Don’t Be Cowed by the Right: Support the Green New Deal

With everybody finally talking about the Green New Deal, progressives should make sure that remains in the national spotlight. They should focus their efforts on improving and promoting the proposal which is now in early draft mode.

However, many seem reluctant to do so. Apparently intimidated by establishment nay-sayers, liberals have instead more often conceded to the shop-worn tropes of climate-change deniers and neo-liberal advocates of trickle-down economic theory. President Trump has characterized the proposal as “socialist.” House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi dismissed it “the green dream or whatever.” 

Such dismissiveness has some progressives repeating the right-wing canard that GND provisions like the following have no connection with fighting climate change:

  • Family-sustaining wage guarantees, especially for displaced workers
  • Enhanced Social Security for the elderly
  • Free higher education and the cancelling of student debt
  • Universal health care with adequate family medical leave
  • Affordable, energy-efficient housing for all
  • Remedies for systemic injustices among the poor, elderly, and people of color

In dismissing those provisions as “irrelevant to climate change,” “unrealistic” and “only aspirational,” liberals and progressives have been apparently cowed by climate-change deniers or at least to those whose remedies would principally benefit corporations, politicians, lawyers, and the infamous 1% instead of our country’s majority. Rather than fully commit to wind, solar, and geo-thermal technologies, the former would prefer retaining present economic arrangements while taxing, sequestering, and trading carbon pollutants.

Despite such diversions, the argument here is that the GND represents the best available response to the climate-change crisis. It deserves the full support of progressives because:

  • It’s already prominently “on the table;” everyone’s talking about it.
  • It boldly confronts the failed neoliberal economic model at its root – capitalism-as-we-know-it – supplying a green jobs-program-with-benefits that, in the past, have normally been associated with decent employment.
  • Far from being off the wall, its provisions are intimately connected with the inevitable dislocations produced by adoption of a carbon-neutral economy.
  • It has successful historical precedent.
  • The funding for its implementation is readily available.

The GND Is on the Table

I recently attended a meeting of climate change activists where some participants spoke as if we are still searching for some means of getting people to recognize and respond to the problem of climate change. Participants wondered, should we endorse the recommendations of the Sierra Club, or perhaps of 350.Org, or maybe the Environmental Defense Fund? It was suggested that we take the best recommendations from such NGOs and select the ones we’d like to endorse.

It was even proposed that our group author a “manifesto” in hopes that a celebrity like Oprah Winfrey might get behind it.

All such approaches fail to recognize that the problem of climate change is already very much on the table and has huge popular support. It’s there because we all know about the unprecedented multi-billion-dollar disasters like hurricane Maria and the uncontrollable California wildfires that have afflicted us in recent months.

And just since the beginning of the new year, a whole series of dispiriting reports have emerged from the scientific community to underline the point. The studies have scientists warning us that our window for response is closing rapidly. Current estimates are that we have no more than a dozen years before we reach the point of no return on a run-away train headed for a disastrous precipice. That’s the crisis staring us in the face as our train’s engineer commands: “Full speed ahead.”

All of that has already elicited massive support for the Green New Deal proposed by Senator Markey (D-MA) and Representative Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY). Unlike any alternatives, the GND now has scores of co-sponsors in Congress. Every Senate Democrat running for president has endorsed it. The easy-to-understand proposal has 80% of Americans supporting its provisions.

GND and Capitalism

Perhaps the real reason for progressives’ fears about the Green New Deal is that its proponents dare to identify the elephant in the room – capitalism-as-we-know-it. Understandably intimidated by McCarthyism along with 75 years of pro-capitalist propaganda, liberals have a hard time following suit. They shy away from any positions that might be caricatured as critical of capitalism. They bend over backwards to assure debate-opponents that they are not (as one member of our activist group put it) “crazy socialists.”

Progressives need to put those fears aside. We need to follow the bold example of the youngest and most dynamic member of the House of Representatives and that of one of our most senior senators; neither ever backs down in the face of such epithets. In that, both AOC and Bernie Sanders are increasingly joined by Americans under the age of 35. According to Gallup polls, the majority of them prefer socialism over capitalism.

In any case, the Green New Deal is not socialist. Instead, it is merely a green jobs program with the kind of benefits that used to go along with every decent job. In fact, those benefits are what every employer and government official demands for himself or herself – including health care, sound retirement, and remuneration sufficient to buy a house and send their children to college without incurring life-long debt.

Moreover, all the benefits in question are associated with the severe dislocations associated with transition to a carbon-neutral economy: universal health care to remediate problems caused by the fossil fuel economy; universal post-secondary education to equip workers to participate productively in the new high-tech culture; low-cost energy-efficient housing that will accommodate those forced to move from old fossil-fuel-related jobs to new green employment opportunities perhaps far from their current homes; and reparation for the long-standing practice of locating polluting industries in poor and minority communities.

None of that is off the wall or disassociated from combatting climate change effectively.

New Deal Precedent

All the controversy is like what happened with Roosevelt’s original New Deal.

Back then, with their focus fixed firmly on Wall Street, Republicans objected to the apparent overreach of FDR’s proposals. What, they asked, do Social Security, legalized unions, unemployment insurance, minimum wages, and the “alphabet soup” of programs like the WPA (Works Progress Administration) with its FMP (Federal Music Project) and FTP (Federal Theater Project) have to do with reviving the Stock Market? To them such enactments seemed completely off-the-wall. They wanted top-down solutions that would focus on Wall Street – bail-outs, tax breaks, and government subsidies.

However, for Roosevelt and his constituencies none of the New Deal programs were far-fetched. What Republicans failed to acknowledge (but what Roosevelt saw clearly) was that those living on Main Street needed to believe that response to the national crisis of depression would take them into account as well as the rich who had little need of government assistance. Wage-earners needed jobs with benefits. They needed laws to improve their living standards. They needed a tax code benefitting them rather than the already wealthy. Enactment of programs based on those convictions got FDR elected four times in a row. After Lincoln, he’s generally remembered as the greatest American president.  

Funding the GND

But how will we pay for the Green New Deal?

In short, it should be financed in the same way FDR paid for his original program – by drastically increasing taxes on those most able to afford them. In Roosevelt’s time (and up until the 1960s) the highest tax bracket was 91% on incomes over $400,000. AOC has suggested a 70% tax on incomes over $10 million.

The truth is that enactment of some version of the GND with its transition away from carbon-based energy provides another rich income-source as well. The Green New Deal promises to make wars-for-oil obsolete. The elimination of such adventures will also go a long way towards eliminating blow-back in the form of international terrorism. As a result, our government should be able to shrink its military budget by at least 50% and to reinvest the resulting resources in GND programs.

Conclusion

Yes, we’ve finally arrived at a point where Americans have a proposal before them that they can both understand and whose provisions they overwhelmingly support. It’s got the public’s attention. So, progressives should make it their business to support its general direction and to take part in refining its provisions. Everybody needs to get involved in that project: wage earners, mothers, fathers, children, the unemployed and homeless, and not merely the usual suspects, viz. politicians, lawyers, economists, and business leaders.

