GUEST BLOG: Hey Facebook, this should be on everyone’s mind

Guest blog by Jerry Casagrande, an environmentalist, writer and screenwriter working in Washington, D.C., area.

Guest blog by Jerry Casagrande, an environmentalist, writer and screenwriter working in the Washington, D.C., area.


Facebook asked me “What’s on my mind?” So here goes:

.02 percent of guns in the US are used in self-defense each year. Not 2%, but 2 one-hundredths of 1 percent. Some guns are used for hunting of course. How are the rest of guns used? I think mostly as toys and “crutches.” They are taken to the range to shoot at targets or taken into the backyard to shoot at targets or up into the air or at a can on a fence or shown to a friend the way my ten year old shows his friends his pokemon cards or some other toy. 99.98 % are not used in self-defense. They are toys.

Or, they are a sort of crutch held in safes or in basements or under beds by those who feel unsafe. Folks who fantasize that one day the bad guy will come in the window and they will whip out their glock and pick him off. Maybe get their picture in the paper for being a vigilante. But 99.98% of guns will never be used this way. The “I need a gun for self-defense” argument is just not true. You don’t need one. A better remedy for the person who feels they need a gun for safety would be to see a therapist to overcome their feelings of un-safety.

However, for every gun used in self-defense, 4 more guns are stolen each year. And there are 32,000+ deaths by gun every year, including murder, suicide, and accident. It is just not true that if there were fewer guns there would not be fewer deaths. Take mass murders like the one in Orlando, without the semi-automatic weapon, he would have in fact killed fewer people. Imagine for a minute with a slower shooting gun, he killed half as many people–there would be 24 or 25 families grieving now instead of 49. Every life counts. Take suicides–for the troubled person considering suicide, imagine that gun is just a bit harder to get; so they turn to means less effective than a gun and wind up in the hospital rather than the morgue. Accidents? No gun, no accident.

I tire of gun-control advocates being so damn respectful of the right to bear arms. There is little reason to believe the founding fathers thought this was a fundamental right. Rather, they believed it was a right derived from the need for the new United States to be defended by state militias, the members of which would need a rifle. The right to bear arms is not as fundamental as the right to say what one wants, the right to believe what one wants, the right to associate with whom one wants. How can it be? It is about owning a particular product not about one’s core identity. One certainly has a right to self-defense but that does not automatically mean that one has a right to defend oneself with a gun.

We don’t just need common-sense gun laws. We need many fewer guns. We have one gun per person–essentially handing them out in the hospital nursery. How the actual reduction in number of guns–from 300,000,000 to some much smaller number should happen–I don’t know. Buy back programs. Ban on the sale or transfer of guns such that when a person dies, his or her guns are disposed of.

Let hunters hunt. Let police officers keep the public safe. Let soldiers have their weapons. Other than that, folks can have guns in very special circumstances where an overwhelming need can be proved.

Does that sound radical? The other side suggests arming kindergarten teachers…

Open invitation extended to Trump from co-founder of Iraq’s Muslim Peacemaker Teams

Muslim Peacemaker Teams founder Sami Rasouli and family Najaf, Iraq December 2015

Muslim Peacemaker Teams co-founder Sami Rasouli and family in Najaf, Iraq

The following letter is an open invitation extended to Republican presidential contender Donald Trump from Iraqi-American Sami Rasouli, co-founder of the Muslim Peacemakers Team:

Dear Mr. Donald Trump,

Warm greetings from Iraq. Although I became an American citizen in 2001 and lived for 25 years in Minneapolis, Minn., I returned to my native Iraq in 2003 to work for peace after my adopted country attacked my birth country.

As both an American and an Iraqi, my family and I would like to invite you and your family to visit us in Iraq for as long as you would like. We, and other Iraqi families, would be delighted to have you here as honored guests at our homes.

These guest visits are part of the cultural exchange program for Muslim Peacemaker Teams. They have been ongoing between citizens of Najaf, Iraq, and of Minneapolis since the two officially became “sister cities” in July 2009. The purpose of your visit would be educational in nature– focused on learning about Arab-Islamic culture, including opportunities to visit Iraq’s major historical cities, such as Babylon, and its holy cities, such as Najaf, Karbala and Baghdad. You would learn about Hammurabi, who wrote the first code of law, and you would visit the countryside in the South, where an Iraqi woman invented the wheel 3,000 years ago.

Conversely, you would also witness how Iraq has been largely destroyed since 2003 by the ongoing U.S. military presence here. We could show you how ISIS is smuggling oil out of our country and tell you who is laundering it for the funds that support terrorism.

I’m not rich, Mr. Trump, but my family and I are renting a house in Najaf, the holy Shia city where I was born. Our home is small, cozy and full of love. You would stay with us and share what we have. In addition, there are other Iraqi families who would love the opportunity to host you and treat you as family.

In Najaf I assure you that you would find that we (a so-called infidel visiting terrorists) are all brothers and sisters sharing the same bread and the same universe. You would learn how our peoples, including the Jewish, share the Old Testament as the foundation of our respective religions. We have far more values in common than we have differences. We are all “people of the Book.” We could even take you to Ur, where Abraham was born, to Jonas’ tomb near Mosul, to Daniel’s tomb near Babylon, and to the monastery founded by Saint Matthew.

Such a visit from you would counter the negative stereotypes about Muslims and help to discredit those in the United States who promote Islamophobia. We fear most what we do not understand, and the visit we offer would deepen your insights and perceptions about the part of the world we all call home.

