Reflections on A Meeting about 5G

About a week ago, I wrote a piece about the fifth generation of cellular technology (5G). Then, as promised there, just this morning Westport’s Ys Men’s Global Issues group met to discuss the topic and the advisability of adopting 5G according to the “fast track” schedule advocated by the Trump administration and by telecom giants like Verizon and Sprint. An unprecedented number of men attended indicating the perceived importance of the issue. The resulting conversation was lively, passionate, and thought-provoking.

To begin with, there was general recognition that:

  • None of us (not even those identified as “experts”) knows from our own research a lot about 5G capability or threats.
  • We are therefore dependent on the word of scientists
  • But shouldn’t rely on biased “researchers” employed by the tech companies.
  • We don’t actually need an internet or phone service 100 times faster than the ones we now have. (More quickly downloaded movies and enhanced gambling options simply aren’t worth it.)
  • Since corporations and alliances between them and government have lied to us in the past (e.g. about asbestos, auto safety, tobacco and cigarettes, and climate change) we would do well to be skeptical about 5G’s mammoth advertising campaigns.

Nevertheless:

  • Discussants recognized a certain “technological imperative,” i.e. endorsement of the idea that if human beings can do something, they not only will, but somehow must do it.
  • Think of where we’d be, some said, if we listened to the Luddites, to those who feared introduction of electricity, or warned us about air travel causing our blood vessels to burst.
  • We may “need” 5G to protect us militarily from the Chinese or Russians who, if they develop it first, might use it against us to destroy our cities, collect our trade and military secrets, or control us in other ways.
  • Introduction of 5G promises untold numbers of jobs and profit stimulation for corporations and entrepreneurs.

In all, there seemed little concern about:

  • Health risks, which seemed to be dismissed by some as paranoid.
  • The horrendous implications of decimating or eliminating huge populations of bees.
  • Nineteen-eighty-four type surveillance and crowd control used against good citizens like us who might one day feel obliged to take to the streets to oppose minority control of our lives by our own government and by corporations – just as citizens are currently doing in so many places across the planet.
  • Along those lines, one member knowledgeable about the technical aspects of 5G, admitted that similar technology can indeed be used to disperse crowds, nearly boil the blood of protestors, and has been known to kill bee populations necessary for human food supply.

Questions to Ponder: Did Monday’s conversation reveal a deeply 20th century mode of thinking that for the sake of survival we must outgrow? That is, did it:

  • Demonstrate a 20th century conviction that imagines all international relations in terms of “us vs. them” – for example us against the Russians and Chinese – as though cooperation between nations is inherently impossible?
  • Abandon any idea that the world could be fundamentally different from what we now experience — that another world is possible?
  • Reflect a de facto willingness to commit suicide in the name of “progress” – as though we have no choice, capability, or responsibility of choosing differently?
  • Implicitly admit that perhaps such outmoded thinking condemns our children and grandchildren to a hopeless future, because old people like us (who, let’s face it, are now in control) cannot or will not think differently?
  • Trust excessively our own government, military and corporations?
  • Ignore the possibility that capitalism as we know has run its course?
  • Prove unwilling to imagine the superior efficiency of a centrally planned, but democratically controlled socio-political system organized cooperatively rather than competitively?

At the end of today’s meeting, one member acknowledged the interesting and productive nature of the conversation I’ve just capsulized. He suggested that our next meeting continue the thread. Although his proposal did not carry, all of us can be assured that we haven’t heard the last of this debate. For better or worse, we will eventually have to answer the “questions to ponder” indicated above.

The Plowshares 7 Are Convicted for Following Jesus’ Resistance to State Oppression

Readings for 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time: MAL 3: 19-20A; PS 98: 509; 2 THES 3: 7-12; LK 21: 28; Lk 21: 5-19

At the end of last month, a federal grand jury in Georgia convicted seven Catholic peace activists on three felony counts and a misdemeanor charge for breaking into the Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base on April 4, 2018. The activists included Liz McAlister, the widow of peace activist, Philip Berrigan, along with Martha Hennessy, the granddaughter of Catholic Worker founder, Dorothy Day.  

Known as the Kings Bay Plowshares 7, the group entered the base armed with hammers, crime scene tape, and baby bottles containing their own blood. Once inside, they splashed their blood on the walls of the base’s administration building. They also posted a formal indictment of the U.S. government charging it with crimes against peace. Kings Bay harbors at least six nuclear ballistic missile submarines. Each of them carries 20 Trident missiles.

The activists’ defense was that they were following the prophet Isaiah’s command to “beat swords into plowshares” (IS 2:4). However, at their trial, they were forbidden to cite their religious motivations. The judge disqualified their planned “necessity defense” which claims that their lawbreaking was required to prevent the far greater crime of a nuclear war. On their sentencing within 90 days, the activists will face more than 20 years in prison.

All of that fits in perfectly with the theme of this Sunday’s liturgy of the word.  It deals with the promise of God’s new order (aka the Kingdom of God) and with the persecution of Jesus’ followers that, according to the Master, must precede its institution. Jesus promised arrests, judicial silencings, jailings, and general persecution for those with the courage to follow his example as an opponent of empire and war.

See that theme for yourself by reviewing today’s readings here. In any case, what follows are my “translations” of those selections. They describe the new order (or what scripture scholar, John Dominic Crossan calls “God’s Great World Clean-up”) as advocated by the Jewish prophetic tradition, by Jesus himself, and just recently by the Plowshares 7. In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus outlines the inevitable consequences for any who, like the 7, act to hasten the Kingdom’s eventual arrival:

 
MAL 3: 19-20A

Scorching times are coming
For the rulers
Of this world!
Root and branch
They will be destroyed
In purging fire
When God’s Great Clean-up
Finally sets things right.
 
PS 98: 5-9
 
The Great Purge
Will at last establish
God’s justice
On earth
Including environmental justice
For the entire planet,
With its seas and mountains.
Above all,
It will mean
Equity and justice
For the whole human race.
Everyone should
Be happy about that.
 