Widespread citizen involvement should have progressives pushing for hearings on the GND throughout the country and well before the Democratic presidential debates. Then the suggestions of local meetings should be collated and processed into a final form that the majority can get behind.

To reiterate: this is not merely or even principally the job of professional politicians, but of our national community. After all, the Green New Deal is by no means a finished product.

The bottom line is that progressives should not be intimidated by gas-lighting nay-sayers, technocrats, politicians and lobbyists. Remember, their precise point is to discourage as unrealistic what the world needs to effectively meet the unprecedented emergency presented by climate change.

The Green New Deal is best understood as a green jobs program with benefits. It’s what we all need; it’s what we all deserve.  

Why Progressives Should Focus Exclusively on Promoting the Green New Deal

At last, the Green New Deal (GND) has our country debating climate change in an urgent and understandable way. Though the topic of environmental chaos was totally ignored in the 2016 election cycle, that definitely won’t be the case during the coming election season. We have Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (D-NY), and Ed Markey (D-MS) to thank for that.

With everybody finally talking about the Green New Deal, progressives should make sure that the conversation continues. Unlike its alternatives, the GND is easy to understand, and 80% of Americans support its provisions.

For that combination of reasons, scores of Democrats have already co-sponsored the Cortez-Markey proposal. Editors at the New York Times (NYT) have cautiously supported the GND proposal as “better than our climate nightmare.” The AFL/CIO has demanded inclusion in discussions about the scheme’s final shape. Republicans, of course, are generally ridiculing the proposal as too expensive and based on “fake science.”

This is what a national debate looks like. The Green New Deal has finally given climate change the attention it deserves.

Objections to the Green New Deal  

None of this is to deny that the debate has often been contentious even among those with unquestionable commitment to solving the problem of climate change. Some have characterized the GND’s general proposals as “off-the-wall.” They ask: what do issues like universal health care, free post-secondary education, fair housing, paid vacations, state-sponsored childcare, enhanced retirement, and increased minimum wage have to do with climate change? For their part, union representatives have expressed fears that the proposal will adversely impact the good-paying jobs of their rank and file.

Perhaps the NYT editors best expressed the currently prevailing skeptical approach when they asked, “Is the Green New Deal aimed at addressing the climate crisis? Or is addressing the climate crisis merely a cover for a wish-list of progressive policies and a not-so-subtle effort to move the Democratic Party to the left?”

In summary, contrarian assessment so far seems to be that the Cortez-Markey proposition is just too ambitious and disconnected from the actual issue of climate change.

My argument here will be that it is neither. To get what I mean, first of all consider the natural threat posed by climate chaos and then how the Green New Deal ingeniously attempts to meet that threat in ways that surpass any of its alternatives.

The Climate Change Threat

Never in history has the human race faced such peril. We all know about the unprecedented multi-billion-dollar disasters, like hurricane Maria and the uncontrollable California wildfires that have afflicted us in recent months. In January, the Rhodium Group identified unbridled economic growth and factory emissions as the main causes of such disasters.

Then, just since the beginning of the new year, two other dispiriting reports have emerged from the scientific community to underline the point. A study in the journal Science pointed out that the planet’s oceans are warming 40-50% faster than previous UN estimates. The result, we’re told, will be even more virulent hurricanes and other weather events (like tsunamis) in the near future. Meanwhile, the proceedings of the National Academy of Science warned that Antarctica’s huge ice reserves are melting much faster than predicted. As a result, ocean levels are about to swell and swallow up huge areas of coastal plain along with entire island-nations creating possibly billions of climate refugees in the process.

Alarmingly, scientists are warning that our window for response is closing rapidly. Current estimates are that we have no more than a dozen years before we reach the point of no return on a run-away train headed for a disastrous precipice. That’s the crisis staring us in the face as our train’s engineer commands: “Full speed ahead.”

Despite all of that, however, we shouldn’t be discouraged. After all, crises have two aspects. As President Kennedy reminded us 60 years ago, emergencies even like the one before us present a danger, but also an opportunity. I’ve just referred to the dangers; they are obvious to all but the willfully blind.

Incentives to Wall Street

The genius of the Green New Deal is that it highlights the opportunities. Instead of waving the banner of austerity, it upholds the flag of all-inclusive prosperity. It points out unprecedented prospects for improving life on our planet. Yes, it underlines astounding benefits for Wall Street. However, its main beneficiaries live on Main Street. They include our grandchildren yet-to-be-born.

The benefits for Wall Street are surprising but logical at least according to prevailing economic theory. Changing from a carbon-based economy to one based on wind, solar, and geo-thermal energy, promises to create opportunities for innumerable new businesses and entrepreneurs. The UN estimates that the transition will add $26 trillion to the global economy by 2030. Twenty-six trillion dollars! That’s good news for investors.

And they’re beginning to embrace the prospects. Nonetheless, the unaided market gives little indication of mobilizing fast enough or of being focused enough to avoid the impending train wreck. Inducing Wall Street to apply breaks, lay new track and change direction will take time.

Conventional wisdom holds that Wall Street’s market-based solutions will also require hard-to-understand, top-down remedies such as carbon taxes with rebates, carbon sequestration, and carbon trading.  None of those have much hope of gaining the popular understanding or traction needed to inspire the mass mobilization required to address climate change effectively.  

Additionally, market-based solutions necessitate powerful incentives from the government in the form of tax breaks, deregulation, and outright subsidies to corporations. While virtually no one has trouble with the logic of providing such incentives, the crisis at hand requires immediate action that cannot wait for stimulants to kick in any more than it might wait for market solutions to provide timely response to attack by a foreign enemy.

Incentives to Main Street

And that brings us back to the genius of the Green New Deal. The latter recognizes that government must step in to meet a threat much larger and overwhelming than any attack ever experienced in American history or the history of the world. Doing so necessitates government-directed restructuring the economy from the bottom-up. Washington must take charge just as it would during war time – just as it did during World War II. It means DC’s becoming the employer-of-last-resort in new enterprises that Wall Street has proven incapable of sponsoring or even identifying in timely fashion.  

The GND also extends to Main Street the incentives that conventional wisdom routinely offers businesses but is unwilling to distribute to wage-earners. GND proponents understand that responding effectively to the crisis of climate change will require an unprecedented mass mobilization of a population that as yet has exhibited little awareness of the problem’s immediacy. Moreover, the public has been subject to mind-numbing propaganda on the part of powerful climate-change-deniers funded by the fossil fuel industry and by politicians bankrolled by those interests.

GND advocates understand the impossibility of mobilizing an audience like that under the banner of austerity and reduction in living standards. Instead mobilization requires convincing ordinary citizens that responding to climate change will improve their lives and make them more prosperous. It entails providing incentives for them to get on-board just as we saw it might for Wall Street investors.