In return, should you accept our offer to visit Najaf, my family and I would gladly visit you in New York or Vegas. We would even spend money and have fun– despite the fact that our faith as Muslims bans us from entering the “Sin City.” But, for you, we would break the rules. All you need is to purchase your plane ticket, and we will gladly cover the cost of everything else.

I know you’re busy with the presidential campaign, so, if you understandably can’t make it at the present time, our offer remains open for you to visit us at any time you choose.

But no matter when you would visit, Mr. Trump, I guarantee you this: You would fall in love with Arab-Islamic culture. Aside from superficial cultural differences, our peoples and their desires are very similar. You would feel at home among us.

As a politician and businessman you know that the resolution of conflict begins and ends with educated and open minds sharing meaningful, productive discussion. Our offer to you is an opportunity to resolve global conflict. Please give it thoughtful consideration.

Happy New Years,

Sami Rasouli
Muslim Peacemaker Teams, Najaf, Iraq

American ‘tithing’ to Israel funds murderous 2014 for Palestinians

Credit: Tyler Hicks, New York Times, 16 July 2014. The aftermath of an Israeli airstrike in July on a beach in Gaza City. Four young Palestinian boys, all cousins, were killed.

Credit: Tyler Hicks, New York Times, 16 July 2014.
The aftermath of an Israeli airstrike in July on a beach in Gaza City. Four young Palestinian boys, all cousins, were killed.

A headline yesterday in Israel’s Haaretz newspaper reported findings from the United Nations about violence in 2014 between Israelis and Palestinians. “UN report: 2014 saw the most Palestinians killed by Israel’s military since ‘67.” The subhead read: “Israeli security forces killed 2,312 Palestinians, most in the Gaza war over the summer. Roughly two-thirds were civilians.”

So, let’s break this down. That’s 2,314 Palestinians killed last year by Israel (at least 64% were civilians) versus 85 Israelis killed by Palestinians (less than 8% civilian). Those stats are not propaganda put out by, say, Hamas. These numbers are from the United Nations. Not mentioned but glaringly evident is this fact: The lopsided carnage is fueled in large part by Washington’s annual tithe of $3.1 billion American tax dollars to Israel given so that its “best friend” in the Middle East can protect(?) itself.

Think people, think! If Israel is the best or only friend that the United States has in the Middle East it’s because Washington and Wall Street bankroll Israel’s gross aggression and ongoing human rights abuses. For the love of God, Allah, Jehovah, Yahweh, Whomever, Whatever, Wherever, stop the madness. For starters, contact your representative in Congress (find their phone numbers and emails HERE) and tell them to stop using your taxes to fund Israeli aggression.

For those who can’t see the full Haaretz story at this link HERE, below is the story cut and pasted:

UN report: 2014 saw the most Palestinians killed by Israel’s military since ‘67

By Amira Hass | Mar. 27, 2015 | HAARETZ

The number of Palestinian civilians killed by the Israel Defense Forces in the West Bank and Gaza Strip last year topped 1,500 — the highest number since the occupation began in 1967. By most other measures, the Palestinians’ lives under the occupation also took a turn for the worse, as reflected in the annual overview by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

The 2014 report released Thursday is entitled “Fragmented Lives.” It translates into numbers the sense of a severe decline in the Palestinians’ personal and communal security.

The report notes higher casualties, a greater use of live ammunition to put down demonstrations in the West Bank, increased numbers of Palestinians displaced from their homes — both in Gaza and the West Bank — increased numbers of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, and a greater number of incidents in which settlers injured Palestinians. The comparison is to the two previous years.

There was also an increase in the number of incidents in which Palestinians injured settlers. By other measures such as freedom of movement and access to land there was no particular deterioration, but the violation of these rights was still apparent.

James Rawley, the coordinator of humanitarian affairs for the occupied territories, noted that without these Israeli violations there would be no need for the humanitarian aid sent by countries around the world.

All told, last year Israeli security forces killed 2,312 Palestinians — 2,256 Gazans and 56 residents of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Another two Palestinians were killed by other Israelis, putting the number of Palestinians killed at 2,314.

In Israel’s war against Hamas and its allies in Gaza last summer, 2,220 Gazans were killed. According to a UN task force, 1,492 of them were civilians, including 551 children and 299 women.

The report does not mention how many of those killed in the West Bank and Jerusalem were unarmed civilians and how many were killed on suspicion they had harmed Israelis or were killed during attacks on Israelis.

According to the report, 85 Israelis were killed; 66 soldiers during the Gaza war, when four Israeli civilians including one child were killed in Israel. In the West Bank and Jerusalem, 15 Israelis were killed by Palestinians, but it was not noted how many were civilians or members of the security forces.

Last year 17,125 Palestinians were wounded — more than 11,000 from IDF weapons fire in Gaza. (The tally of Palestinian wounded does not include victims of shock and emotional trauma.)

In the West Bank and East Jerusalem, Israeli security forces wounded 6,028 Palestinians, 1,112 of them (18 percent) by live fire — a considerable increase in the use of live fire from previous years, the report notes.

In 2013, just 3 percent of Palestinians wounded in the West Bank were hit by live fire; in 2012 the number was 2 percent. Meanwhile, 43 percent of Palestinians wounded in 2014 were hit by rubber-coated bullets.