2 THES 3: 7-12
 
Long ago,
Some in Paul’s community
Thought the Purge
Would take place
“Any day now.”
So, they stopped working.
“Don’t do that,”
Said Paul.
“Your faith
Shouldn’t make you
A burden to others.”
 
 
LK 21:28
 
However,
Just because
The Great Purgation
Has yet to occur,
Don’t lose faith.
Know that it is
Still somehow
At hand
 
LK 21: 5-19
 
So, you’re wondering,
Are you,
When exactly
The Great Clean-up
Will take place?
It will happen in three stages
First, there’ll be
Wars, terror and insurrections
Along with natural disasters
That will leave
Religion in a shamble.
Secondly, all kinds of charlatans
Will show up
Claiming to speak for Jesus.
Thirdly, even family members
And religious authorities
Will blame believers for all of it.
They will hate, persecute and arrest them
For simply following the Master,
Handing them over
To civil authorities
Deeply fearful
Of the wisdom
Of their unassailable defenses.
Jesus’ recommendations?
1.     Reject false Christs.
2.     Trust the Holy Spirit within.
3.     Endure imprisonment.
4.     Persevere!

All of that represents an extremely high bar, don’t you agree? Following the martyr, Jesus – the tortured one, the one imprisoned on death row, the victim of capital punishment – is never easy.

But does that mean that those of us living beneath the lofty bar set by the Plowshares 7, by the Berrigans, Dorothy Day, and Jesus are lost? Can we not be part of God’s Great World Clean-up?

Let’s hope that we can.

At the very least however, here’s what we can do in line with today’s final reading:

  • Reject false Christs by realizing that the meek and mild Jesus of mainstream Christianity is a distortion of the one recognized as subversive by the Roman Empire and by the compromised Judaism of his day. Jesus meek and mild represents the false Christ the Master himself warns against in today’s Gospel reading.
  • Instead, embrace Jesus’ rebel Spirit as much as possible by refusing to be patriotic under the imperial system that Jesus hated. Perform organized and random acts of specifically unpatriotic civil disobedience. Think Colin Kaepernick.
  • While there’s still time contact the presiding judge in the case of the Plowshares 7 and intercede on their behalf, perhaps sending the judge a copy of this homily.
  • Pray for the Spirit of civil disobedience that inspired not only the 7, but Phil and Daniel Berrigan, Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Mohandas Gandhi, and Jesus himself.
  • Don’t be discouraged by delays in the Kingdom’s arrival or by the apparent victories of its enemies. Persevere!

Put the Brakes on the 5G Revolution Before It’s Too Late

Over the last year, since we’ve moved to Westport, CT, I’ve been an active member in a group of retired men. It’s somehow associated with the YMCA and is catchily called “The Ys Men.” Most of the members are former CEOs, lawyers, artists, scientists, academicians, small businessmen, local politicians, and otherwise smart people and community leaders. As such, they represent the epitome of community wise men.

The group has a membership of over 400. Over 200 of them show up for weekly Thursday morning meetings, where we enjoy coffee, donuts, time to meet and greet, and invariably have outstanding speakers. The Ys Men also sponsor many activities including golf, a book club, tennis, bocce, pickle ball, sailing, music appreciation (jazz and classical) and outings to restaurants, theaters, museums, and sporting events. It’s great fun.

Since joining, I’ve been part of a Current Events Discussion Group that meets every other Monday from 8:30 a.m. to 9:45. Usually about 50 men show up. We’ve unpacked issues like the war in Syria, China’s Belt and Road initiative, France’s Yellow Vest movement, and developments in India and Turkey. I always try to contribute to the discussion. At the end of each meeting, participants suggest and vote on the topic for the gathering to follow.

Last week, I proposed that for the November 18th meeting, we discuss a film I had recently seen “5G Apocalypse: Extinction Event.” And my motion carried. So, in less than two weeks, we’ll discuss what I consider one of the most disturbing documentaries I’ve ever come across. You can access it here. What follows is the result of viewing the film several times and reading related material. It’s made me skeptical about the 5G rollout.

The Film Itself

“5G Apocalypse: Extinction Event” addresses the advent of the Fifth Generation (5G) of cell phone technology, which it portrays not only as a severe health threat, but as a menace to our freedom as citizens of a constitutional democracy.

The documentary actually makes three arguments. The first is that 5G technology even as presented by industry and government represents a severe threat to human and environmental health. The second is that those same representations are false; 5G technology emits not only supposedly harmless radio waves, but undeniably harmful radar and microwaves far beyond acceptable levels. The documentary’s third argument is that such emissions secretly generated from s.m.a.r.t. products are ultimately weaponized for purposes of crowd-control – to track people’s movements and subdue them in case of insurrection.

In developing those points, “Extinction Event” presents on the one hand the pro-5G testimony of Federal Communications Commission chairperson, Tom Wheeler, his successor, Ajit Pai, as well as other spokespersons from corporations such as Verizon and Motorola. On the other hand, it offers damning critique from a long array of scientists, military personnel, investigative journalists, politicians, and activists calling attention to the extreme dangers of 5G technology.

The Apparent Debate

As presented in the film, the proponents of the new technology stand united in fast tracking its implementation. We are in a race, they argue, with China, India, and the European Union for getting on top of this latest communications phenomenon. If our competitors (especially Chinese) prevail, it will mean we have ceded to foreigners the capacity to dominate the globe not only economically, but politically.

However, if successful with their proposed rush to market, Americans instead of the Chinese, Europeans, Indians or Russians will emerge in the dominant position just referenced. But, according to Wheeler, Pai and industry spokespersons, success hinges on the government suspending its regulatory power and upon cutting through “red tape” that would otherwise hinder the new technology’s rollout. Here “red tape” refers to delays caused by human and environmental impact studies.

