood of Givat Hamatos, an area which stands beyond the Green Line and is integral to those who want to make dividing Jerusalem impossible in any future two-state resolution. The White House also criticized the occupation of 25 Palestinian apartments in East Jerusalem purchased by settlers, who – backed by riot police – expelled families in the middle of the night with little warning.

In response to these critiques, Netanyahu told Obama that he and his administration needed to “study the facts and details before making statements” about Israel’s new construction plan, claiming among other things that it was not new, that the timing of its announcement was innocent, and that the construction would be for both Israeli Jews and Palestinians. However, it appears that Obama and the White House indeed did their due diligence, for Netanyahu’s claims have been shown to be false, and the Obama administration’s critiques on point.

Perhaps worse than calling Obama ignorant, however, was his forced attempt to depict his criticism as having anti-Semitic echoes. Here is what Netanyahu said after his meeting with Obama:

I have no intention of telling Jews they can’t buy apartments in East Jerusalem. This is private property and an individual right. There cannot be discrimination – not against Jews and not against Arabs.

This statement, which came after the White House blasted both Israel’s settlement expansion and settlers who took over East Jerusalem apartments, has a clear purpose: to imply that critiquing these things is anti-Semitic. See, while Netanyahu would never tell Jews they can’t live in a particular place, President Obama – and anyone who would question the purchasing of apartments by Jewish settlers or the building of apartments by the Jewish State – are apparently the type of people who would tell Jews where they can and cannot buy property.

This is a clear evocation of anti-Semitic policies which have forbidden or limited Jewish property ownership in the past. It is also a clear conflation of Israel and all Jews as a way to shield Israel from critique, an anti-Semitic trope Netanyahu has mastered. Such a conflation, with Israel representing all Jews, turns Obama’s critiques into statements tinged with bigotry.

Editor’s at Israel’s Haaretz admonished Netanyahu for his statements, for his clear disinterest in a two-state solution, and for his eroding of the relationship between America and Israel:

America continues to support Israel automatically, both diplomatically and militarily, but the damage caused by Netanyahu’s policies keep growing and they will ultimately sabotage the practical aspects of Israel’s relationship with Washington as well. A government that is suspected by the UN secretary general of committing war crimes and whose policies are termed poisonous by the White House is a government that is doing enormous harm to Israel.

Netanyahu and Israel’s government is doing damage not just to Israel and those Palestinians oppressed by its occupation, but to American interests as well. Interests we spend $3 billion annually to help maintain.

 

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.

Crossposted from Tikkun Daily by Warren Blumenfeld

"Only after the last tree has been cut down,
only after the last river has been poisoned,
only after the last fish has been caught,
only then will you learn that you cannot eat money
."
-- Cree Proverb

The White House recently released its National Climate Assessment that reported our global climate is, in fact, changing, and this is due primarily to human activity, in particular, the burning of fossil fuels. The Assessment investigated approximately 12,000 professional scientific journal papers on the topic of global climate change, and discovered that in the articles expressing a position on global warming, 97 percent fully authenticated both the reality of global warming and the certainty that humans are the cause.

Additional studies released since the White House report signaled the beginning of the depletion and ultimate total collapse of glaciers in Antarctica, which can continue to raise worldwide sea levels an additional 4 feet. This depletion is now irreversible.

What seems clear to the scientific community seems like science fiction to many key politicians, including Lamar Smith (R-TX), paradoxically the Chair of the U.S. House of Representative's Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, who has been a perennial skeptic of human-produced climate change. He stated on the floor of the House:

"We now know that prominent scientists were so determined to advance the idea of human-made global warming that they worked together to hide contradictory temperature data."

He quoted no sources, and his accusations were later proven false.

Previous Chair of the Committee, Representative Ralph Hall (R-TX) asserted that he does not have concerns about global warming, but, rather, he is "really more fearful of freezing," even though, he mentioned, "I don't have any science to prove that." He went even further by stating that he did not "think we can control what God controls."