The largest number of wounded last year — although not from the use of live ammunition — was in Jerusalem: 2,850. The Hebron area ranked second at 1,150.

Damaged homes

Last year, 105 incidents in which Israelis harmed Palestinians and their property were documented, compared with 92 in 2013 and 98 in 2012. There was also a sharp increase in the number of reported incidents in which Palestinians harmed Israelis — 87, compared with 39 in 2013 and 35 in 2012.

Last year 5,258 Palestinians were jailed in Israel on suspicion of or convictions for security offenses, compared with 4,227 in 2013 and 4,451 in 2012. Also in 2014, the monthly average of administrative detainees not on trial or denied the right to present a defense rose to 327 from 132 in 2013 and 245 in 2012. The monthly average of Palestinian children detained by the army fell to 185 from 197.

Due to the Gaza war the number of Palestinians displaced from their homes increased sharply. All told, 9,465 homes were totally destroyed during the war (compared with 3,425 in the Gaza war in the winter of 2008-09).

Another 9,644 homes were heavily damaged and 98,421 were lightly damaged. At the end of December, 100,000 Gaza Palestinians were still living away from home in rental housing, UN shelters, tents or trailers. Due to the housing shortage, which the war worsened, Gaza needs the construction of about 100,000 housing units.

There was also an increase in the number of Palestinians in Area C (the West Bank area under full Israeli control) whose homes were demolished — 1,215, compared with 1,103 in 2013 and 879 in 2012. In East Jerusalem, 98 Palestinians lost their homes in 2014 due to house demolitions by the Jerusalem municipality, about the same number as in 2013.

In Area C there was a 31 percent rise in demolitions of Palestinian structures donated by European countries. The IDF and its Civil Administration destroyed 118 such structures in 2014 compared with 90 in 2013 and 79 in 2012.

On the other hand, there was a decline in the number of impounded humanitarian-aid items donated by international organizations — 25 impounded by the IDF and Civil Administration compared with 67 in 2013. The items were often water tanks, hygiene items and other sanitation supplies.

The report, which provides advice to Israel on changing its policy and actions, is even more targeted at other countries, most of which fund the activities of UN organizations. “Third states share responsibility for ensuring respect for international humanitarian law in the [occupied Palestinian territories] and for promoting compliance with human rights obligations,” the report states.

In what can be construed as a call for more concerted diplomatic action against Israel, the report adds that these third countries “should take all necessary actions stemming from that responsibility.”

Fiction, violence, propaganda = War, war and more war


Huffington Post version of blog HERE

Red Letter Christians version of blog HERE

First it was Clint Eastwood and The American Sniper. For the sake of educating myself on all things mainstream I endured two hours of this peculiar Western devotion to fiction, violence and American exceptional-ism. As suspected, Eastwood stayed true only to Hollywood’s profit formula: Omit war crimes, illegal invasions, missing WMD, some 100,000 dead Iraqi civilians and any truth that could dilute the endorphin rush of blind patriotism– and, therefore, the almighty moviegoer dollar.

I left the theater nauseous. Eastwood’s candy coating was too much. As film credits and real-life photos of Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle crawled heavenward, moviegoers sat motionless or shuffled out in reverent silence. A woman next to me stared wide-eyed at the screen and whispered to her date:

“I didn’t know this was a true story.”

Two weeks later my tongue continues to heal. I bit it that hard.

Now it’s Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu and his Game of Thrones. More cherry picked storytelling, more simulated violence, more of the same tired narrative depicting Middle Eastern Arabs as Islamic savages intent on eradicating the Good Guys. In this case, Israeli Jews. To hear Bibi tell it, if not for the benevolence (read: fat wallets) of Washington and its Christian-majority electorate, Israel — cast as the best friend Americans have in the Middle East — would be wiped clean off the planet and the West would be further exposed to militant Islam.

At the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday, with easy command over a glad-handling GOP, Bibi used the tactics of Hollywood and Washington to omit from his speech an uncomfortable all-important truth: If Israel is the best friend Americans have in the Middle East it’s only because Israel creates so many enemies for the United States.

Israel flaunts international law (e.g., collective punishment of the masses, illegal occupation of lands obtained in war; discriminatory laws based on national origin; to name just a few of the violations cited by the United Nations) by relying on Washington to provide cover on the U.N. Security Council and money militarily. The fact that Israel rides roughshod over East Jerusalem, the West Bank, most Palestinians, and a laundry list of international laws is the largest obstacle to peace in the Middle East. It’s also the primary reason my dark blue passport can feel like a liability when I travel there.

This U.S. complicity with Israel’s crimes greatly erodes Washington’s influence for change in the region and helps drive the very thing Bibi crowed about on Capitol Hill:

“Iran and ISIS are competing for the crown of militant Islam. … Both want to impose a militant Islamic empire, first on the region and then on the entire world.”

He then evoked the dark violence of a fictitious HBO series with his sloppy blurring of fact and fiction. 

In this deadly ‘Game of Thrones,’” the protagonist Bibi declared, “there’s no place for America or for Israel. No peace for Christians, Jews or (for) Muslims who don’t share the Islamist medieval creed; no rights for women, no freedom for anyone.”

I’ve heard it said the best way for Washington to create peace in the Middle East is to stop providing U.N. cover for Israel and eliminate the U.S. money that fuels Israel’s defiant behavior (more than $20.5 billion given just during the Obama Administration). In effect, it’s Parenting 101: Make Israel responsible for its actions.