In other words, industry leaders’ haste to secure competitive advantage rules out any government oversight as well as public debate about health and surveillance implications of 5G. One advocate even suggests suspension of the Tenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which assigns all (regulatory) powers to the states or people unless expressly delegated to the Federal Government.

In exchange for such laissez-faire measures, industry representatives promise a utopian future of high-speed internet, enhanced global connections – and billions of dollars in profit for the communications giants.

By way of contrast, critics of the new technology warn of an impending apocalypse. Hundreds of peer-reviewed studies, they say, indicate that 5G technology will:

  • Install cell towers and antennas at the rate of 250 per square mile exposing every inch of the earth to harmful radiation 100 times that of current exposure
  • Cause cellular stress, increased risk of cancer, genetic damage, reproductive issues, memory loss, and Alzheimer’s syndrome
  • Threaten to kill pollinators such as bees and to render the earth’s very soil infertile
  • Change the migratory patterns of birds
  • Make weather predictions more difficult
  • Dwarf the threat to human health represented by tobacco and cigarettes

Of course, the cigarette analogy recalls for 5G resisters the power of harmful industries to hire and mobilize scientists, academicians and the mainstream media to advance “alternative facts” contradicting the alleged consensus of their counterparts. In the case of the 5G controversy, critics point out, such dissenting studies generally appear in the mainstream media alongside ads sponsored by Verizon, AT&T, and other phone giants with vested interests not only in this new technology, but in selling it to an unsuspecting public.

For instance, in May of this year, The New York Times published an article by William Broad entitled “Your 5G Phone Won’t Hurt You but Russia Wants You to Think Otherwise.” As its title indicates, the piece advanced a theory that 5G concerns are part of a Russian plot to secure advantage for their version of 5G technology in the global marketplace. Accordingly, Broad attacked RT America, the U.S-based TV news channel funded by the Russian government, as though it were the major source raising concerns about the dangers of 5G.

The Times report goes on to identify critics of 5G as “a few marginal opponents” who mistakenly identify radio waves as “radiations.” According to Broad, opposition criticism does not appear in reputable journals, but in “little-known reports, publications and self-published tracts, at times with copious notes of dubious significance.”

Broad, however, does not mention the contrary position divulged in The Scientific American. Much less does he reference the longest and most thorough study of the question performed by the National Toxicology Program which is run by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. After two years of investigation, the latter concluded that there is “some evidence” of adverse health effects caused by 2G and 3G cell phones. Presumably, 5G technology would provide further evidence.

Ignoring all of that, Broad argues that radio waves used in cell phones are relatively harmless. This is because they lie at the end of the electromagnetic spectrum directly opposite the harmful rays, such as ultraviolet and x-rays, which in high doses can indeed damage DNA and cause cancer.

In response, 5G critics argue that Broad’s rationale too easily dismisses not only serious studies, but also the undeniable fact that radio waves do in fact represent “radiation.” And while such emissions do come from radio waves at the more benign end of the electromagnetic spectrum, they are not without negative health effects – as already noted by Rudolf Steiner in 1924. Moreover, as emitted from portable phones and ubiquitous antennae, cell phone radiation takes place very close to phone users and is backed up by powerful micro and macro towers. As a result, there is a lot more cumulative radiation.

In fact, according to “5G Apocalypse,” international standards for acceptable levels of cell phone radiation are already in place. Cell phones need 0.2 billionths of a microwatt per centimeter squared to operate at all. At 0.05 microwatts per centimeter squared, psychologists have noted behavioral problems in children aged 8-17. The level of 0.1 already enters an area of “extreme concern.” At 4.0 billionths of a microwatt, cell phone users exhibit difficulties with memory and learning. Cellular DNA damage occurs at 6.0. Smart meters reach a level of 7.93 billionths of a microwatt per centimeter squared.

With all of this in mind, Switzerland, Luxemburg, and Lichtenstein cap permissible levels at 9.5. The level is 10 in China, Poland, and Russia. Nonetheless, the United States and Canada allow levels of 600-1000 microwatts per centimeter squared – i.e. tens of thousands of times higher than those known to adversely affect human health.      

In the end, Broad’s argument seems vulnerable to accusations of having selected its data from those industry studies whose conclusions (as noted in “5G Apocalypse”) differ sharply from non-industry research regarding the harmful effects of radio-frequency emissions. As pictured below, seventy percent of non-industry studies find radio-frequency radiation harmful. In contrast, 68% of industry studies find it harmless.       

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The Hidden Debate

But that’s not the end of the debate outlined in “5G Apocalypse.” Far from it. Instead, there’s another dimension that is largely ignored in the mainstream media. It involves deliberate falsification of the nature of radiofrequency emissions from the proposed system along with sinister intent on the part of government authorities.

To begin with, the 5G radiations in question do not issue merely from relatively benign radio waves (which, as indicated above have their own problems). They also include radar and intense microwaves expressly intended for military operations against rebellious civilians.   

In fact, the system’s technology is directly modeled on military microwave counterparts originally intended for crowd control and psychological warfare. As portrayed in “Extinction Event,” 5G technology enables all police operations requiring an electromagnetic base to be executed with greatly increased efficiency. This includes constant surveillance and crowd dispersal. The video even goes so far as to describe 5G as a weapons system masquerading as a modern efficiency technology.

As such, the film argues, 5G fits neatly into the military-industrial-complex (MIC) model that Dwight Eisenhower warned against as he left office in 1961. It embodies omnipresent weapon capability available to the MIC minority to control an otherwise unmanageable majority. The technology’s omnipresence promises to send signals from stoves, refrigerators, heating units, microwave ovens, computers and printers. In other words, signals will emanate from any s.m.a.r.t. device. According to “Extinction Event,” the latter acronym should stand for “secret military armament in residence technologies.”

Conclusion

So, how are we to interpret the 5G controversy? Are the opponents of the new technology simply Luddites who reflexively oppose all technological advance? Are they conspiracy theorists in tin foil hats? The telecommunications industry and mainstream media would have us think so.