Many on the anti-science political and theocratic Right (mis)quote scripture to justify human exploitation of the planet. For example, Republican presidential hopeful, Rick Santorum, questioned Barack Obama's "theology" in an Ohio campaign stop on February 18, 2012 by asserting that Obama believes in "some phony ideal, some phony theology. Oh, not a theology based on the Bible, a different theology."

The next day, when asked to explain his remarks on the CBS news program "Face the Nation" by moderator Bob Schieffer, Santorum responded that he was referring to "the radical environmentalists," and by implication, placed Obama in this category. Santorum attacked the notion that "man is here to serve the Earth," which he argued "is a phony ideal." Santorum countered that idea, stating "We're not here to serve the Earth. The Earth is not the objective. Man is the objective. I think a lot of radical environmentalists have it upside-down."

In yet another ill-conceived and executed Christian crusade, Santorum, with his publicly expressed literal biblical perspective, conjures up such passages as Genesis 1:26, which states:

"Then God said, 'Let us make man in our image, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth and over all the creatures that move along the ground.'"

Also, Genesis 1:28: "God blessed [humans] and said to them, 'Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.'"

And, Genesis 9: "Then God blessed Noah and his sons, saying to them, 'Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth.The fear and dread of you will fall on all the beasts of the earth, and on all the birds in the sky, on every creature that moves along the ground, and on all the fish in the sea; they are given into your hands. Everything that lives and moves about will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything.'"

And Santorum is certainly not alone among his Republican colleagues and electorate. A 2008 study by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, "A Deeper Partisan Divide over Global Warming," found that 58 percent of respondents who identified as Democrats and 50 percent of Independents believed that global warming is mostly caused by human activity, while only 27 percent of Republicans believed this.

Among Democrats, those with higher educational levels - 75 percent with college degrees compared with 52 percent with less education - expressed the view that solid evidence has shown human activity largely as the cause of global warming. Opposed to the Democrats, however, educational levels of Republicans resulted in an inverse relationship in trusting the scientific evidence with only 19 percent of Republican college graduates compared with 31 percent with less education believing in the human connection to climate change.

Pew's updated report in 2013 found that overall 67 percent of U.S. residents believe global warming is happening, but only 25 percent of Tea Party Republicans believe this.

How many more British Petroleum and Exxon Valdez oil spills, polluted and poisoned waterways and skies, dead lakes, clear cut forests, mine disasters, mutilated and scorched Earth, nuclear power plant accidents and meltdowns, toxic dumps and landfills, trash littered landscapes, extinct animal and plant species, encroachments on land masses by increasingly rising oceans and seas, and how many more unprecedented global climatic fluctuations will it take for the anti-science Republican party to put the health of the planet, and by extension the health of all Earth's inhabitants, on the front burner, if you will, of policy priorities over the unquenchable lust for profits by corporate executives?

For a party claiming to stand as "pro-family," what kind of legacy and what kind of future are they really bequeathing to our youth? For a party that claims to promote political conservatism and "traditional values," what is more traditional and valuable than conserving and thus sustaining the Earth's resources responsibly and equitably?

While differing marginally on specific issues, many Republicans march in lock-step to the drummer of conservative political and corporate dogma centering on a market-driven approach to economic and social policy, including such tenets as reducing the size of the national government and granting more control to state and local governments; severely reducing or ending governmental regulation over the private sector; privatizing governmental services, industries, and institutions including education, health care, and social welfare; permanently incorporating across-the-board non-progressive marginal federal and state tax rates; and possibly most importantly, advancing market driven and unfettered "free market" economics.

I ask, though, how "free" are we now as mining, oil, and lumber companies lobby to exploit the land, and as legislators grant corporations enormous tax breaks and subsidies? How "free" will we be if conservative Republicans succeed in abolishing the Department of Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Consumer Protection Agency, the US Department of Education, the US Department of Commerce, and other governmental agencies? How "free" will we be if conservative Republicans succeed in the US Congress with their threats to privatize our national parks, and to loosen environmental and consumer protections of all kinds?