And no one should object to that. It’s like what happened with Roosevelt’s original New Deal.

Back then, with their focus fixed firmly on Wall Street, Republicans objected to the overreach of FDR’s proposals. What, they asked, do Social Security, legalized unions, unemployment insurance, minimum wages, and the “alphabet soup” of programs like the WPA (Works Progress Administration) with its FMP (Federal Music Project) and FTP (Federal Theater Project) have to do with reviving the Stock Market? To them such enactments seemed completely off-the-wall. They wanted top-down solutions – bail-outs, tax breaks, and government subsidies.

However, for Roosevelt and his constituencies none of the New Deal programs were far-fetched. What Republican cognitive dissonance failed to acknowledge (but what Roosevelt saw clearly) was that those living on Main Street needed incentives too. They needed to believe that response to the national crisis of depression would take them into account as well as the rich who had little need of government assistance. Wage-earners needed subsidies too. They needed laws to improve their living standards. They needed a tax code benefitting them rather than the already wealthy. Enactment of programs based on those convictions got FDR elected four times in a row. After Lincoln, he’s generally remembered as the greatest American president.  

Paralleling FDR’s response to the Great Depression, proponents of the Green New Deal recognize that climate chaos “changes everything.” It impacts our standard of living; it threatens our family life, our health and longevity; it makes irrelevant old kinds of jobs (e.g. in fossil-fuel-related industries); it calls for new kinds of homes adapted to new weather patterns. It calls for massive re-education, and for reparations to those victimized by the old fossil fuel order.

With that in mind, the GND provides new kinds of jobs to do work that the private sector has proven unable or unwilling to provide. It offers massive re-education that will emphasize not only science and technology, but the arts, literature, philosophy, and theology (where the wisdom and moral roots of human civilization are to be found). More specifically, to meet the severe dislocations related to understanding our changed world, to health problems caused by the fossil fuel economy, to energy-inefficient housing, to declining living standards caused by job-loss in a more traditional economy, and to the practice of locating polluting industries in poor and minority communities, the GND demands:

  • Free higher education and the cancelling of student debt
  • Universal health care
  • Affordable, energy-efficient housing for all
  • Family-sustaining wage guarantees, especially for displaced workers
  • Paid vacations for all workers
  • Adequate family medical leave
  • Retirement security for everybody
  • Remedies for systemic injustices among the poor, elderly, and people of color

Grandchildren as Overriding Incentive

As already indicated, all of that is easy to understand and far more likely to secure popular buy-in than cap-and-trade explanations or complex discussions of carbon sequestration or carbon taxes with mathematically calculated rebates for the poor. Everyone can understand higher wages.

However, what’s easiest of all to understand are the benefits such buy-in, popular mobilization, and rapid response will secure for our grandchildren whose very lives are threatened by the inaction rendered likely by those more arcane measures.

To begin with, the Green New Deal will secure for those younger ones we love not only a healthier planet, but longer lives less threatened by war and terrorism. That point is by no means trivial and even goes a long way towards answering the question: How will you pay for it all?

Certainly, the Green New Deal will have to be financed in the same way FDR paid for his original program – by drastically increasing taxes on those most able to afford them. In Roosevelt’s time (and up until the 1960s) the highest tax bracket was 91% on incomes over $400,000. AOC has suggested a 70% tax on incomes over $10 million.

The truth is that enactment of some version of the GND with its transition away from carbon-based energy provides another rich income-source that will benefit our grandchildren. The Green New Deal promises to make wars-for-oil obsolete. So, our descendants will not have to fight such wars or worry so much about the blow-back from “terrorists” created by those foreign adventures. That in turn will enable our government to shrink its military budget by at least 50% and to reinvest the resulting resources in GND programs.

To put a finer point on it: what we’re talking about here is a kind of inverted thinking about military spending. That is, to meet the challenge to national security represented by climate change, we must reduce and redirect rather than increase our bloated military budget. Meeting the financial challenges presented by an alienated and angry Mother Nature calls for a drastic disinvestment from the military and reinvestment in the provisions of a GND – precisely on national security grounds.

Conclusion

Yes, we’ve finally arrived at a point where Americans have a proposal before them that they can both understand and whose provisions they overwhelmingly support. It’s got the public’s attention. So, progressives should make it their business to support its general direction and to take part in refining its provisions. Everybody needs to get involved in that project: wage earners, mothers, fathers, children, the unemployed and homeless, and not merely the usual suspects, viz. politicians, lawyers, economists, and business leaders.

Widespread citizen involvement should have progressives pushing for hearings on the GND throughout the country and well before the Democratic presidential debates. Then the suggestions of local meetings should be collated and processed into final form. To reiterate: this is not merely or even principally the job of professional politicians, but of our national community. After all, the Green New Deal is by no means a finished product.

In short, our unprecedented climate crisis calls for New Beginnings – for a fresh start. That’s what the “New Deal” meant historically. It’s what the Green New Deal should embody today. None of its general provisions are “off the wall.” Each is connected to an actual dislocation caused by the switch to a non-carbon-based economy.

So, progressives should not be intimidated by gas-lighting nay-sayers, technocrats, politicians and lobbyists. Remember, their precise point is to discourage as unrealistic what the world needs to effectively meet the unprecedented emergency presented by climate change.

Give Up Devil-Worship for Lent: Work and Pray for the Defeat of U.S. Empire

Readings for First Sunday of Lent: Dt. 26: 4-10; Ps. 91: 1-2; 10-15; Rom. 10: 8-13; Lk. 4: 1-13.

Last Tuesday’s edition of “Democracy Now” had Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez interviewing Daniel Immerwahr, and associate professor of history at the University of Chicago. Dr. Immerwahr has just published a book called How to Hide an Empire: A History of the Greater United States.  For me, it was an eye-opening conversation, because it described the actual extent of U.S. empire that remains hidden even, as Dr. Immerwahr noted, from PhD historians.

Yet more importantly, for today’s reflections on this first Sunday of Lent, the interview revealed how the hidden U.S. empire actually involves our country in devil worship as defined by this Sunday’s Gospel episode.

Actually, that’s been the case for Christians in general ever since the 4th century of our era, when their predecessors threw in their lot with Constantine’s Roman army. Since then, they’ve (we’ve!) been worshipping Satan while calling him “God.” Today’s Gospel calls attention to that contradiction. It implies that Christians should no more support their country’s foreign policy (or what pretends to be the Christian Church) than if it were run by Hitler or the devil himself.

Let me explain.

Begin with Dr. Immerwahr’s description of the hidden U.S. Empire. He traces its inauguration to the period immediately after our country’s founding. It was then that settlers incorporated territories seized (in clear violation of treaties) from Native Americans. Then in 1845, the U.S. absorbed nearly half of Mexico – Texas first and then [after the Mexican-American War (1846-’48)], what became Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming. By the end of the 19th century, the U.S. had added Puerto Rico, the Philippines, Hawaii, Alaska, Guam, and Wake Island.