Despite their efforts however, here’s what we know for certain:

  • U.S. Government proponents of 5G technology (like the Trump administration’s FCC chairperson, Ajit Pai) have deep ties to telecommunications industry.
  • In view of its practice of incessant prevarications, the Trump administration has negative credibility.
  • Similarly, corporate America has been frequently caught in lies and cover-ups that endanger consumers (e.g. in relation to cigarettes and tobacco, climate change, and automobile safety).
  • For the sake of profit, huge corporations such as IBM, Bayer, Ford Motors, and AIG Insurance have shameful records of supporting the most virulent strain of fascism in Nazi Germany. Historically speaking, they routinely support repressive military regimes and place profits ahead of human freedom, democracy, and welfare.
  • Currently they and their counterparts have millions of dollars at their disposal to fund alternative research and sponsor unlimited articles and advertising to advance their agendas and discredit their critics.
  • Those critics have no such resources.

Besides all of that, we also know for certain that:

  • The improvement of the human condition represented by 5G technology is marginal at best. The present speed of our computers is actually quite adequate to meet human need.
  • “We” the people are not in competition with the Chinese for 5G superiority.
  • Instead, it’s the telecommunications giants whose bottom lines and quest for patents make it imperative for them to win the race for 5G control.
  • No matter who wins that race, 5G technology (if proven safe and beneficial) will eventually arrive for everyone on the planet who can afford it.
  • Enough red flags have been raised by credible scientific studies to justify further human and environmental impact studies by qualified independent researchers.
  • A whole array of cautionary scientists, activists, and political leaders are merely calling for slowing down the rush into an unknown future. In the interests of protecting human health, their grandchildren and the environment, they want further study.

Finally, those expressing caution point out that a safe alternative to 5G technology already exists. It takes the form of publicly financed fiber optics. Such alternative:

  • Buries the main source of harmful radiation
  • Requires very little energy per data packet.
  • Goes only where it is needed
  • As a result, offers a high level of privacy and safety as opposed to more hackable, omnipresent 5G arrangements
  • Is ultra-reliable
  • Moreover, a publicly financed fiber-optic alternative eliminates the market-driven “technological imperative” fueled by an imagined race for patents and profit.
  • In the final analysis, that race is the only reason for accelerating a process in dire need of further study and proper oversight.

In summary, advocates of an accelerated, unregulated 5G rollout make it sound like it’s a national imperative for “us” to beat the Chinese in some race into a promising future that will somehow exclude us if they get there first. However, history and the desire of telecommunication giants to bypass environmental and human impact studies show that they are not really concerned about our lives or those of our children and grandchildren, much less of animals and plants. On the contrary, they care principally about profit and are willing to sacrifice all the rest for a healthy bottom line. The rest of us must face the fact that it’s not “us” but multinational corporations like Verizon, Sprint, AT&T, Motorola, and T-Mobile who need to win their race for patents and billions in profits.

Instead of all this great hurry, it’s better to slow down, do the necessary study, take these momentous decisions out of the hands of profiteers, and look before we leap.  

Support for “Terrorist” Heroes Is Part of the Judeo-Christian Tradition

Readings for 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time: 2 MC 7: 1-12, 9-14; PS 17:1, 5-6, 3, 15; 2 THES 2:11-3:5; LK 20: 27-38. 

One of the wonderful aspects of the Judeo-Christian tradition is how so much of it reflects the consciousness of the poor and oppressed, while at the same time giving expression to a “preferential option for the poor.” That’s a gift for us in a culture that generally despises poor people, oppresses the world’s impoverished majority, and spins the news in ways that ignore the poor and reflect a decided “preferential option for the rich.”

This morning’s first reading is especially valuable for us who live in under the torture regime of American Empire. It actually invites us inside the heads of tortured “terrorists.” It raises the question, who are the real terrorists – the forces of empire or those who resist them? In doing so, the reading from Second Maccabees sheds light on the contemporary debate about torture in service of empire. It also highlights parallels between the mentalities of “terrorists” then and now. The reading calls us to question our support for the entire War on Terror.

For starters, consider torture itself. Our culture actually debates torture’s use, its effectiveness and morality! It does!

Previously, that would have been unthinkable. Torture used to be considered one of those intrinsic evils about which there simply could be no debate.

However, ever since Abu Ghraib gave the lie to George W. Bush’s famous prevarication, “The United States doesn’t do torture” – ever since our government’s redefinition of the word to exclude even waterboarding – it has become apparent that Bush (and so many others of our “thought-leaders”) was lying. So today, many prominent “court intellectuals” have been pushed to actually defend torture’s permissibility.

But what do tortured terrorists actually think about having limbs removed and tongues cut out? Read today’s selection about the Maccabee brothers and find out.

The Maccabees were members of a heroic family of guerrilla fighters who in the mid- 2nd century BCE terrorized the invading Greek forces of Antiochus IV Epiphanes. (Actually, “Maccabee” wasn’t the family’s name; it was more a nom de guerre for an entire resistance movement. The word meant “Hammer” – the Hammer Gang – so-called because of its delight in pounding to mincemeat the invaders of their beloved homeland. The term “Maccabee” was similar to “al Qaeda,” when it simply meant “the list” – a reference to the Rolodex of assets the CIA used when it employed al Qaeda back when they were “freedom fighters” against the Russians in Afghanistan.)

For his part, the Seleucid king, Antiochus, was anti-Semitic in the extreme. He considered the Jews historically and culturally backward. For him and his empire’s advancement, Jews had to be brought into the 2nd century BCE even if it meant their kicking and screaming the whole way.

Today we might understand Antiochus’ project as “modernizing” the Jews – as Hellenizing them for purposes of imperial control. Evidently the Seleucid king subscribed to the position that if empire can persuade conquered peoples to adopt its patterns of thinking and especially of imagining God, the task of imperial administrators is made that much easier.