In truth, the conservative Republican battle cry, seemingly coined by Sarah Palin, of "drill baby drill," unfortunately is what the Obama administration has forwarded, resulting in significantly more domestic oil production than under the George W. Bush administration. This, however, is simply unsustainable since the US currently consumes approximately 20-25 percent of the oil produced worldwide, though we hold in the range of only 2 percent of planetary oil reserves.

Webster's dictionary defines "Oppression" as a noun meaning "the unjust or cruel exercise of authority or power" on the individual/interpersonal, institutional, and larger societal levels. Human treatment of the environment certainly falls under this definition. As opposed to "oppression," I define "social justice" as the concept that local, national, and global communities functioningwhere everyone has equal access to and equitable distribution of the rights, benefits, privileges, and resources, and where everyone can live freely unencumbered by social constructions of hierarchical positions of domination and subordination."

This concluding phrase is of prime importance, for when humans place themselves into "hierarchical positions of domination and subordination," environmental degradation inevitably results. This is no different in a US context from other hierarchies of power and privilege: White people over People of Color, men over women, rich over working class and poor, heterosexuals over homosexuals and bisexuals, cisgender people over transgender people, able-bodied people over people with disabilities, native-born English speakers over immigrant linguistic minorities, adults of a certain age over youth and over seniors, Christians over members of all other religious and spiritual communities as well as over non-believers, and the spokes on the oppression wheel continue to trample over people and over our environment.

A non-regulated privatized so-called "free-market" economic system lacking in environmental protections is tantamount to a social system deficient of civil and human rights protections for minorities.

If people wish to quote scripture, they would do well to heed biblical warnings, such as Isaiah 24: 4-6:

"The earth dries up and withers, the world languished and withers, the exalted of the earth languish. The earth lies under its inhabitants; for they have transgressed the laws, violated the statues, and broken the everlasting covenant. Therefore a curse consumes the earth; its people must bear their guilt."

 

Dr. Warren J. Blumenfeld is author of Warren's Words: Smart Commentary on Social Justice (Purple Press); co-editor of Readings for Diversity and Social Justice (Routledge) and Investigating Christian Privilege and Religious Oppression in the United States (Sense); editor of Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price (Beacon Press), and co-author of Looking at Gay and Lesbian Life (Beacon Press).

To read more pieces like this, sign up for Tikkun Daily’s free newsletter, sign up for Tikkun Magazine emails  or visit us online. You can also like Tikkun on Facebook  and follow us on Twitter.

Crossposted from Tikkun Daily by Warren Blumenfeld

A few years ago toward the end of July when I was serving as Associate Professor in the School of Education at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa, members of the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas, led by their "pastor," Fred Phelps, mounted protest rallies in three sites in Iowa: Waukee's Jewish Historical Society, the Iowa State University Campus in Ames, and at the Marshalltown Community Theater, which was performing the play "The Laramie Project" profiling the life and murder of gay college student Matthew Shepard.

Phelps (before his recent death) and his followers travel around the country protesting funerals of fallen soldiers (most of whom are apparently heterosexual). They claim that these deaths are God's punishment against a country that tolerates homosexuality. Phelps is also notorious for his 1998 protest of the funeral of Matthew Shepard, a college student from the University of Wyoming in Laramie murdered in a brutal homophobic assault.

On their websites godhatesfags.com & jewskilledjesus.com, Phelps and company directed their Iowa protests against "...the Jews...[who] arrested, falsely accused, prosecuted and then sentenced [Jesus] to death..." and protested Iowa because "God hates Iowa" for being "the first to begin giving $ to little [homosexual] perverts for no other reason than they brag about being little perverts."