If we add to this the implications and actual invocation of the Monroe Doctrine (1823) in order to control the politics of Latin America, we can see forms of U.S. colonialism extending throughout the western hemisphere.

Coups in Africa [e.g. Congo (1961), Ghana (1965), Angola (1970s), Chad (1982)] established U.S. hegemony there. Similar interventions in the Middle East (e.g. Iran in 1953) along with the establishment of Israel and Saudi Arabia as a U.S. proxies controlling political-economy throughout the region established United States control there.

Factor in the 800 U.S. military bases peppered across the world and one’s understanding of our empire’s extent expands exponentially. (Russia, by contrast has 9 such bases; the rest of the world has virtually 0). To understand the sheer numbers involved, think of our continued military presence in South Korea (35,000 troops) Japan (40,000), and Germany (32,000). Besides this, of course, there are the active troops who daily kill civilians and destroy property in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Somalia, and elsewhere. In total we’re told that there are about 165,000 troops deployed in 150 countries throughout the world – though, in the light of what I’ve just recounted, even that number seems vastly understated.

In any case, all of that describes an extensive, highly oppressive, and extremely violent American Empire.

And we’re proud of it. Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson thought of colonialism as marvelous. However, by the first decade of the 20th century, politicians became increasingly uncomfortable with “the ‘C’ word,” and exchanged references to colonies for the gentler euphemism, “territories.”

But whatever name we give it, the reality of U.S. empire stands in sharp contrast to today’s Gospel reading and its description of Jesus basic proclamation with its negative judgment on empire and colonialism.

As a prophet and actual victim of empire, Jesus made his fundamental proclamation not about himself or about a new religion. Much less was it about the after-life or “going to heaven.” Instead, Jesus proclaimed the “Kingdom of God.” That phrase referred to what the world would be like without empire – if Yahweh were king instead of Rome’s Caesar. In other words, “Kingdom of God” was a political image among a people unable and unwilling to distinguish between politics and religion.

According to Jesus, everything would be reversed in God’s Kingdom. The world’s guiding principles would be changed. The first would be last; the last would be first. The rich would weep, and the poor would laugh. Prostitutes and tax collectors would enter the Kingdom, while the priests and “holy people” – all of them collaborators with Rome – would find themselves excluded. The world would belong not to the powerful, but to the “meek,” i.e. to the gentle, humble and non-violent. It would be governed not by force and “power over” but by compassion and gift (i.e. sharing).

That basic message becomes apparent in Luke’s version of Jesus’ second temptation described in today’s Gospel episode. From a high vantage point, the devil shows Jesus all the kingdoms of the earth. Then he says,

“I shall give to you all this power and glory;
for it has been handed over to me,
and I may give it to whomever I wish.
All this will be yours, if you worship me.”

Notice what’s happening here. The devil shows Jesus an empire infinitely larger than Rome’s – “all the kingdoms of the world.” Such empire, the devil claims, belongs to him: “It has been handed over to me.” This means that those who exercise imperial power do so because an evil spirit has chosen to share his possession with them: “I may give it to whomever I wish.” The implication here is that Rome (and whoever exercises empire) is the devil’s agent. Finally, the tempter underlines what all of this means: devil-worship is the single prerequisite for empire’s possession and exercise: “All this will be yours, if you worship me.”

However, Jesus responds,

“It is written:
You shall worship the Lord, your God,
and him alone shall you serve.”

Here Jesus quotes the Mosaic tradition summarized in Deuteronomy 26 (today’s first reading) to insist that empire and worship of Yahweh are incompatible. Put otherwise, at the beginning of his public life, Jesus declares his anti-imperial position in the strongest possible (i.e. scriptural) terms.

Now fast forward to the 4th century – 381 CE to be exact. In 313 Constantine’s Edict of Milan had removed from Christianity the stigma of being a forbidden cult. From 313 on, it was legal. By 325 Constantine had become so involved in the life of the Christian church that he himself convoked the Council of Nicaea to determine the identity of Jesus. Who was Jesus after all – merely a man, or was he a God pretending to be a man, or perhaps a man who became a God? Was he equal to Yahweh or subordinate to him? If he was God, did he have to defecate and urinate? Seriously, these were the questions!

However, my point is that by the early 4th century the emperor had a strong hand in determining the content of Christian theology. And as time passed, the imperial hand grew more influential by the day. In fact, by 381 under the emperor Theodosius Christianity had become not just legal, but the official religion of the Roman Empire. As such its job was to attest that God (not the devil) had given empire to Rome in exchange for worshipping him (not the devil)!

Do you get my point here? It’s the claim that in the 4th century, Rome presented church fathers with the same temptation that Jesus experienced in the desert. But whereas Jesus had refused empire as diabolical, the prevailing faction of 4th century church leadership embraced it as a gift from God. In so doing they also said “yes” to the devil worship as the necessary prerequisite to aspirations to control “all the kingdoms of the world.” Christians have been worshipping the devil ever since, while calling him “God.”

No, today’s readings insist: all the kingdoms of the world belong only to God. They are God’s Kingdom to be governed not by “power over,” not by dominion and taking, but by love and gift. Or in the words of Jesus, the earth is meant to belong to those “meek” I mentioned – the gentle, humble, and non-violent.

Yet, as Dr. Immerwahr attests, those very people living in the West’s former colonies in Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia are the very ones ceaselessly victimized by the empire historians have so well-hidden from our consciousness.

As described in Immerwahr’s How to Hide an Empire, colonialism and neo-colonialism are diabolic abominations in the eyes of Jesus’ God. They represent nothing less than a system or robbery currently bent on confiscating the rich resources of the Global South. Authentic followers of Christ can never support such depredations.

On this First Sunday of Lent, we should pray sincerely and work tirelessly for the defeat of such abominable practices.

Ash Wednesday Reflection

Lent begins tomorrow. March 6th is Ash Wednesday.

But what does that mean for activists who are aspiring to follow in the footsteps of the great prophet, dissident, teacher of unconventional wisdom, story-teller, mystic, and movement founder, Yeshua of Nazareth?

The question is obscured by long centuries of covering up those identities in favor of Jesus’ overwhelming identification as “Son of God.” Son of God swallows up all the rest and makes it difficult, if not impossible to engage in what Thomas a Kempis called “The Imitation of Christ.”

But for the moment, suppose we set aside “Jesus the Christ,” and concentrate on that man his mother named Yeshua. He lived in a time not unlike our own, in a province occupied by an empire similar to ours. He found those conditions unbearable and devoted his public life to replacing the “Pax Romana” with what he called the “Kingdom of God.” There the world would be governed not by those wearing Roman jackboots, or by the law of the strongest, but by compassion and gift – even towards those his culture saw as undeserving.