Many Jews agreed with the program of Antiochus. After all, the Greeks’ empire seemed invincible. If the empire couldn’t be beat, it was better to join it willingly. So, these “Hellenized Jews” stopped circumcising their sons, and changed their diets even to include eating pork. They became more Greek than the Greeks.

They also became the targets of Maccabee “terrorist” attacks. In today’s terms, such Hellenized Jews would be the targets blown up by Maccabee suicide bombers in marketplaces located in Jewish but Greek-loving neighborhoods. (Even if the Maccabee targeting may have been more selective than that, it is certain that Hellenized Jews were as much the objects of Maccabee terror as were the Seleucid forces themselves.)

In countering such extremism, Antiochus IV proscribed the Jewish religion as itself criminal and illegitimate. This was very similar to the way many “Americans” consider Islam. So Greek troops burnt and otherwise desecrated copies of the Torah in much the same way as our “Christian” troops have frequently been caught burning or urinating on the Holy Koran and on corpses of Muslim resistance fighters.

Though the Greeks considered the Maccabean forces to be terrorist, faithful Jews admired them as national heroes and servants of God. They understood that the Maccabees were fighting a Holy War against the much more powerful Seleucids. It was David against Goliath all over again.

In any case, according to today’s selection from Second Maccabees, seven brothers of the gang’s leadership were finally arrested (along with their mother) by the Greek invaders. (This would have been reported to Greeks “back home” as a great triumph – “Senior Leaders” captured making “our troops” and “our world” much safer.)

Then the torture and the screaming start.

To begin with all eight are beaten with whips and instruments designed to tear open their flesh. Then following standard operating procedures still practiced today, other enhanced interrogation techniques were used to torture the brothers one after the other in the presence of their blood-drenched mother, herself near death. The purpose here, of course, was to induce the woman to divulge names, places, and plans that she was privy to as the wife of the one who started the Jewish resistance to the Seleucids.

But what does she do? And what about her sons?

In a word, they are all – mother as well as her sons – completely defiant.

“What do you expect to achieve by questioning us” one of the brothers shouts? “We are ready to die rather than transgress the laws of our ancestors.”

Even at the point of death he spits out the words: “You accursed fiend” (I wonder what expletive he really used!), “you are depriving us of this present life, but the King of the world will raise us up to live again forever. It is for his laws that we are dying.”

Another of the brothers sees that his torturers are actually enjoying their work. (The text refers to cutting out his tongue and amputating his hands as “cruel sport.” Does that remind you of Abu Ghraib?) So, he sticks out his tongue and stretches out his hands inviting them to do their work. “It was from Heaven that I received these,” he says. “I’d rather lose them than offend Yahweh” (read Allah).

“Even the king and his attendants marveled at the young man’s courage,” the text says. Far from being intimidated, the freedom-fighter “regarded his suffering as nothing.”

Just before dying, another of the tortured brothers undergoing the very same cruelties says: “It is my choice to die at the hands of men with the hope God gives of being raised up by him; but for you, there will be no resurrection to life.” As indicated by those words, conviction of a happy eternity moved these guerrilla fighters to embrace death willingly. (Seventy-two virgins, anyone?)

So, what goes on in the heads of the tortured? Disdain for their torturers. Defiance. Show of courage. Love for the motherland. Hope.

And what goes on for the people they die for? Admiration. Elevation of martyrs and the tortured to sainthood. Motivation to follow their example.

And ultimately victory for the tortured and assassinated. . . . I mean, against all odds, the Jewish resistance – the Hammer Terrorists – did succeed in evicting the Greeks from their homeland.

As I was saying, this reading should cause us to reevaluate our attitude towards terrorism, terrorists, and the scandal of debating the pros and cons of torture.

Marianne Williamson, Reparations & Restorative Justice

Readings for 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time: WIS 11:22-12:2; PS 145:1-2, 8-9, 10-11, 13, 14; 2 THES 1:11-2:2; JN 3:16; LK 1:1-10

Today’s readings for the 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time bring up questions of restorative justice and reparations for the harm we may have caused others as individuals and as Americans.

The day’s main focus is the familiar story of the tax collector Zacchaeus.  This very wealthy man was inspired by Jesus to give half of his possessions to the poor and to restore to those he had defrauded four times as much as he had embezzled.

Zacchaeus’ example makes me think of Marianne Williamson’s campaign for president which has made reparations a central plank in her platform.  

Of course, Marianne’s reparations focus is the African American community. But her rationale for it suggests something far beyond race relations within the United States.  It intimates as well reparations to victims of U.S. foreign policy and to Mother Nature herself.

Let me explain and then show how the explanation is related to this day’s readings.

To begin with, yes, I’m still supporting Marianne Williamson for president.  She is the only candidate who confronts us with the undeniable truth that Americans need a fundamental change in consciousness if we are to address the unprecedented problems currently facing humankind.

That’s what Marianne means by “miracles” — changes in fundamental perceptions. That was also central to Jesus’ proclamation about the Kingdom of God. We must think differently about the world and act accordingly.

So, it’s not a question of merely tweaking the reigning economic system or of reviving Roosevelt’s New Deal. What we need is an entirely new world vision that operates from the premise that everything we see is completely upside down. Reality stands 180 degrees away from what our culture tells us. All of it. If our culture says “black,” we should think “white.” If it says “good,” we should think “bad.” If it says “peace,” we should know they’re getting us ready for another war.

Instead, we are all one – women, men, children, immigrants, refugees, animals, plants, and the very air we breathe. That’s the basis of Marianne Williamson’s candidacy. There are no foreigners, no sacrosanct borders – no America First. In fact, the United States must take 100% responsibility for the world’s ills.  

My decision to continue my support of Marianne Williamson was reinforced by listening to a campaign speech she gave at Yale University last week.