I wrote an editorial critical of Phelps and his followers in our local newspaper. Apparently, Shirley Phelps-Roper, Phelps's daughter, read my piece, and she wrote me an email message before arriving in our town:

Hello Professor.

Glad to see we got your attention with our upcoming good fig hunt in Iowa. You approached the issue with a veil on your heart, blind eyes, a hard heart, stopped up ears, and full of guile - because that's how you - and all the rest of the apostate, reprobate Jews - roll. God did that. His righteous judgments are wonderful!

PS: Shall we put you down as one of the naughty figs? You are definitely not sounding or acting like a good fig. I'm just sayin'.

Shirley Phelps-Roper

And in her editorial, which she submitted to our local newspaper and the editor rejected, Phelps-Roper in part ranted:

The reason Jews belong in the same category as homosexuals is because they're both vile sinners before God - period. See www.jewskilledjesus.com for the facts. There is not a group of people more sodomy-enabling in this world than the apostate reprobate Jews.

Note: Phelp-Roper defined "Good Fig" in her editorial as the estimated "144,000 righteous Jews left, to be called and sanctified. They will mourn him whom they pierced, repent and obey."

Issues of common decency and respect for human dignity suffered a serious setback on March 26, 2010 when the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled that Albert Synder of York, Pennsylvania was unjustified in suing Fred Phelps and his followers for picketing the 2006 funeral of Synder's son, 20-year-old Marine Lance Corporal Matthew Synder, who was killed in a vehicle rollover accident in Iraq. The court also ordered Synder to cover Phelps's court costs in the amount of $16,510.

Before this ruling, Synder successfully won a lawsuit against Phelps. At the lower court trial, the jury awarded Synder $11 million, which the court later reduced to $5 million.

Synder has appealed the decision to the Supreme Court, which has agreed to consider whether the protestors' actions are within the scope of protected speech covered by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, or are circumscribed by issues of privacy and religious rights of the mourners.

Phelps and company, on their website and in their actions, in their own distorted way, continued the centuries-old linkage of the many clear and stunning connections between historical stereotypical representations and oppression against Jewish people and lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and trans* people (LGBTs). In my research, I have discovered that throughout history, many dominant groups have depicted or represented minority groups in a variety of negative ways in order to maintain control or mastery. I divided these historical interconnections into five primary categories:

1. Religious Condemnations: Throughout the ages, people have cited certain biblical passages to justify persecution and denial of legal protections of LGBT people and Jews, even though there is great disagreement among religious scholars over the interpretations of these passages.

2. Immature Developmental Stage: Jews and LGBT people have been represented as constituting an immature developmental stage: Judaism as an intermediate or immature religious stage on the way to Christianity - the advanced, mature faith - and the Hebrew Bible as only a prelude to the eventual coming as Jesus. And homosexuality and homosexuals as constituting immature human/sexuality development.

3. Immutable Biological Types: By the late nineteenth century, both Judaism and homosexuality had come to be viewed by the "scientific" community as distinct "racial types," with immutable biological characteristics - a trend that increased markedly into the twentieth century of the Common Era.

4. Abuse and Recruitment of Children: A crucial point in the psychology of scapegoating is the representation of minorities as subhuman forms that "recruit," molest, and kill children of the majority, and accordingly, both Jews and LGBT people have long been accused of being dangerous predators of children.

5. Domination and Destruction of "Civilized" Society: While the dominant society has frequently been concerned that Jews and people attracted to others of their sex can "pass" without detection into the mainstream, they have also historically portrayed these groups as rich and powerful conspirators whose aim is to control, manipulate, and eventually destroy societies.

Beliefs are one's rights to hold. However, the expression of those beliefs onto an individual or group of individuals I argue constitutes a form of oppression, especially when intended to deny anyone or any group their human and civil rights. By so doing, they are exerting power and control by attempting to define the "other," with the intent of depriving people of their agency and subjectivity. They are attempting to control people's bodies and their minds.