The latter was “Good News” for the poor and oppressed among whom he found himself and his friends – laborers, working girls, beggars, lepers infected with a disease not unlike AIDS, and those fortunate enough to have government work as toll gatherers. He ate with such people. He drank wine with them. Some said he got drunk with them (MT11:19). He defended such friends in public. And he harshly criticized their oppressors, beginning with his religion’s equivalents of popes, bishops, priests, ministers, and TV evangelists. “Woe to you rich!” he said. “White-washed tombs!” he called the religious “leaders” (LK 6:24, MT 23:27).

What does it mean to follow such an activist and champion of the poor this Ash Wednesday March 6th, 2019?

I would say it means first of all to ask that question and to pray humbly for an answer.

Other questions for this Lent: Does following Jesus mean taking a public stance against empire and “church” as he did? Does it mean praying for the defeat of U.S. imperial forces wherever they wage their wars of expansion and aggression? Does it mean discouraging our daughters and sons from participating in a disgrace-full military? Does it mean leaving our churches which have become the white-washed tombs of a God who through failed church leadership has lost credibility and the vital capacity to effectively summon us beyond our nationalism, militarism, and addiction to guns and violence? Does it mean lobbying, making phone calls on behalf of and generally supporting those our culture finds undeserving and “unclean?”

Does it mean for Catholics that we somehow make our voices heard all the way to Rome demanding that Pope Francis save the church from itself by healing the wounds of the pedophilia crisis, reversing the disaster of “Humanae Vitae’s” prohibition of contraception, allowing women to become priests, and eliminating mandatory celibacy as a prerequisite for ordination?

Yes, I think, it means all of those things. But Lent also calls for self-purification from the spirit that arrogantly locates all the world’s evils “out there” in “those people.” In its wisdom, the grassroots church of Hildegard of Bingen, Francis of Assisi, of Daniel and Phil Berrigan, Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King, Oscar Romero, Ignacio Ellacuria, Jean Donovan, and Matthew Fox calls us to deepen our interior lives for purposes of sharpening our discernment about how to contribute towards replacing empire with God’s Kingdom. All of those saints, remember, were condemned by the hierarchy just the way Yeshua was in his own day.

Six weeks is a relatively long time for the purification necessary to eliminate undesirable patterns in our lives and to replace them with habits exemplified in the lives of the saints just mentioned. It’s plenty of time for working on our addictions to the pursuit of pleasure, profit, power, and prestige. Each of us knows what behaviors in our own lives are associated with those categories. So, it’s time to get to work.

As for myself . . . besides using this period for training my senses, I intend to recommit myself with renewed fervor to my daily practice of meditation, my mantram (“Yeshua, Yeshua”), spiritual reading, slowing down, one-pointed attention, spiritual companionship, and putting the needs of others first – the eight-point program outlined by Eknath Easwaran in his book Passage Meditation. Over the past two years, I’ve been keeping a spiritual journal to make sure I stay focused.

For the past two years, I’ve also been taking A Course in Miracles (ACIM) as explained by now-presidential candidate, Marianne Williamson. I’m going through the manual’s 365 lessons for a second time and find it absolutely challenging. It’s helping me distance myself further from the world’s shadows projected in our Plato’s-Cave-world. It’s giving me, what I described in another context, a set of “magic glasses” that confer a world-vision 180 degrees opposite the one that reigns here in the United States.

During Lent, I’ll continue my ACIM work – including redoubled efforts on behalf of Marianne Williamson’s candidacy. Regardless of what one might think of her chances of success, her message needs to be taken seriously. In the end, it’s about replacing politics driven by fear with policy shaped by the compassion of Jesus and the most admirable people in history. (Marianne’s candidacy forces the question on believers: Do we really believe Jesus’ words? Do we?)

I hope anyone reading this will feel free to offer other suggestions. I’m sure you agree that these are extraordinary times. They call for extraordinary political and spiritual commitment. In the spirit of Yeshua and all those saints I mentioned, we need to pool our resources.  

The NYT Casts Doubt on the Green New Deal’s Radical Objectives

Last Sunday, The New York Times published an editorial on the Green New Deal (GND). It was called “The Green New Deal Is Better than Our Climate Nightmare.”

Though its title purports to second the GND proposal sponsored by Representative Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (D NY) and Senator Ed Markey (D MA), the article actually damns the measure with faint praise. It also endorses remedies for the climate crisis much less comprehensive and closer to what corporate America favors than to the broad worker-friendly recommendations of the Markey-Cortez proposal.

By doing so, the authors obscure the proposal’s historical connections to FDR’s daring New Deal as well as those between climate change and a failed capitalist system itself. Finally, the article’s half-measures imply an unexpressed reservation about paying for the GND that shows little appreciation of the problem’s gravity and of the fundamental socio-economic changes necessarily connected with transition to a truly non-fossil fuel economy.

Faint Praise

Begin with the article’s faint praise. True, the Times editors rightly chastise the Trump administration’s policies as “boneheaded,” including its denial of the problem, rolling back of Obama-era limits on emissions, opening more lands to oil and gas exploration, weakening of fuel economy standards, and its formation of a special committee bent on debunking the climate crisis.

Granted: all of that reflects the thinking of GND advocates. So far, so good.

But then, the Times editors criticize the proposal first because its initial draft was poorly written by Ms. Cortez’s staff and, secondly, because the proposal is too extensive.

As one respondent in the editorial’s “Comments” section observed, the Times editorial devoted twice as much space (150 words) to critiquing the proposal’s initial “poorly written talking points” as it did to describing the actual resolution (72 words).

Comprehensive Solutions

And what about the Times’ disagreement with the broad character of the Green New Deal?

To answer, consider the (in progress) proposal so far . . . It suggests nothing less than a complete overhaul of capitalism-as-we-know-it. In doing so, it purposely parallels the measures implemented by Franklin Delano Roosevelt in his original New Deal.

Following the Great Stock Market Crash of ’29, the latter didn’t content itself with bailing out banks and Wall Street. Instead it more comprehensively addressed the concerns of Main Street providing minimum wage legislation, unemployment benefits, government-funded jobs for the unemployed, and a Social Security retirement plan for all. It also legalized labor unions.

By adopting that strategy, FDR not only addressed the deep-seated problems of capitalism such as widespread unemployment, low wages and huge wealth-disparities. He also met the genuine needs of the country’s majority and secured their buy-in to the New Deal despite pressure by the elite to reduce the great depression to a technical matter solvable by the monied classes. The working class was won over; its members’ anger against the system was mollified; they put down their pitchforks, Roosevelt was elected four times in a row, and capitalism was saved.