There she made the following points that she has always centralized in her approach to politics and to simply living as an evolved human being in our troubled world. Notice how they echo today’s Gospel themes, reparations and restorative justice:

  1. We all know that until we identify and address the root of our problems in our personal, family, and community relationships, we’ll never truly solve those problems.
  2. However, what is true in our personal lives also applies to our nation, because nations are simply groups of individuals.
  3. As Americans, we have been unwilling to face up to the harm caused by slavery, Jim Crow, and segregation on the one hand and to the resulting wealth accumulation in the white community on the other.
  4. The same holds true for U.S. foreign policy which has been based on colonialism and neocolonialism which are simply euphemisms for forcefully transferring wealth from the Global South to the Global North.
  5. Such transfer-by-force has been destructive not only to people but to the natural environment destroyed by industrialized agriculture, rainforest destruction, overfishing, and massive waste disposal in what’s been called the Third World.
  6. We thus owe reparations to African Americans, to the Global South, and to Mother Nature.
  7. Marianne’s presidency would have us directly confront those problems as the sine qua non for solving our national dilemmas, world poverty, and impending climate catastrophe.

Now, those are truly radical positions (in the etymological sense of that term). No other candidate – not even Bernie or Elizabeth Warren – addresses them at the level of consciousness emphasized by Marianne Williamson.

So, think about that and Marianne’s position on reparations and restorative justice as you read the selections included in this Sunday’s liturgy of the word. You’ll find them here. They all invite us to radically transformed ideas of God, ourselves and of those we live with – particularly on the other side of the street, on the other side of the tracks and on the other side of the world.  (Note that the first reading is from the Book of Wisdom which imagines God’s Spirit as female.) What follows are my reading’s “translations.” Please check for yourself to see if I’ve got them right:

 WIS 11:22-12:2

The Real Master
Of the Universe
Is immense
And intense
In her presence
In everything
And everyone.
To her
Our “sins” and addictions
Are trivial.
They mean nothing
In her vast
Scheme of things
Where all people
Are loved and cherished
Just as they are –
As God created them.
“Repentance”
Means rejecting
False guilt
And “wickedness”
While repairing
The hurts
We’ve inevitably inflicted
On others.
 
PS 145:1-2, 8-9, 10-11, 13, 14
 
Where God is recognized
As Love
Her name
Is constantly extolled.
She is lovely herself
And merciful
Never angry
But kind and compassionate
Always.
So, set aside
“Fear of the Lord”
And embrace your Queen
Who keeps her word,
Does nothing harmful
And favors her
Heavily burdened
And (necessarily) fallen
Children.
 
2 THES 1:11-2:2
 
Rabbi Paul’s
Constant prayer for us
Is that we might be
Like his teacher, Jesus
Who recognized
Everyone and everything
As lovable
And full of grace.
In fact,
Jesus is among us
Each day
Whenever we gather
Together
And not merely in some
Far distant future
As false teachers say.
 
JN 3:16
 
Yes, our wise Queen
Has given us Jesus
Who showed us Life
In its fullest form
That we might live
Happily ever after
 
LK 1:1-10
 
Zacchaeus,
The rich exploiter
Of his own people,
Was a tiny man
In more ways than one,
But as an example
Of repentance and reparation.
He rose above the crowd
To see Jesus differently.
Imagine his surprise
(And the anger
Of his victims)
When Jesus
Saw him differently
And invited himself for dinner.
The result?
Zacchaeus grew
Into a giant
On the spot
Giving half his possessions
To the poor
And paying
Four times
His extortions!
Four times!!
How’s that
For reparations?

I hope you can see the connection between those readings and Marianne Williamson’s emphasis on reparations for slavery and restorative justice for resources stolen in a system of unequal trades identified in the Global South as neocolonialism. The readings (and especially the example of Zacchaeus) show that such policies based on a clear moral sense of justice should represent the twin pillars of domestic and foreign policy.

No other candidate has identified those pillars with the clarity and conviction of Marianne Williamson. In the end, no other candidate — and very few spiritual leaders of any stripe — challenge us to rethink our entire understanding of life.

According to Williamson and Jesus, life, truth, and our health as a nation are to be found in exactly the opposite direction from that indicated by the reigning ideology.

How We Rich Exclude Ourselves from the Kingdom of God

Readings for 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time: SIR 35: 12-14, 11-18; PS 34: 2-3, 17-18, 19, 28; 2 TM 4: 6-8, 16-18; LK 18: 9-14. 

“A pope and a pimp went into St. Peter’s to Pray.” That’s the way scripture scholar, John Dominic Crossan, conveys the shock that must have been felt by Jesus’ audience when he opened today’s familiar gospel parable with the words “A pharisee and a tax collector went up to the temple to pray.” Even joining the words “Pharisee” and “tax collector” in the same sentence was like putting “pope” and “pimp” together. It jars the ear. And why would a pimp be praying at all? Why would a tax collector?

Despite its shocking overtones, homilists generally domesticate this parable to make it reinforce conventional wisdom about pride and humility. The Pharisee was proud, they say. The tax collector was humble. Be like the tax collector.

Crossan however says that there’s something much more challenging and fundamental going on in this parable. The focus of Jesus’ story is not pride vs. humility. It’s about rejecting the Pharisee’s conventional morality. The parable even calls us to scrap conventional wisdom about pride and humility.

More positively, the story is a summons to enter God’s Kingdom by identifying with the poor and despised who are celebrated throughout today’s liturgy of the word. The parable and its supporting readings also explain why the conventionally good simply cannot enter the Kingdom of God, which in Jesus’ understanding is never about life after death, but a this-worldly reality where God is king instead of Caesar.

Please give a listen to the readings. You can find them here. My “translations” run as follows:

 SIR 35: 1-14, 16-18
 
God’ justice reverses
The world’s preferential option
For the rich.
It is instead
Duly prejudiced
In favor of
The poor, oppressed,
The orphan, and the widow.
God listens to them
And affirms
Their rights
To speedy justice.
 
 
 
PS 34: 2-3, 17-18, 19, 23
 
Yes, be thankful and glad
That God hears
The cry of the poor
The brokenhearted
And those whose spirits
Have been crushed
By oppressors
Whose names
Will soon
Be forgotten.
 