With religious rights come responsibilities, and with actions come reactions. Whenever clergy pronounce and preach their conservative dogma against any one group, they must take responsibility for the bullying, harassment, violence and suicides of those against whom they preach.

I am again struck by the ways in which the numerous forms of oppression - including racism, sexism, heterosexism, cissexism, classism, ableism, ageism, ethnic and religious oppression, and all the other forms - while oppressing members of minority groups, on many levels also hurt members of dominant groups. Although the effects of oppression differ quantitatively for specific minority groups and dominant groups, and though it cannot be denied that oppression serves the vested interests of some, in the final analysis, most people lose.

The meaning, therefore, is quite clear. When any group of people is stereotyped and scapegoated, it is ultimately everyone's concern. We all, therefore, have a self interest in actively working to dismantle all the many forms of oppression.

Therefore, we have a right, no, an obligation to counter this destructive and, yes, oppressive discourse with all the voices, the energy, the unity, the intelligence, and all the love of which we are capable. And people throughout the country have been consistently speaking out and standing up to the Westboro Baptist Church.

At Matthew Shepard's funeral service, his good family and friends, outfitted in angel costumes, joined side-by-side in a line and lifted their outstretched wings separating and blocking the view of protesters from mourners. And at Iowa State University, students organized a counter demonstration to thwart the hatred and the oppression.

In countering Westboro, people are practicing the Jewish tradition of Tikkun Olam - transforming, healing, and repairing the world so that it becomes a more just, peaceful, nurturing, and perfect place.

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Crossposted from Tikkun Daily by Nicholas Boeving

Icon. We throw the word around, but do we really know what it means? It found its way into the English language from the original Greek word used for likeness or image (eikṓn). In other words, icons are reflections of what a given group of people hold to be sacred. Given the recent passage of Joan Rivers, and the bewailment of her death as the loss of a great gay icon, I think it's time to have a frank discussion of just what it is we DO hold sacred in the gay community...and why. We do not ask ourselves this question often enough.

Some have expressed bewilderment as to why Joan Rivers even attained the status of "icon" in the gay community in the first place. To understand this, you must first understand, psychologically speaking, some of the purpose(s) humor serves. Both Plato and Aristotle (yes, they did agree on some things) say that we laugh at the wretched, the fat, the miserable and poor because it asserts our own superiority. Sound familiar? Thought so. Going further, psychiatrist George Eman Vaillant categorized humor as a specialized defense mechanism; in other words, some things are too painful to confront or too terrible to talk about so we just deflect against them.

But let us ask ourselves: just what is it that we're defending against?

Alan Downs Ph.D., author of The Velvet Rage: Overcoming the Pain of Growing Up Gay in a Straight Man's World, has diagnosed with surgical precision the origin of this cancerous condition in the gay community and largely attributes it to early childhood experiences of overwhelming shame. As a natural counterpoint to this toxic shame, gay men move into a second stage of overcompensation: The disease of More: More money, more muscles, more labels, more cars... multiplied ad infinitum.

Gay men stuck in the ugly adolescence of self-loathing and fear defend against feeling this way at all costs. Instead, they project their own raging insecurities outward. In the process of doing so, they construct false identities of superiority and holier-than-thouness to defend against a raging internal tempest that is the result of their own paralyzing fear of being utterly unlovable. What is the characteristic flavor of this stage's humor? Cattiness, bitchiness, and just plain meanness. Nowhere has this unholy trinity of inner-hatred-turned-outward been more powerfully and tragically expressed than in the comedic legacy of Joan Rivers.

You don't have to be hateful to be funny. Carol Burnett and Lucile Ball never stooped to the level of vituperative shtick to demean, dehumanize, or degrade the human condition. Quite the opposite: They ennobled it. Joan Rivers unfurled her fame and secured her fortune by doing exactly the opposite.