Before Navy SEAL Chris Kyle was killed Feb. 2, 2013 at a shooting range in Texas he’d said that most U.S. civilians were clueless about Iraqis, a people he painted in one broad brush. Savages, he called the Iraqis. “The public is soft,” Kyle told reporters. “They have no idea.”

And they still don’t– at least not about the true nature of Arabs and Muslims. For that we can thank Hollywood’s greedy devotion to feel-good narratives and the GOP’s propping up of an Israeli “protagonist.”

The Iraqis that Kyle knew from the scope on his rifle were defending a sovereign nation from an invading army. (Would Americans resist or roll over if, say, China stormed across their borders?) The Islamic nation(s) and militants that Bibi depicts as humanity’s biggest threat are, in large part, creatures of U.S. foreign policy and Israeli arrogance.

The other night at an Uno’s bar near Washington, D.C., the discussion turned to movies. I chimed in with “Kingsman” as my recommendation for the best movie I’d seen this year. Another patron voted for “American Sniper” and called it the greatest move ever made. Another patron and another and then the bartender all agreed.

My tongue hadn’t healed. I couldn’t bite it again. So, in an unpopular rebuttal, I argued against it for many of the same reasons I discuss here. I was immediately, politely dismissed.

“Okay, maybe the whole thing wasn’t entirely true and accurate and all of that,” a kindly woman offered, helping to ease me from the discussion. “But Kyle is still an American hero. You cannot argue that fact. He was over there protecting us!”

Oy vey.

Toward the end of his diatribe to the GOP, Bibi offered up a simple remedy:

“If Iran wants to be treated like a normal country, let it act like a normal country.”

Presumably, that would include following international law.

Great plan, Bibi.

Heed it.

Works in Progress: My latest tattoo and I


Huffington Post version of blog HERE

Neither one of us are particularly religious, this tattoo and I. We are decided works in progress– raw still, easily irritated, gloriously incomplete. Both of us. Lumped together like that, our flaws made us a perfect match for one another as well as for our makers. That is, God and Lui Renzo.

I was working in New York City last week and Renzo is a crazy talented tattoo artist in Secaucus, New Jersey, just west of the Lincoln Tunnel. A day earlier I’d asked if he could ink three Hawaiian words (pule ‘ole ho’opau) onto my left forearm. He reacted as if I’d raked fingernails across a blackboard.

“Yeah, I could. … But you’d be destroying prime real estate.”

To tattoo lovers and artists the wide open stretch elbow to wrist is a beautiful canvas begging for expression. It’s one of the few areas on the body where something personal and meaningful can be permanently sewn and seen straight-on by the person wearing it. No mirrors, no circus flexibility, no selfies required. From the forearm a tattoo stares up at you. A constant reminder.

I reviewed Renzo’s art, a diverse portfolio collected through five years of professional work. On his own left forearm is a finely detailed black and white of the Virgin Mary and Baby Jesus. At age 35, Renzo, a Catholic who grew up rough in New Jersey and Puerto Rico, has evolved into the archetype renaissance man. He’s worked as a truck driver, waiter, cook, reggaeton musician, barber, and, until the predator nature of the sales world clashed with his ethics and morals, as a $30 per-hour Verizon salesman. Today, he inks meaningful works of art or words into the skin of strangers.

Renzo at work.

Loosely translated “pule ‘ole ho’opau” means to pray without ceasing. I’m not a biblical scholar by any means, nor am I what anyone who attends church would call religious. When asked about religious affiliation on websites I leave the spot blank or write, “It’s complicated.” But my Baptist father told me I should never throw the baby out with the bath water, and I believe much of New Testament scripture to be profound regardless of the religious fraternity you pledge. The Apostle Paul’s advice in First Thessalonians is an ideal example. In it, Paul encourages the early Christians to be patient, caring and loving, to never return evil with evil, and to rejoice and be grateful always and in all things. This stuff applies to everyone. 

For me, First Thessalonians 5:17 sums it up beautifully and succinctly: “Pray without ceasing.”

In book talks and lectures I often explain how that verse reminds me to be more aware of how my words, thoughts and actions affect others. For the better, hopefully, but far too often, for the worst. Long ago, when I was a Native Hawaiian Affairs reporter in Honolulu, a revered healer from the Big Island explained to me how he is unable to cure the sick of anything if he is not pono at that very moment. He described pono as a state of perfect righteousness– right in word, right in thought, right in action. For most or all people, the religious and non-religious alike, Christian, Buddhist, Jew, Muslim, agnostic or atheist, pono waxes and wanes. It can be strengthened and maintained only through dogged awareness and vigilance.

Three miles west of the Lincoln Tunnel in a small tattoo parlor named Our Lady of Ink, I explained some of this to Renzo and told him how I do not believe Paul is saying that we should always walk around with our eyes closed, heads bowed. Just the opposite. To me, Paul is saying we should keep our eyes open, our minds focused, and that we should live in a state of blessed awareness. Live pono, that’s what Paul was saying long before I met the kahuna on the Big Island.

In Renzo’s portfolio one tattoo jumped out at me. Praying hands. The detail was phenomenal. He explained how it was the only tattoo of praying hands that he’d ever done. He’d drawn them just once.

“If you can duplicate that first effort,” I told him, “I’ll have you put it on my arm’s prime real estate.”

He thought about it for a few seconds.

“I can’t duplicate it. … I’ll do better. I always get better the second time.”