2 TM 4: 6-8, 16-18
 
The apostle Paul was
One of the oppressed.
He kept faith
In God’s justice
Even during
His rigged
Imperial trial
When his friends
Abandoned him.
Though exhausted
Like a long-distance runner
Or a gladiator
Before a lion,
He nonetheless
Felt God’s presence
As his source
Of strength and courage
Enabling him
To proclaim
God’s Kingdom
To everyone.
.
 
2 COR 5:19
 
God’s preferential
Option for the poor
Is the very message
Of Jesus, the Christ.
It can save the world.
 
LK 18: 9-14
 
Jesus’ parable
Of the Pharisee and Tax Collector
Taught that
Self-justifying
Conventional morality
Is not pleasing to God –
Not even when supported
By long prayers,
Generous tithes,
Sexual purity,
And frequent fasting.
(Yes, the Pharisee
Did all of that!)
Instead,
Entrance into God’s Kingdom
Requires nothing
But membership
In the group
Considered sinful
By us pharisees and
Our conventional morality.

To unpack those readings, first of all, think of the last one in terms of popes and pimps. Popes are generally respected people. They’re religious leaders. Wherever they go, crowds flock around them just to get a glimpse, a blessing, or possibly even a smile or touch.

Pharisees in Jesus’ time enjoyed similar respect with the common people. Pharisees were religious teachers and textbook examples of conventional morality. They usually did what the one in today’s gospel said he did. They kept the law. The Pharisee in today’s reading was probably right; chances are he wasn’t like most people.

Generally, Pharisees were not greedy, dishonest, or adulterers. Or as their exemplar in Luke put it, he was not like the tax collector alongside him in the Temple. Pharisees gave tithes on all they possessed – to help with Temple upkeep.

On the other hand, tax collectors in Jesus’ day were notorious crooks. Like pimps, they were usually despised. Tax collectors were typically dishonest and greedy. They were adulterers too. They took advantage of their power by extorting widows unable to pay in money into paying in kind.

In other words, the Pharisee’s prayer was correct on all counts.

But we might ask, what about the tax collector’s prayer: “O God, be merciful to me, a sinner?” A beautiful prayer, no?

Don’t be so quick to say “yes.”

Notice that this tax collector doesn’t repent. He doesn’t say, like the tax collector Zacchaeus in Luke’s very next chapter, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much (LK 19:8). There is no sign of repentance or of willingness to change his profession on the part of this particular crook.

And yet Jesus concludes his parable by saying: “I tell you, the latter (i.e. the tax collector) went home justified, not the former. . .” Why?

I think the rest of today’s liturgy of the word supplies an answer. Each reading is about God’s partiality towards the poor, oppressed, orphans, widows and the lowly – those who need God’s special protection, because the culture at large tends to write them off or ignore them. Typically, they’re the ones conventionality classifies as deviant. The Jewish morality of Jesus time called them all “unclean.”

However, all of them – even the worst – were especially dear to Jesus’ heart. And this not because they were “virtuous,” but simply because of their social location. Elsewhere, Jesus specifically includes tax collectors (and prostitutes) in that group. In MT 21: 38-42, he tells the Pharisees, “Prostitutes and tax collectors will enter God’s Kingdom before you religious professionals.”

But why would a good person like the Pharisee be excluded from God’s Kingdom? Does God somehow bar his entry? I don’t think so. God’s Kingdom is for everyone.

Rather it was because men like the Pharisee in the temple don’t really want to enter that place of GREAT REVERSAL, where the first are last, the rich are poor, the poor are rich, and where (as I said) prostitutes and tax collectors are rewarded.

The Pharisee excludes himself! In fact, the temple’s holy people wanted nothing to do with the people they considered “unclean.” In other words, it was impossible for Pharisees and the Temple Establishment to conceive of a Kingdom open to the unclean. And even if there was such a Kingdom, these purists didn’t want to be there.

Let’s put that in terms we can understand in our culture.

Usually rich white people don’t want to live next door to poor people or in the same neighborhood with people of color – especially if those in question aren’t rich like them.

Imagine God’s Kingdom in terms of the ghetto, the barrio or favela. Rich white people don’t want to be there.

Yes, according to this morning’s readings – according to Jesus – the “undesirables” among us are the ones to whom the Kingdom of God belongs. They are the favorites of the God who Sirach says is “not unduly partial to the weak.” Rather God is fittingly partial to them as the Sirach reading itself and the rest of today’s liturgy of the word make perfectly clear!

This means that any separation from God’s chosen poor amounts to excluding oneself from the Kingdom white Christians spend so much time obsessing about.

So, today’s readings are much more radical than usually understood. The parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector – of the pope and the pimp in St. Peter’s – is not an affirmation of conventional morality. It’s not even a celebration of imagined virtue on the part of the poor or about repentance. It rejects all such ethnocentric hypocrisy! Jesus’ parable is not even about approving conventional wisdom concerning pride and humility.

As always with Jesus’ teachings, it is about the Kingdom of God, about those who belong and about us who exclude ourselves.

The Real Reason for Trump’s Strategy in Syria

People are scratching their heads over President Trump’s sudden decision to withdraw troops from the Kurdish area in northeastern Syria. In effect, American troops there had been acting as human shields against the designs of Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and his long-standing vendetta against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in Turkey and their Kurdish allies in Syria. Both have struggled for Kurdish rights and independence since 1979.

As well, American troops have guaranteed the stability of prison camps for terrorists in Northern Syria, where up to eleven thousand Muslim militants have been concentrated after the supposed defeat of ISIS in Syria. In the absence of U.S. troops, Erdogan now has free rein not only to decimate his Kurdish opponents, but to release those ISIS fighters who, he says, will help him defeat the PKK in Turkey.

But why this apparently impulsive decision on the part of President Trump ?