Gay icons of yesteryear like Judy Garland were icons in the original sense of the word; Garland reflected and expressed with a trembling vulnerability and raw strength the beating, broken heart of the community, which is why she was - and will forever remain - the greatest icon of them all, having ignited with her passage the gay liberation movement. Now that's a legacy that matters.

Newer icons such as Madonna and Lady Gaga slashed their way to the top of the charts and into the heart and soul of the gay community with their fierce, unflinching commitment to their art and their messages of manumission (freedom from bondage; whatever those fetters may be.) These grande dames earned their enthronement in the pantheon of figureheads by empowerment, not by hate, and embody ideals to aspire to, whether you like their music or not.

Was Rivers a sarcastic savant? Yes. Was she a fierce fashionista? That's debatable. But was her Gospel of the Low Blow what we in our community really wish to continue living our lives by? I, for one, do not.

Deaths - whether literal or figurative - are always times of transition and transitions can go either way. Joan Rivers may have been a legend, but she's no icon that I wish to aspire to. So in our own community's time of transition I think it's vital to take a serious moment of pause to ask ourselves, what is the image that we wish to project? What is the community we wish to build? And who are the people we wish to become?

To read more pieces like this, sign up for Tikkun Daily’s free newsletter, sign up for Tikkun Magazine emails  or visit us online. You can also like Tikkun on Facebook  and follow us on Twitter.

Crossposted from Tikkun Daily by Warren Blumenfeld

For far too long, the political and theocratic Right have hijacked the social dialogue by taking as their own the "F" words - "Faith," "Family," "Freedom," and the "Flag" - in addition to the term "Values." This set of buzz words served as the litmus test by which the Right would have us decide who is truly worthy of our votes.

Within this discourse we find coded racist and classist dog whistles. For example, when politicians employ terms such as "poor," "welfare," "welfare state," "European-style socialism," "inner city," "food stamps," "entitlements," and "bad neighborhoods," they tap into many people's anxieties and past racist teachings of people of color. In addition, the buzz phrase, "personal responsibility" now has become a catch phrase to justify cutting benefits from those who have fallen on hard times and need assistance.

Over the past couple of decades, I have examined what may actually be left of the Left, and how we can take back the discourse and reclaim these "F" words with progressive definitions. I have been particularly encouraged by a number of faith-based movements bringing people together to highlight issues of compassion and justice.

On Tuesday, September 9, I read a press release circulated by the organization Faith in Public Life out of Washington, D.C. announcing its nationwide mobilization plans for the 2014 elections crafted by national progressive and moderate faith leaders. The press release read in part:

"Ten years after conservative 'values voters' propelled President George W. Bush to reelection, progressive and moderate religious leaders will unveil plans to engage voters on common-good policies, rather than divisive culture war issues.Across the country, clergy and faith-based organizations will launch campaigns, ranging from massive voter registration drives to cross country bus tours, to mobilize supporters and hold politicians accountable on issues including immigration reform, voting rights and healthcare."

Faith in Public Life serves as a think tank and organizational structure linking faith communities in strategizing effective ways to form coalitions and advance issues of social justice in the public square and to transform issues of equality and equity into legislative policy. Just a few of the many organizations joining this progressive faith coalition include the Moral Mondays movement and Nuns on the Bus.

In response to a number of draconian measures taken by the North Carolina legislature to roll back progressive gains previously enacted, the Moral Mondays movement has come together on Mondays in the state to conduct non-violent protest demonstrations and acts of civil disobedience. Organized partially by faith leaders, including William Barber, head of the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP, Moral Monday actions have opposed the legislature's restrictions on voting rights of repealing same-day voter registration, reducing early voting days, and taking away tax credits from parents whose dependent students register to vote at their campus addresses. Previously, the legislature designed its redistricting equation to overwhelmingly favor Republican candidates. Demonstrators also protested the repeal of the state's Racial Justice Act of 2009, which had given prison inmates on death row the ability to challenge their sentences on the basis of racial bias. The visibility and success of Moral Mondays have spread initially to Georgia and South Carolina, and have since extended across the country.