This time around, the green version of the New Deal does something similar. It includes not merely a transition to a renewable energy economy powered by wind and sun, but rejection of any nuclear power options, of technology allowing fossil fuel plants to capture and store their own emissions, and of market-based solutions such as carbon taxes and cap and trade policies. As described by the New York Times, and in the spirit of FDR’s program, the GND proposal suggests:

  • Free higher education
  • Universal health care
  • Affordable housing for all
  • Remedies for “systemic injustices” among the poor, elderly and people of color
  • Family-sustaining wage guarantees
  • Adequate family medical leave
  • Paid vacations for all workers
  • Retirement security for everybody

Like Roosevelt’s measures, these provisions are aimed at securing the required support of the country’s majority who might otherwise be persuaded to continue ignoring the problem by the propaganda of elite climate-change deniers and by the forbidding specter of austerity measures. The generous GND provisions are intended to acquire buy-in on the part of those who also might otherwise be too distracted by simply trying to make ends meet than to comprehend and face up to the very real threats posed by climate chaos.

Failing to see all of that, the Times editorial board asks in effect, what do the social goals listed above have to do with meeting the climate change crisis? Wouldn’t it would be better, the authors imply, to be less radical and more focused on setting a national electricity standard, including the nuclear and carbon capture options along with wind and solar alternatives, providing tax incentives for electrical vehicles, improving the efficiency of buildings and the electrical grid, and intensifying efforts at carbon sequestration?

More specifically, the editors ask, “Is the Green New Deal aimed at addressing the climate crisis? Or is addressing the climate crisis merely a cover for a wish-list of progressive policies and a not-so-subtle effort to move the Democratic Party to the left?”

(See what I meant by “faint praise?”)

In other words, the Newspaper of Record, wants readers to focus narrowly on remediating climate change while overlooking what GND advocates identify as the root cause of the catastrophe. It wants its readers to ignore what Green New Dealers consider the indissoluble link between capitalism-as-we-know-it on the one hand and worker exploitation along with environmental destruction on the other.

The Capitalism Connection

Think about the connections first with workers and then with the environment. (Sorry: but doing so might evoke painful memories of ECON 101.)

With both workers and the environment, capitalists are forced by the logic of market competition to adopt exploitative practices whether they want to or not. That’s because, for one thing, wage workers in particular are compelled to enter a labor market whose compensation level is set by rivalry among laborers seeking the same job.

As a result, each prospective employee will bid his competitors down until what economists have called the “natural” wage level is attained. Marx for one, found this “natural” level below what workers and their families need to sustain themselves in ways worthy of human beings. In other words, wage competition represents nothing less than a race to the bottom. Capitalism’s unregulated labor market assures an inadequate wage for the working class.

Similarly (and this is the major point in the context of climate change) the capitalist system also necessarily devastates the environment. That is, the market’s reliance on competition all but eliminates the presence of environmental conscience on the part of producers.

Thus, for example, environmentally sensitive entrepreneurs might be moved to put scrubbers on the smokestacks of their factories, and filters on the sewage pipes to purify liquid effluents entering nearby rivers, streams and oceans. Doing so would, of course raise the costs of production, Meanwhile, however, competitors who lack environmental conscience will continue spewing unmitigated smoke into the atmosphere and pouring unfiltered toxins into nearby bodies of water. Their lowered costs will enable them to undersell the conscientious producers, and eventually drive the latter out of business. In this way, the market rewards absence of environmental conscience.

In other words, fighting climate change and protecting workers’ rights are intimately connected. They are both aspects of resistance to the destructive logic of capitalist competition.

According to proponents of the Green New Deal, such realizations uncover the failure of the market system itself. That system has proved incapable not only of addressing climate change. It has also failed to provide a living wage for its unskilled workers, jobs for those displaced by technology, affordable housing to the working class, and inexpensive health care – not to mention repair of the country’s crumbling infrastructure. That array of problems calls for remedies far beyond the band-aid solutions suggested by the Times board. It also requires extensive buy-in from the affected majority including those who work for wages. The GND achieves both ends.

Paying for the Green New Deal

Not far in the background of almost any criticism of the Green New Deal is the question unspoken or emphasized, how are we going to pay for such “generous provisions?” The incredible and ironic implication here is not only that it makes sense to do a cost-benefit analysis about saving the planet and the lives of our grandchildren. The implication is also that some price might be too high or some social change (like abandonment of capitalism-as-we-know-it) too drastic!

But overlooked in such mystifying thought processes are the considerations that, among other benefits, abandoning a fossil-fuel-dependent economy will:

  • In the end provide very low-cost energy to consumers
  • Save government subsidies currently extended to the fossil fuel industry
  • Make unnecessary the resource wars currently waged against countries in the Middle East and threatened in Venezuela
  • Therefore, render unnecessary the tremendous expenditures such wars entail
  • And remove a major stimulus to terrorism
  • In summary, necessitate a basic restructuring of our economy including precisely the provisions sought by GND advocates

Conclusion

It’s that fundamental restructuring of everything that the Green New Deal anticipates. The proposal of Alexandria Ocasio Cortez and Ed Markey recognizes that necessity far better than the editorial board of the New York Times.

As Naomi Klein has put it, the climate crisis “changes everything.” It calls for a comprehensive New Deal – for a new start beyond business as usual. It requires recognizing the intrinsic weaknesses of capitalism-as-we-know-it and remediating those weaknesses by incentivizing and including the working class in any solution that has the slightest hope of success.

Marianne Williamson’s Campaign Harnesses the Miraculous Power of Critical Consciousness

The Washington Post recently ran a long article on Marianne Williamson’s presidential campaign. It was the first acknowledgement of Ms. Williamson’s political efforts that I’ve seen in the mainstream print media.

The article was written by Anna Peele who not only introduced her readership to Marianne Williamson. She also indicated how Ms. Williamson offers an essential element no other Democratic candidate can possibly supply. 

In fact, Marianne Williamson’s candidacy addresses the psychological and spiritual concerns at the root of voters’ issues regardless of their party affiliation or religious orientation including those self-identifying as “spiritual but not religious” and even agnostic and atheistic.

By doing so, Williamson effectively rescues for the left the power of spirituality that has been the exclusive province of right-wing Republicans for the last 50 years and more. Unlike Republican Christians who use religion to defend the status quo, Ms. Williamson links profound spirituality and critical consciousness at their deepest levels. The consciousness ends up distancing itself 180 degrees away from our country’s reigning ideology about history, economics, politics, and personal responsibility.

At the beginning of her article, Ms. Peele admitted she had never previously heard of Marianne Williamson, whom she first understood in terms of a “self-help author and motivational speaker” as well as the spiritual advisor of Oprah Winfrey. Peele was intrigued by Williamson’s own job-description as “creating miracles” – something the author admits she wanted to believe in, especially given the state of our nation and world under President Trump.

Seeking that miracle, Peele confessed during her first encounter with Williamson that she was anxious about our country’s future. She mentioned her own anger and fear.

She was surprised by Williamson’s response. It was in summary: “Toughen up. We’re not porcelain dolls, you know. We need to get real and absorb with courage and endurance the hard knocks delivered up by Trump’s kind. After all, we’re following in the footsteps of Civil Rights heroes and the suffragettes who risked their lives resisting the old policies currently resurrected in today’s Oval Office. It’s time to roll up our sleeves and get to work!”