A number of reasons have been advanced to explain it, as well as to understand Turkey’s sudden aggressive action:

  • The United States is cultivating Turkey to become the dominant regional power rather than Iran.
  • The U.S. is tired of fighting the war in Syria that has cost billions of dollars.
  • Trump has business interests in Turkey where he’s building two Trump Towers. To protect those interests, he’s doing Erdogan a political and military favor.
  • According to Erdogan, he is simply attempting to create a “safe zone” for the relocation of 3.5 million Syrian refugees who have sought asylum in Turkey during the war in Syria.
  • As well, Turkey claims that the safe zone would destroy the terror corridor which the PKK and Kurdish-led Syrian Defense Forces have been trying to establish on Turkey’s southern border.
  • The U.S. isn’t really interested in defeating ISIS. On the contrary, it favors its revival in order to use it in regime-change wars, and to justify continuance of an endless “war on terror” – all in order to benefit the military-industrial complex.

In the end, all of those “explanations” might have some credibility. No doubt, each of them plays some part in creating the chaos that now reigns in Syria.

Nevertheless, U.S. history after World War II indicates that Tulsi Gabbard put her finger on the real reason for the events unfolding in Syria. I’m referring to her remark that the conflict in Syria represents an illegal regime-change war initiated by the United States. That is, absent U.S. efforts to unseat Syria’s president Bashar al-Assad, the current crisis would not exist. That she was onto something was indicated by the severe backlash she experienced from Hilary Clinton, a principal advocate of U.S. policy in Syria.

None of this means that without American intervention Syria would be care-free. On the contrary, its unprecedented climate-change drought and accompanying desertification have caused farmers to migrate to Syria’s large cities in turn leading to an unemployment crisis and civil unrest that beggar description. The drought and resulting state of emergency also created an opening and excuse for the U.S. to mount a campaign to remove Syria’s president from office.

But why specifically does the United States want al-Assad removed? As I’ve indicated elsewhere, the U.S. wants him out because he’s a Baathist, i.e. a Pan Arab socialist.  And wherever the United States encounters socialism, Pan Arabism or Pan Africanism, it works for regime change, since such movements constitute a threat to America’s white supremacist, imperialist, capitalist patriarchy. Think of Iraq, Libya, Egypt, Honduras, Nicaragua, Cuba, Brazil, the former Yugoslavia, and a host of countries in Africa.

To implement its world-wide regime change strategy, America creates and/or employs local anti-government groups like the Mujahedeen in Afghanistan, the Contras in Nicaragua, or the Kurds in Syria. It continues to use “terrorist” forces like al-Qaeda as it did successfully in Afghanistan against the Russians. In the Syrian conflict, those forces were renamed and described as “moderate” for purposes of fighting ISIS – another U.S. creation this time unintentionally produced by its illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003. Meanwhile, America’s real quarry in Syria remained Bashar al-Assad.

As Chris Hedges has recently noted, the United States has no loyalty to such agents, and often drops them as soon as convenient once their services are no longer required. It vilifies them anew with their old names restored – al-Qaeda and ISIS.

Using such forces, efforts to overthrow Assad (begun in 2013) have failed miserably. So, the U.S. and Turkey have decided to give up on the Kurds, who in northeastern Syria are also socialists. Additionally, they are allies of the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK), Erdogan’s archenemies in Turkey. In terms of socialism, the PKK’s name says it all.

Put otherwise, in the face of our country’s regime change failure, Trump and Erdogan are trying to save the imperialist day by at least defeating the socialist Kurds in both Turkey and Syria. However, they have instead driven Syrian Kurds to seek protection from Bashar al-Assad. His troops have been welcomed as heroes in the Syrian northeast. And so have Russian support troops who represent the only legal foreign military presence in Syria, since they are there at the behest of the Syrian government.

The bottom line here is that the United States has no legal leg to stand on in Syria. It should leave the country entirely. In fact, its military should leave the Middle East altogether. The U.S. should instead sponsor diplomatic solutions to the mess it has created. There are no military solutions to any of the problems in the region.

While this does not mean completely abandoning the Middle East to its own devices, it does mean abandoning the use of force. Correspondingly, it entails seeking diplomatic solutions through the U.N. which was created precisely to avoid the kind of illegal, arbitrary military measures routinely implemented by U.S. presidents of both parties.

But to prioritize diplomacy over war, the U.N.’s international law as well as U.S. legislation must be respected. I’m referring to the international requirement that member nations seek U.N. approval for initiating any military action not demanded as immediate response to direct attack. Similarly, our own government must respect the U.S. Constitution’s requirement that Congress (not the executive branch) approve any acts of war by our nation.

In summary, while Trump’s reassignment of U.S. troops in Syria from protecting Kurds to protecting Syria’s northeaster oil fields may have been puzzling to those not paying attention, consummate insiders like Tulsi Gabbard, see the pattern. And it looks like serial regime change criminality.

What even Gabbard might not see is the pattern’s very raison d’etre. It’s that American leadership always becomes alarmed when any head of state on the one hand or anti-imperialist force on the other attempts to create a country where the interests of all (not just the elite) are served. When that happens, the “guilty” party will be subject to regime change measures of one kind or another. In the Middle East, that’s been the case with Baathists, Pan Arabs, Pan Africans, and now with the PKK.  As Ozlem Goner has indicated, such indigenous entities typically cultivate democratic, non-patriarchal, anti-imperial, and gender-egalitarian structures.

To repeat: that invariably proves intolerable to the United States and its bought-and-paid-for clients. History since the Second Inter-Capitalist War has shown as much.

But you won’t read about this long-standing dynamic in the New York Times. Instead, you’ll find it in sources like Howard Zinn‘s A People’s History of the United States, in Eduardo Galeano‘s The Open Veins of Latin America, in Walter Rodney‘s How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, in Oliver Stone‘s and Peter Kuznick’s The Untold History of the United States, and in Vijay Prashad‘s The Poorer Nations: a Possible History of the Global South.  I recommend all of them very highly.