Today, a Lui Renzo Original points up at me lovingly and points me in the right direction. That’s not saying I will always follow the direction (I’ve already screwed up every which way from Sunday) but I can’t overlook the advice or easily disregard it.

Like me, the tattoo remains a work in progress. One day soon I will return for Renzo to add pule ‘ole ho’opau to it as well as the names of two people who look up to me as a role model– for better and for worst. My sons.That’s a reminder I need to carry with me (and on me) daily.

The finished product. For now.

No Protagonists in War on Terror: Washington, ISIS, Israel, Hamas all antagonists

A memorial scene for slain American journalist James Foley, killed by ISIS (the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) on Aug. 19, 2014.

On cue the feigned shock, manly thumping of chests and tribal war dance began anew.

The videotaped beheading of another U.S. journalist, this time Florida’s Steven Sotloff, two weeks after the execution of New Hampshire’s James Foley, predictably sent the White House’s Nobel Peace Prize Laureate onto Washington’s moral perch and Israel’s propagandists into overdrive.

We know the script and its actors well by now.

Protagonists live in the West, or at least resemble Westerners in general skin tone and/or style of dress. They deploy working class soldiers and use expensive weaponry to shear, shred, pulverize, burn, incinerate and decapitate heads, flesh, bone, bridges, roads, electrical grids, mosques, schools, bunkers, homes, hospitals, sons, daughters, fathers, mothers. In other words, to kill en masse all enemy combatants and unfortunate civilians.* The latter is a well-documented result of dropping bombs into heavily populated areas, but it gets dismissed with a common impersonal euphemism: collateral damage. The good guys, Americans and Israelis, know full well that the “War on Terror” kills at least tens of thousands of civilians, injures and maims hundreds of thousands, and displaces families from the Persian Gulf to the Gulf of Guinea. But, since the protagonists know what’s best and they have us glued to CNN and Fox News, we view collateral damage as a penny-ante expense.

Not so for the antagonists. In the Middle East the penny ante has become heavy and unforgivable. So the antagonists kill up close and in our faces; close enough to get our attention, so close they hide their despicable faces. Cloaked in black and wearing a robber’s mask, they crave the media attention and villainous role. Since they lack the West’s crazy expensive, imprecise “precision bombs” they can’t generate mass destruction. Instead, they kill in fewer numbers and exploit each for mass effect. Their psychological warfare is less about collateral damage, more about disturbing our sleep.

The protagonists curse them, threaten them, promise to hunt them and eliminate them, yet without the antihero we wouldn’t be fooled by the heroic costume of our protagonists. You see, ISIS (stands for “Islamic State in Iraq and Syria” but its Hebrew pronunciation is, apparently, “Hamas”), similar to Al-Qaeda and Cold War Communists, etc., plays the foil to the West and its heroic allies. These days, Israel.

So, same as last time, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu will declare the villainous ISIS to be no different than Hamas, and then he’ll imply that black-clad killers are par for the course in Gaza and Israeli-occupied West Bank. It wouldn’t surprise me if he used the threat of ISIS to justify Israel’s arrogant theft this week of 990 Palestinian acres near Bethlehem. Evidently, heroes and their allies operate outside international law, accountable to no one.

Meanwhile, the Washington-Wall Street Military Industrial Complex will be doubling down on its Middle East expansion (aka imperialism). On Tuesday, President Obama approved the deployment of 350 more American troops to Iraq. Soon after the video of Sotloff’s murder was deemed authentic, Obama gave a stern message to ISIS, sounding very much like he was guarding Gotham.

“We will not be intimidated,” he declared, then warned Americans to brace for another long (read: costly) fight. These “horrific acts only unite us as a country and stiffen our resolve to take the fight (to) these terrorists. … Those who make the mistake of harming Americans will learn that we will not forget and that our reach is long and that justice will be served.”**

In that way he has begun to sound like his predecessor “protagonist” and war industry pitchman, George W. Bush. Beheadings, after all, are good for business, all the more if they are captured on film. American outrage is a commodity famously leveraged for financial gain.***

Surely, ISIS knew this. Right? It had the script.

Last month, on cue after the beheading of Foley, Israel’s conservative English-language daily, The Jerusalem Post, stretched this headline across five columns of its front page:

“Obama calls Islamic State a ‘cancer’ after graphic beheading.”

In words measured and (self) righteous, Obama presumably spoke for Americans – and common decency — when he said that he and “all of humanity” were appalled by Foley’s murder. Later in the story, Secretary of State John Kerry played the role of a Judeo-Christian politician rushing off to do battle with Old Testament darkness:

“There is evil in this world, and we have all come face-to-face with it once again. Ugly, savage, inexplicable, nihilistic, and valueless evil.”

This was the same day the Twitter account of the Israeli Prime Minister posted a still photo of Foley’s execution, as if it justified bombing the bejesus out of Gaza. “RT THIS: Hamas is ISIS. ISIS is Hamas. They’re enemies of Peace. They’re enemies of all civilized countries.”

Followers did as ordered and retweeted Netanyahu’s propaganda 889 times before the post was deleted for its questionable use of Foley’s image.

Screenshot credit: Haaretz newspaper

Hours later it resurfaced with Foley’s picture replaced by the Arabic logo for ISIS. This tweet included an additional outrageous claim for any politician — Middle Eastern or Western — to make. It said the truth was simple (never the case in Jerusalem or Washington) and implied that Israel was on the side of it.