Nuns on the Bus, a project of NETWORK Education Program and founded in 1971 by Catholic sisters, advocates for social justice issues, registers voters, and lobbies legislators on Capitol Hill. Nuns on the Bus has conducted a number of bus tours: the first traveling between Iowa through the Midwest, and terminating in Washington, D.C. in summer 2012 to protest the Republican budget plan devised by conservative Republican Wisconsin Representative Paul Ryan. Its next tour in May through June 2013 focused on pushing for a compassionate and equitable comprehensive immigration reform policy traveling to Ellis and Angel Islands - sites of immigration entry.

Progressive individuals, organizations, and faith communities are now coming together to push for a living wage and reduce the enormous gaps in wealth distribution, to register voters and turn back voter suppression policies, work towards equitable and caring comprehensive immigration policies, and advance policies providing quality and affordable education and health care for all. In essence, the coalition is taking back the words associated with the Right as they call on this country to live up to its promise of freedom and justice for all.

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Crossposted from Tikkun Daily by David Harris-Gershon

On Sunday, The New York Times featured a full page advertisement on page A7 sponsored by the group Creative Community for Peace (CCFP). The advertisement, which at first glance appears to be a benign call for peace in Israel and a denouncement of terror, was signed by the likes of Seth Rogen, Sarah Silverman, Aaron Sorkin, and hundreds of other entertainment stars.

A closer look at the ad reveals its less-than-benign intentions, and a closer look at the group behind the ad, CCFP, reveals that it is actually a front organization for the extremist pro-settler, pro-occupation organization StandWithUs, which is dedicated to laundering Israel's image and shielding it from critique while demonizing Palestinians.

(For the purposes of transparency, StandWithUs tried to have one of my book appearances cancelled this year.)

Those who signed the letter, to be examined shortly, were almost certainly unaware of CCFP's affiliation with a pro-occupation organization, particularly since it's careful to hide that affiliation. Indeed, CCFP has attempted to claim that it is a wholly independent group, though the Forward found the opposite to be the case:

Formed in 2011, CCFP partnered with StandWithUs, a group widely perceived as being on the far right of the pro-Israel spectrum, which accepts tax deductible donations on CCFP's behalf. CCFP's founding member, David Renzer, has stated that his group has "always operated independently" of StandWithUs. But the Forward found that, like its partner group, CCFP rejects the U.S. position that settlements are an obstacle to peace and disputes the use of the term "occupation" to describe Israel's military rule over the West Bank's more than 2.5 million Palestinians.

Indeed, even CCFP's website admits, while hiding behind a veneer of progressive, artistic sensibilities, that its focus is to combat Israel being singled out for critique, as well as boycotts, while highlighting the misdeeds of Palestinians. And this is exactly what the now-infamous NYT advertisement achieved: after an admirable opening sentence, its exclusive focus is to critique Hamas and slander Palestinians as "human shields" while remaining silent about Israel's actions in Gaza. In short: the advertisement's underlying goal is to paint Israel as the victim, and Palestinians as the violent enemy, when those who witnessed the massive death and destruction in Gaza know the truth to be, ehem, more nuanced.

Below is a replica of the letter which appeared in the NYT (click to enlarge):

I wonder if Seth Rogen knows that he was used by a right-wing organization which supports Israel's settlement enterprise and occupation. I wonder if he and other liberal entertainers understand that, rather than promoting "peace and justice," they were instead unwittingly supporting a propaganda program promoted by StandWithUs, which has ties to the Israeli government.

I wonder if they read closely the text of the letter they signed, after the beautiful first sentence, and thought, "Why isn't Israel's transgressions in Gaza mentioned as well?"

Apparently, many did not. Which is why we must. For peace will only come to Israel and Palestine when those obstacles to peace are on full display, not whitewashed by right-wing organizations.

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.