For Discussion: The Clearest Explanation of Marxism and Surplus Value I’ve Come Across

Whenever my adult children and I get together, we end up “discussing” current events such as the coming General Election, U.S. foreign policy, Black Lives Matter, or Cuba. And those discussions always lead to exchanges about alternatives to capitalism — especially socialism inspired by Karl Marx. On such occasions I end up defending those alternatives, and my dialog partners offer powerful counter-arguments.

I always come away from such events wishing I could be clearer in expressing my convictions. I’ve taught Marxism in the past. For a while, in a team-taught interdisciplinary course involving 15 Berea College faculty drawn from various disciplines (History, Philosophy, Physics, Biology, Economics . . .), I was asked to give the Karl Marx lecture to those colleagues and the entire B.C. sophomore class. The context was a course called “Religious and Historical Perspectives,” the best teaching (and learning) experience I’ve ever had.

There I wish I had been able to give something like the lecture I’ve pasted below. It’s given by Richard Wolff and it’s the clearest explanation of Marx’s theory of “surplus value” that I’ve come across.

Richard Wolff is emeritus professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts. He is a Marxist educated at Yale,Stanford and Harvard. He currently teaches at the New School in New York City. I am grateful to my good friend, John Capillo, who called him to my attention.

Please watch the video. If my children do, I know it will spark more enlightened conversation. I’m also hoping it will start discussion here among readers of this blog.

See what you think:

The Poor Know More than the Rich: Paulo Freire on What the Impoverished Can Teach Us All (Personal Reflections XV)

Freire Trust

Our world is characterized by an ongoing “conflict” (not to say “war”) waged by the rich and powerful against the poor and politically powerless. It’s all an inheritance of colonialism, which did not disappear after World War II. Instead, colonialism simply took other more sophisticated forms. As J.W. Smith puts it, the system changed from “plunder by raid” to “plunder by trade.” The enduring point is to keep the wealth and power where it’s been since the onset of the colonial era – with the plundering powers (Europe and the United States) which have systematically robbed the resources of the former colonies whose populations today (unsurprisingly) constitute the world’s poor.

One cannot be neutral in the conflict just referenced; one must take sides.  As our friend and mentor Paulo Freire put it, “Washing one’s hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral.”

My forty-plus years of travel, teaching, and scholarship in the Global South (Brazil, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, India, Zimbabwe, South Africa, and Cuba) have taught me the truth of Paulo’s words. Not to decide is to decide – in favor of the status quo.

When sides are consciously taken with the poor and oppressed, a whole counter-narrative emerges that rarely gets a hearing in the United States whose official policy favors the rich and powerful. The counter-narrative about history, economics and politics comes from the underclasses that so concerned Paulo Freire and the liberation theologians I’ve studied with in the countries I’ve just mentioned as well as in the U.S. and Europe.

But here’s the Freirean point: the counter-narrative of the poor is more comprehensive and informed than the one typically pedaled in the United States. In fact, the U.S. story (pretending to be neutral) is actually the product of one-sided “banking” model of education that endorses oppression as normal and inevitable.

Let me explain.

Paulo Freire famously contrasted what he called the banking concept of education with “education for critical consciousness.” In the banking model, teachers make deposits of knowledge into the “accounts” of passive, unsuspecting students. What they learn is mostly irrelevant to their everyday lives. However it amounts to the “official story” which remains unquestioned and explains the given order as normal and good.

On the other hand, education for critical consciousness “problematizes” the students’ own reality and asks them to come up with solutions to real dilemmas: for example, their own hunger, its causes, and how to escape it. In the process they learn how the world works and come up with strategies to change their immediate experience.

Freire also made key distinctions about the stages of consciousness typically passed through by learners  among the world’s majority poor and oppressed. Normally, he said, students begin with the resigned attitude that “to be is to be under the oppressor.” They see no exit from their poverty and life’s circumstances. From there they pass to a second stage: “to be is to be like the oppressor.” They take the rich and powerful as their role models.  They want to be like them – rich and successful. Finally, if they persevere in the growth process, poor students arrive at a stage where they realize that “to be is to be neither oppressor nor oppressed.” In that stage they start taking active and proactive measures against their own poverty and oppression.  They work to change the world.

[BTW: Part of my quarrel with Lin Manuel Miranda’s “Hamilton” (which is where these reflections began) is that it reflects Freire’s second stage of consciousness – to be is to be like the Oppressor. In the play, African-American and Hispanic actors literally pretend to be their white oppressors; they actually celebrate the ones who enslaved and exterminated their ancestors – the ones who excoriated Native Americans in the Declaration of Independence and who wrote slavery into the U.S. Constitution.]

Towards accomplishing the task of changing the world, the poor have an epistemological privilege in their analysis of life in general. Though typically far less formally educated than the rich, their perception and analysis is characteristically more comprehensive and accurate. They might not be able to make the historical references or to employ the academic jargon; they might not use complete sentences or be grammatically correct, but simply put, the poor know more about life.

Why? Think about it for a minute.

Those of us who are rich and/or comfortable have very limited experience and awareness.  Our communities are pretty much siloed and gated. As a result, we can live without consciousness of the poor at all. Wall Street execs rarely really see them. The poor are located in different parts of town. Most even in the middle class never enter their homes or schools. The comfortable have no experience of hunger, coping with rats, imminent street crime, living on minimum wage, or cashing in Food Stamps. Even if they notice the poor occasionally, the comfortable can quickly dismiss them from their minds. If they never saw the poor again, the rich and middle class would continue their lives without much change. In sum, they have very little idea of the lived experience of the world’s majority.