“The simple truth: Hamas is ISIS. ISIS is Hamas.”

Screenshot credit: Haaretz newspaper

The following day Israel resumed bombing a dispossessed Muslim people with $110,000 American-made, American-bought Hellfire missiles fired from $20 million American-made, American-bought Apache helicopters. The casualties in Gaza had already exceeded 2,000, the majority of the dead civilian.

A week later, with Israel’s stock of American-made whoop-ass apparently running low and its Iron Dome draining military coffers, Washington routed a boatload of Hellfire missiles to its shore and put a rush on an extra $225 million for its Iron Dome missile defense. Just a little bump to cushion Israel’s annual $3.1 billion American allowance. (Another $126 million bump is due in November.)

Anything, it seems, for Washington’s heroic sidekick.

Or is that backward?

Is Washington the sidekick?

The New Yorker’s Connie Bruck, in an article aptly titled “Friends of Israel,” dissects the influence that Israel lobbyists exact on Washington. In the Sept. 1, 2014 story she describes a tail-wagging-the-dog scene where an influential cadre of senators — Democrats Harry Reid and Tim Kaine; Republicans Mitch McConnell, John McCain and Lindsey Graham — work overtime in late August to ensure Israel is well stocked with U.S. money and missiles. Graham, a hawkish senator from South Carolina and a major recipient of pro-Israel campaign donations, was jubilant after the 11th-hour triumph. Speaking to reporters, he made the extra hundreds of millions of American tax dollars sound like a game of penny ante.

“Not only are we going to give you (Israel) more missiles, we’re going to be a better friend. We’re going to fight for you in the international court of public opinion. We’re going to fight for you in the United Nations.”



* If you count just the civilian deaths in Iraq, included in the field reports of U.S. soldiers dated 2004 to 2009, more than half (66,081) of the killed Iraqis were civilian. The dead do not include Iraqis killed during the war’s heaviest fighting in 2003 (when, for example, the U.S. dropped more than 500,000 tons of ordnance on Iraq) or by most coalition forces other than the U.S. military. Iraq Body Count, the British-based nongovernment project that began tracking Iraqi deaths in March 2003, estimates that between 128,431-143,705 civilians in Iraq were killed from the ongoing violence that began with the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003. A database of the deaths is available at Iraq Body Count.

** Lest we count, say, Israel’s attack by air and sea on the USS Liberty, June 8, 1967, killing 34 U.S. crew members and injuring 171. Or, maybe, Rachel Corrie, run over and killed by an armored Israeli Defense Forces bulldozer on March 16, 2003 in the Gaza Strip. She was attempting to block the demolition of a Palestinian home. Eye witnesses say the IDF crushed her on purpose; Israel disputes the claim.

*** For example, if you track the stock dividends of just the perennial top five “defense contractors” based on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) you find dizzying increases in the decade that followed September 11, 2011: Lockheed Martin (LMT) equals 680 percent increase in per-share stock dividends or 161 percent increase in Earnings Per Share (EPS); Boeing (BA) +250 percent or +635 percent EPS; Northrop Grumman (NOC) +250 percent or +187 percent EPS; General Dynamics (GD) +336 percent or +191 percent EPS; Raytheon (RTN) +190 percent or +400 percent EPS. Source: The Gospel of Rutba: War, Peace, and the Good Samaritan Story in Iraq

(Loud) Voices for Peace in the Middle East


                       Video of Peace Rally and Bassam Aramin’s Speech

Ten days ago Tel Aviv spoke in a loud and collective voice– Hebrew and Arabic, Jew and Muslim, Israeli and Palestinian.*  The night was electric and passionate. There was sweat and anger and frustration and loud demands for saner minds to prevail.

In the Middle East ten days can feel like forever.

On that balmy night of 16 August 2014 there was a fragile truce. Optimism had quickly swelled. In that moment Israel stopped obliterating all things Gazan; Hamas stopped littering Israeli skies with $800 rockets.

Ten days can feel like ancient history.

These are some of the headlines as the sun rose over the majestic Mediterranean on 26 August 2014 (Israel Daylight Time):

U.S. missile shipment delay over,” i.e., A boatload of $110,000 Lockheed Martin Hellfire missiles (fired into Gaza by $20 million Boeing Apache helicopters) are en route to Israel, thanks to the eternal benevolence of the Washington-Wall Street Military Industrial Complex and the White House’s own Nobel Peace Prize laureate.

16 Palestinians killed, two Israelis seriously wounded as Gaza op continues,” i.e., The deaths of a Palestinian mother and her four children from an Israeli (Hellfire?) missile strike on Gaza marked the 89th Gazan family to be wiped out in Operation Protective Edge; meanwhile, facing another day of 100-plus rocket attacks from Gaza, the Israeli Air Force continued its escalation of strikes.

“There’s no way to completely stop rocket fire, top Israeli officer says,” i.e., Southern Israel’s kibbutzes will always be vulnerable to enemy rocket fire. So, similar to Washington-Wall Street’s vaguely defined “War on Terror,” Israel has an indefinite excuse to continue its military buildup and aggression.

UPDATE: Today’s headlines (28 August 2014) are more encouraging, but for how long?