Peele’s admits that she found that initial exchange actually inspiring. It bordered, she said, on the very miracle she had been seeking. The journalist’s vision, she says, had changed – of both Marianne and her campaign. (And that by the way, is what the term “miracle” means in Williamson’s vocabulary – a radical transformation of perception. It’s about developing critical consciousness.)

From there, Peele’s article describes Williamson’s January 28th formal announcement of her candidacy and her basic theme. It’s that America’s real problem is not with the likes of Donald Trump, but with us, our juvenile preoccupations with our personal lives, our resulting political disengagement, and our surrender of political terrain to corporations and the one-percenters.  “It is time for us to rise up, the way other generations have. Cynicism is just an excuse for not helping. Whining is not an option . . . We need to identify the problems in this country. Then we need to identify with the problem solvers.”

Williamson identifies herself as one of those problem solvers. In fact, she portrays her upbringing and 30- year career as a spiritual teacher as uniquely qualifying her for addressing the fundamentally spiritual problem underneath our country’s current dysfunction. No one else, she says, demonstrates that qualification or of even recognizes the problem as such.

Now 66 years old, Williamson comes from a Jewish family headed by a stay-at-home mother and by a father who practiced immigration law. When his daughter was just 13, Mr. Williamson took his entire family to Vietnam during the height of the war. His intention, Williamson says, was to “make sure the military-industrial complex would not ‘eat my kids’ brains’.” She never forgot that childhood lesson about the reality of war and its horror. It made her but a life-long anti-war activist.

But Marianne Williamson is not just some aging hippie activist with a past devoted to sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll. That was only part of it, she quips. “The rest of the day, we stopped a war.”

In 1975, Williamson’s activism found its theoretical grounding in what has since become a spiritual classic, A Course in Miracles (ACIM).  The book was allegedly “channeled” by Helen Schucman, who described the dictating voice as that of Jesus, the Christ. Williamson calls the book “basically Christian mysticism.” (I would call it a course on developing critical consciousness.) In any case, the book changed her life. On its basis, she began a spiritual practice that gave her that earlier-mentioned radical vision of the world.

Eventually, Williamson composed what she calls “ACIM Cliff Notes” – A Return to Love.

Oprah Winfrey loved it. It became a New York Times best-seller. And Williamson’s new career as a spiritual teacher was born. However, her spiritual teaching distinguished itself from others like Eckhart Tolle (whom Williamson considers an enlightened spiritual master) and Deepak Chopra by its continued commitment to the brand of anti-war social justice deeply instilled by her father.  

Williamson’s activism led her to launch Project Angel Food in 1989. It delivered meals to HIV/AIDS patients too ill to feed themselves. In 2014, she ran for Congress in California’s 33rd district. In 2010, 2012, 2015 and 2017, she organized “Sister Giant” seminars to raise political consciousness especially among women and to motivate them to run for public office.

In 1997, Williamson demonstrated her political acumen by publishing Healing the Soul of America. It’s a 256-page book that has become (in its 20th anniversary edition) her basic stump speech. In Healing, she exhibits her knowledge of American history, her firm grasp of economic realities, and her acute sensitivity to “the signs of the times.” Williamson writes, “When this book was first published in 1997, I wrote that there was a storm ahead, or an awakening ahead. Alas, that storm is upon us. But even now, in the midst of our national turmoil, there is an awakening as well.”

Ironically, a sort of awakening led to the election of Donald Trump in 2016. In Williamson’s analysis, that outcome was an expression of deep popular despair on the part of a population worried for decades about making ends meet, sending their children to college, and paying skyrocketing medical bills. “It was either going to be an authoritarian populist or it was going to be a progressive populist,” she says. “Now, the person we got is clearly a con artist and someone who lacks basic respect for democratic norms.”

Donald Trump however isn’t the problem according to Williamson; he’s merely a symptom of an underlying condition that other candidates are not qualified to heal. Those others, Ms. Williamson is fond of saying, approach the presidency as technical administrators. They even talk about running the government “like a business.” But government is not a business to be governed by some bottom line. Instead, it’s more like a family where all the children are equally important.

Moreover, the job of president isn’t primarily administration. (There are plenty of well-qualified technicians that presidents can nominate to fill cabinet posts.) No, the chief task of the president is setting a tone; it’s motivation, inspiration, and supplying vision. Franklin Roosevelt realized that. “The role of the president, at this time in our history,” Williamson says, “has more of a visionary function. FDR said that the administrative functioning of the president is secondary; the primary role of the president is moral leadership.”

None of this is to say that Marianne Williamson is vague about policy proposals. She shares many of them with the others just referenced:

  • A Green New Deal
  • Medicare for all
  • Increase in minimum wage
  • Gun control
  • Criminal justice reform
  • Overhaul of public education
  • Raising taxes on the rich

To this list now familiar among progressive candidates, Williamson dares to add the issue of reparations to the black community for the wounds of slavery to which she traces so many of our nation’s current ills. Such repair, she estimates, would cost $100 billion to be administered across fields by a board of African-American leaders over a period of 10 years. Williamson says that without addressing the problem of racism and its fundamental causes, the soul of our country will remain deeply traumatized.

Despite the mine field that the reparations proposal represents, the Post article observes that Marianne Williamson would be a formidable debate opponent for someone like Donald Trump. Unlike the latter, she can speak eloquently for hours without written texts of teleprompters.

After every lecture, she answers questions of all sorts from audiences about faith, politics, religion, race relations, economic problems – and the meaning of life. She’s never at a loss for words. Moreover, by her own account, she’s used to being called a “lightweight thinker, New Age con artist, a b_ _ _ _ — if you really know her.” Can you imagine, Anna Peele suggests, Marianne answering one of Trump’s insults with a magnanimous reflection on the state of his own soul? Wouldn’t that would be fun to witness?

As Williamson puts it, Trump “is a master of false narrative. And if you come back at him with anything other than the deepest truth, he will eat you alive. But if you do respond from a place of deepest truth, he is completely disempowered. I plan to speak to the consciousness of the American mind. Where he has harnessed fear, I’m seeking to harness love. Where he has harnessed bigotry and racism and anti-Semitism and homophobia, I’m seeking to harness dignity and decency and compassion. And that does not defeat. It overrides.”

Anna Peele’s Washington Post article suggests (correctly, I think) that our country needs the change in consciousness and communication of deepest truth of which Marianne Williamson speaks. By addressing that level, she promises to answer a need that the left has traditionally proven incapable of confronting.

That inability has not hampered the political right. They’ve understood the power of faith to motivate people to political action. On the left, African-Americans have a similar understanding, though in the opposite political direction. The same is true of liberation theologists in the Global South – and (dare I say it) of militant Muslims.

In summary, Mary Ann Williamson’s use of the term “miracle” for the achievement of critical consciousness along with her courageous invocation of spiritual traditions from her own Judaism as well as from Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, and New Age understandings of Ultimate Reality promises to enrich enormously the upcoming selection of Donald Trump’s progressive opponent.