“With Gaza war over, massive reconstruction awaits: Urgent tasks require $367 million; international private donors have already pledged $177m…”

Palestinians threaten to turn to ICC if date not set for return to 1967 lines: Netanyahu and Abbas held secret talks before Gaza truce signed; no official Palestinian, Israeli or Jordanian source confirms that meeting in Amman actually took place…”

Netanyahu gave up on defeating Hamas terror: If Israel had applied overwhelming force against Hamas at the start of the Gaza conflict, it could have proven more merciful and briefer for both sides than the demolition derby that ensued.”

* The peace rally on Saturday, Aug. 16, 2014 is believed to be one of the largest in Israel’s history. Local media estimated the crowd to be 10,000 to 15,000.


Ben Gurion Airport is safe? The Monday explosion that’s missing from the discussion

Moments after a rocket scare in Terminal C of Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport. (Monday, July 21, 2014)

See the Huffington Post version HERE.

TEL AVIV – At 11:50 on Monday morning a scrum of passengers jockeying to board United Airlines Flight 85 from Tel Aviv to Newark fell silent when a warning echoed in Hebrew and Arabic through Ben Gurion Airport. Heads, and then heels, turned. The scrum morphed into a herd moving away from Terminal C’s vast windows and boarding gates.

Two seconds later the message repeated in English.

A security warning has sounded! Please follow normal procedure!

When Israel’s Iron Dome missiles greet Hamas’ rockets there’s a distinctive resonance– the kind of rich baritone you hear and feel. Under present circumstances, it’s oddly comforting. In the 12 days I traveled around the West Bank and Israel (July 9-21), residing beneath the arc of Israel’s sophisticated $100,000 Tamir interceptor missiles and Hamas’ crude $800 steel-cylinder Qassam rockets, I lost count of the number of times I relaxed into the familiar thunder.

However, I clearly recall the last loud clap. It occurred just before noon on Monday and originated overhead. Above Ben Gurion Airport.

In the time it takes for a rocket fired from Gaza to reach Tel Aviv – roughly 90 seconds as the hoopoe flies – the herd in Terminal C had put about 30 meters between itself and Gate 8. Nobody panicked. The brisk walk seemed no more frantic than a last-minute gate change.

Then … boom!

The herd didn’t blink. It turned on its heels and returned to its scrum at Gate 8. Meanwhile, a dozen or so early boarders and business-class travelers had sat comfortably –and apparently clueless – in United’s wide-body Boeing 777.

“There was an alarm?” my Israeli seat mate in row 20 asked after I boarded. “I guess ignorance is bliss, yes?”

Apparently. At least that seems to be the thinking of the Federal Aviation Administration, U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu, and Israeli Minister of Transportation Yisrael Katz. “Ben Gurion Airport is safe and there is no need to be worried about the security of airplanes and passengers,” Katz said on Tuesday, after a rocket landed one mile from airport runways and the FAA temporarily banned U.S. airlines from flying into or out of Tel Aviv.

Speaking into TV cameras and reporter microphones, Katz kept repeating himself, as if saying it enough times would make it true: “Ben Gurion Airport is safe. … There is no reason why airlines should stop their flights, handing a prize to terrorists.”

No reason? As Flight 85 ascended from Ben Gurion’s runway I could only hope it would not come between a missile and a rocket. This is safe?

According to The Washington Post, sometime on Tuesday night Netanyahu phoned Kerry to request help in lifting the travel banOf 3.54 million tourists to Israel last year, a record number that contributed $11.4 billion to its economy, 53 percent were defined by Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics as “Christian.” The Holy Land of Jerusalem is Israel’s big draw.

So, it came as no surprise, just hours after Kerry departed Israel today – declaring progress in securing a truce between Israel and Hamas – that the FAA cut short its 48-hour travel ban. I can’t imagine what Netanyahu offered behind closed doors. With no specific explanation or new evidence, the FAA adopted Katz’s oft-repeated (il)logic. Ben Gurion Airport was stamped “safe” again.

“[T]he FAA worked with its U.S. government counterparts to assess the security situation in Israel,” its press release stated, “and reviewed both significant new information and measures the Government of Israel is taking to mitigate potential risks to civil aviation.”

Oy vey.

Last Friday, as I was leaving a hotel in Jerusalem to travel to Tel Aviv, I ran into one of the last remaining Christian groups daring to tour Jerusalem even as Netanyahu promised an escalation in the ground fighting with Hamas. Tour members were with Snoqualmie Valley Alliance, a nondenominational church in Fall City, Wash., 30 miles east of Seattle.

“We’ve relied on our faith,” one member told me, explaining why the group had stayed its course in Jerusalem. “Plus, we knew Bibi would keep us safe.”



War, Religion, and the Israeli Rocket Dancers

Credit: Greg Barrett, Jerusalem, July 14, 2014

See the Huffington Post version HERE.

JERUSALEM (July 17, 2014)– The difference between wealthy and poor when you’re fighting in the Middle East? The former has the Iron Dome anti-missile defense system; the latter is near defenseless.

Sirens in Gaza send Palestinians scrambling for cover every day, yet at least 185 have died to date, e.g., cousins Mohammed Baker (aged 9), Ahed Baker (10), Zakaria Baker (10), and Mohammed Baker (11), killed late Wednesday afternoon. They were fishermen’s kids mistaken as “fleeing fighters,” an Israel Defense Forces official told Haaretz newspaper, following the two IDF airstrikes on a Gazan beach. The first explosion sent the children sprinting toward a hotel; the second targeted them.

Credit: Tyler Hicks, New York Times. The aftermath of an airstrike on a beach in Gaza City. Four young Palestinian boys, all cousins, were killed.

Credit: Tyler Hicks, New York Times, July 16, 2014. The aftermath of an airstrike on a beach in Gaza City. Four young Palestinian boys, all cousins, were killed.

Meanwhile, in Jerusalem, where the Iron Dome has received $720 million in American money since 2011, and, according to Foreign Policy magazine, will likely draw another $350 million in 2015, some Orthodox Jews dance in the streets. Sirens are celebrated. It’s a peculiar reaction to the shrill warning of rockets arriving from Gaza.

The video above shows them dancing earlier this week across from UN offices in Jerusalem along Route 60 (aka Way of the Patriarchs), a north-south thoroughfare connecting Israel and Palestine and stretching from Beersheba to Nazareth. The dance was followed by two thunderous explosions. Overhead. The Iron Dome works. Israeli peacemaker Rami Elhanan tells me that Orthodox Jews dance when faced with a threat to show the strength of their belief, i.e., God will protect them.

Of course if Gazans had the Iron Dome they might also dance.

Yesterday, Hamas urged (ordered?) Palestinians living on its borders to remain in their homes in defiance of Israel’s warning to evacuate ahead of its near-certain ground attack. The Hamas directive elicited an absurd comment from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who implied that combat here occurs on an even playing field– as if hundreds of millions of American tax dollars (not to count the annual US $3 billion or so) and an Iron Dome are equally available to both sides.

“We are using missile defense to protect our civilians,” Netanyahu told reporters on Wednesday, the same day four Gazan cousins died, “and they’re using their civilians to protect their missiles.”

Yes, Hamas, poor choice.

In God (and Winnie the Pooh) I trust…

UFC champ Jon Jones (R) defeats Glover Teixeira (L) in Baltimore on Saturday, April 26, 2014

UFC champ Jon Jones (R) defeats Glover Teixeira (L) in Baltimore on Saturday, April 26, 2014

Immediately after UFC champ Jon Jones defended his light heavyweight title last Saturday in Baltimore, Jones, a Christian with a tattoo on his chest reading “Philippians 4:13″ (I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me) kissed a forefinger and pointed toward heaven — or, depending on your secular versus religious leanings, toward the incandescent arc of the cage’s klieg lights.

“All glory be to God,” he told the pay-per-view audience. “Forever and forever, he reigns forever.”

Moments later, before answering questions from UFC broadcaster Joe Rogan, Jones gave Christianity its usual post-fight shout out: “First and foremost I want to thank Jesus Christ my Lord and Savior. Without him I would be nothing.”

Great athletes — and Jones is without question a remarkable MMA fighter — frequently give credit to God or Allah. On Saturday’s pay-per-view main card three of the five winners (Jones, Anthony Johnson and Max Holloway) immediately credited God or “my Lord and Savior” for the victory.

Although I feel certain that neither the Christian God nor his son aka Savior favored any one fighter in Saturday’s various beat downs, I believe that Jones is absolutely correct. Without his belief in a personal connection to a higher and omnipotent power, Jones, as well as other superstar athletes who say they are anointed with God’s blessing, would not perform in ways that appear otherworldly.

However, the same might be said of my devout belief in Winnie the Pooh. I was born the same year (1961) that the rights to Winnie the Pooh were licensed to Walt Disney Productions and, in no time, Disney had worked its magic. I became a believer. Chubby, benevolent Pooh, always dressed in a preshrunk red shirt (or was it an ill-advised midriff?), battled an insatiable appetite for honey. With my weakness for peanut butter fudge and my mom’s early attempts at sewing our clothes, I related. Like our refrigerator door, Pooh was a light in the dark. Even though he had it far rougher than I did, god bless him, he maintained a sunny disposition. He could be naive (I just thought of him as innocent) or slow-witted (understated and modest, I suspected) he developed a massive following, earned billions of dollars for Disney, and, unlike the most heavily perfumed girls in high school, he attracted more friends than bees. Tigger stalked him; Piglet adored him; Christopher Robin was loyal and steadfast.

Yeah, yeah, I know: What in God’s name does this have to do with Jon Jones kicking Glover Teixeira’s butt?

Wow, really? Pooh was also patient. He taught me to listen without interrupting. And if, say, my parents had dragged me to a sanctuary every Sunday where we sang hymns in praise of Pooh and listened to robed men yammer on and on about Pooh’s miracles and Pooh’s wisdom (“Some people talk to animals. Not many listen though”) and Pooh’s unconditional love for humanity, I might also believe in Pooh’s omniscience, omnipotence and benevolence.

If, then, I believed that this same power were in me as sure as the blood coursing my veins, I might be able to relax to the point where I could compete with no self-doubt and no fear — utterly comfortable in the belief that the almighty Pooh is in me and will watch over me even as the heavy fisted Teixeira is trying to separate me from consciousness. As long as I am living by the lessons of Pooh and treating others as he did — e.g., as I would want to be treated myself — then maybe the Power of Pooh would be mine.

And it is. It always was, no matter if I pledged Protestant, Catholic, Muslim, Jew, Hindu, Buddhist, Pagan, Atheist, Agnostic or Pooh. When I truly believe that the power of the universe resides within me (this belief waxes and wanes apparently) I act in such a way that I am able to tap it. Jesus or the Buddha or Winnie the Pooh, these are merely conduits for the almighty energy that lies in wait.

Yes, Jon Jones, all glory be to (insert empowering role model/teacher here).

Read Huffington Post version HERE