And she may prevail. As Anna Peele attests, Ms. Williamson is good at creating miracles.    

Let’s Not Be Fooled Again – this time about Venezuela

How are we to think about the crisis in Venezuela when the main proponents of U.S. policy are known liars and war criminals? Specifically, of course, I’m thinking about Donald Trump and Elliot Abrams — not to mention John Bolton. That, for me is the question.

It seems to me in such tragic circumstances, our attitude towards the crisis (regardless of our judgments about Nicolas Maduro and socialism) should be governed by principle.

In fact, the current policy of the United States violates at least half a dozen principles. They include:

  1. National Sovereignty: Venezuela’s political and economic problems should be of no concern to our government.  
  2. Self-Determination: Venezuela has the right to choose its own form of government and economy.
  3. Anti-Imperialism: Revealingly, most of the countries aligned with the Trump administration are either charter members of Europe’s Axis of Colonialism or representatives of Euro-American client states. Meanwhile those opposing Trump’s policy are former colonies of the U.S. and Europe and/or have been invaded by the military forces of those inveterate imperialists. The latter include Russia, China, India, South Africa, and Mexico along with countries such as Ecuador, Bolivia, and Nicaragua. All of those countries know a thing or two about European and U.S. imperialist tyranny.
  4. Nuremberg (forbidding the punishment of civilian populations)
  5. Skepticism about the statements of proven liars
  6. Consistency

For starters, let me focus here on consistency. This principle dictates that:

  • If we’re worried about foreign interference in our own electoral process, we should stay out of Venezuela’s.
  • If Maduro’s jailing of political opponents concerns us, the same should be true relative to Brazil and Bolsonaro’s jailing of Luiz Ignacio Lula da Silva, the country’s most popular politician. (And yet, our government had no hesitation in recognizing Bolsonaro’s legitimacy.)
  • If we worry about humanitarian crises, we should stop cooperating with Saudi Arabia and its war against Yemen, the poorest country in the Middle East. That war has caused the worst humanitarian crisis in the world.
  • If crooked elections are cause for delegitimizing governments, we shouldn’t recognize the current government of Honduras, whose election of Juan Orlando Hernandez was certified as unfree and unfair by the OAS. It called for new elections. (But, of course, both the Obama and Trump administrations have recognized Hernandez as a legitimate head of state.)
  • If we’re outraged by police violence against demonstrators, we should cut off all aid to Israel for killing hundreds of unarmed demonstrators (including women and children) at the Gaza border and wounding thousands of others.

But none of these issues matter at all to the Trump administration. They care not a bit about humanitarian crises, fair elections, the right to protest or the jailing of political opponents. As both Trump and John Bolton have said openly, their concern is Venezuelan oil, controlling it and profiting from that control. That’s imperialism.

Moreover, the so-called “humanitarian aid” at the country’s borders in Brazil and Colombia is a pittance worth some millions of dollars, while the profits frozen from the country’s sale of oil and its access to its own gold reserves are worth billions – as are the mercantile transactions with other countries now prevented by the U.S. embargo. According to the Red Cross and the U.N.  (both of whom refuse to participate in its distribution) the disputed humanitarian aid is nothing more than a political ploy. In other words, if the U.S. truly cared about the welfare of the people of Venezuela, it would stop its embargo and allow Venezuela access to its money and markets so the country itself could buy food and medicine on the open market.

The appointment of Elliot Abrams as the Trump’s point man for Venezuela speaks volumes about the administration’s criminal intentions. Abrams, of course, is a convicted felon. He was the U.S. brains behind the genocidal policy of Rios Montt in Guatemala during the 1980s, when more than 200,000 Guatemalans (mostly indigenous) were slaughtered by Montt and his generals. Elliot Abrams is a war criminal. And his selection by Mr. Trump to run his show in Venezuela indicates an embrace of the old CIA playbook used again and again in its more than 68 regime-changes operations since World War II – with most of the removed officials having been democratically elected.

The playbook runs like this:

  • Any country attempting to establish an economy that serves the interests of its poor majority
  • Is routinely accused of being run by a dictatorship
  • It is subject to regime change by direct U.S. invasion
  • Or by right wing (often terrorist) elements within the local population
  • To keep said country within the capitalist system
  • So that the U.S. might once again use the country’s resources for its own enrichment
  • And for that of the local elite.

Standardly, the strategy is to use a combination of terrorism, sanctions, embargoes to make civilians within the country so miserable that even the poor will rise up and join forces with the elite to remove the so-called “dictator” from office.  That’s what’s happening in Venezuela at this very moment. To repeat: it’s a violation of the Nuremberg Principles forbidding punishment of civilian populations.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about Venezuela is how we believe our politicians on the subject of regime change. You’d think that at least after Iraq and Libya (not to mention Panama and Grenada) we’d show some skepticism. What was it that Great Man tried to say a few years ago? “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me”? I mean, how many times do we have to be fooled before we’re shamed out of our minds by our collective stupidity?

After all, these people (the Trumpists) are proven liars. Everybody knows that. It’s the subject of jokes every night on Colbert and on Saturday Night Live. Trump is a laughing stock. And yet when he speaks about his compassion for the Venezuelan people, about the lies of its government (!!), his concern for democracy and the integrity of elections, or about Maduro’s corruption (!!) the press actually takes him seriously. Give me a break, please!

Let me say it clearly, Donald Trump and his administration have not a shred of credibility. Period! Not a shred! Whatever he says (whatever they say) should be taken as an outright lie unless proven otherwise by absolutely unimpeachable sources.

And by the way, let me conclude by saying that it’s clearly wrong to blame Venezuela’s problems on socialism. First of all, Venezuela is not a socialist country. It’s governed by a socialist party, but its economy is dominated by private corporations. So is its news media.

France is more socialist than Venezuela. And besides, under Hugo Chavez, the economy thrived (largely because oil prices remained high). And just six years ago (after 14 years of so-called Bolivarian Socialism), polls determined that Venezuela was the happiest country in South America. As a matter of fact, it won that distinction two years in a row – in 2012 and 2013. Worldwide, in those years, its happiness index came out ahead of France, Spain, Italy, and Germany.

Right now, of course, it is not a happy place. Its condition is roughly the same as when Chavez took over in 1999 after decades of governance by its white elite creols. And, it’s true, the current unhappiness is surely due to mismanagement and corruption on the part of the Maduro administration. But it also has a lot to do with the fall of oil prices on the world market, but especially with the U.S. embargo and sanctions against Venezuela.

Bottom line: Please realize that we are being lied to about Venezuela! Our government is the main criminal there. Whatever we might think of Maduro or of socialism, the principles articulated at Nuremberg, as well as those of national sovereignty, self-determination, anti-imperialism, consistency, and common-sense skepticism before liars should be our guides.

Tell the president, your senators and congressional representatives: Yankee go home! Get out of Venezuela!