That becomes more evident still by thinking of the poor outside the confines of the developed world who live on two dollars a day or less. Most in the industrialized west know nothing of such people’s languages, cultures, history, or living conditions. I’m talking about “enemies” living in Syria, Iraq, Somalia or Yemen.  Even though our governments drop bombs on such people every day, they remain only abstractions. That is, few of us know what it really means to live under threat of hellfire missiles, phosphorous bombs or drones. Similarly, we know little of the actual motives for “their terrorism.” Syria could drop off the map tomorrow and nothing for most of us would change.

None of this can be said for the poor and the victims of bombing. They have to be aware not only of their own life’s circumstances, but of the mostly white people who employ them, shape their lives, or drop bombs on their homes. The poor serve the rich in restaurants. They clean their homes. They cut their lawns. They beg from them on the streets. The police arrest, beat, torture and murder their children.

If the U.S., for example, dropped off the planet tomorrow, the lives of the poor would be drastically altered – mostly for the better. In other words, the poor and oppressed must have dual awareness. For survival’s sake, they must know what the rich minority values, how it thinks and operates. They must know more about the world than the rich and/or comfortable.

That’s why when the poor develop “critical consciousness,” (like Malcolm X or Mumia Abu Jamal) their analysis is typically more comprehensive, inclusive, credible, and full. They have vivid awareness not only of life circumstances that “make no difference” to their comfortable counterparts; they also have lived experience of life on the other side of the tracks.

However despite such comprehensive knowledge, the critically conscious poor and their representatives find little place in mainstream analysis which comes overwhelmingly from white, well-to-do, and university-educated men.

This is why I’ve learned to give scant credence to mainstream media (MSM) explanations of the world and always takes pains to understand reality from the viewpoint of the epistemologically privileged poor and oppressed – found outside the MSM. Those viewpoints are more comprehensive and informed.

Such Freirean insights are, I think, worth thinking about.

(Next week: My study of liberation theology in Brazil)

Anniversary Celebration in Wyoming: Photos

Family

I’ve been remiss lately in my blog postings. Family activities have kept me away from my computer. There have been lots of comings and goings as Peggy and I have moved to our cottage in Michigan for the summer.

The big family event was a week on the Brush Creek Guest Ranch near Saratoga, Wyoming. It was an extremely generous gift from our daughter, Maggie, and our son-in-law, Kerry – part of this year’s celebration of Peggy’s and my 40th wedding anniversary. Our whole family was there: Maggie and Kerry, Brendan (on leave from his Foreign Service assignment in Pakistan), Patrick (who’s taking a new job working for The Economist), and our four grandchildren, Eva (age 7), Oscar (5), Orlando (almost 4), and Markendeya (almost 2). Diana, the family’s au pair from Colombia was also present.

It was our first time in Wyoming – the “Wild West” as we described it to our grandkids. And at Brush Creek we did it all: skeet shooting, horseback riding, river floating, zip line and rope courses, hiking, fly fishing, paint ball skirmishes, golf, yoga, picnicking, and eating and drinking that didn’t end. A couple of evenings, we watched the NBA Finals in the ranch’s Man Cave. On Friday, country singer, John Rich (of Big & Rich), who was also vacationing at Branch Creek, sang a few songs. Everyone loved it – especially his “Save a Horse; Ride a Cowboy.”

Our dinners together were transcendent. We reminisced, ribbed each other about marriage, parenting, and being parented. Eyes were tear-filled more than once. We really love our kids and grandchildren, and (gratefully) it’s so evident that they love and respect us.

Here are some pictures from Brush Creek:

Family Again

L-R: Maggie, Brendan, Mike, Patrick, Peggy

M & P

Maggie & Kerry

Our Hosts: Maggie and Kerry

Maggie's Family

L-R: Eva, Markandeya, Maggie, Oscar, Kerry, Orlando

Lovers

Forty Years!

Jesus’ Response to Terrorism vs. Ours (Sunday Homily)

Cross

Readings for 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time: ZEC. 12:10-11; 13:1; Ps. 63: 2=6, 8-9; Gal. 3: 26-29; Lk. 9:18-24

Why are we Christians so afraid of own deaths while at the same time so indifferent to the horrors we inflict on innocent others? Our attitude stands sharply condemned in today’s Liturgy of the Word.

To begin with, think about our nationwide hysteria to the horrendous massacre in the Orlando nightclub last week. Contrast that understandable reaction with our collective yawn in the face of the American bombing of the Doctors without Borders trauma hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan in October of last year. The attack killed at least 30 people, including 13 medical staff, 10 patients and 7 unidentified people.

And Kunduz was not an isolated incident. Orlando-gauge tragedies are a daily phenomenon under completely illegal U.S. drone and bombing campaigns that kill far more innocent civilians than so-called “combatants.”

But there are no Hands across the Continents movements for the victims of our government’s terrorism. Rather there is hardly any notice in the mainstream media or awareness by U.S. citizens – no teddy bears, shrines, candles, and love notes. Just excuses on the part of the killers.

And even Christians go along with the too-familiar process as though supporting such mayhem were not only patriotic, but in accord with our faith.

All of that reveals a near obsession with saving our own lives at the expense of others – just the opposite of what’s required of believers in today’s Gospel reading.

There Luke tells us that Jesus has just emerged from a period of solitary prayer. That experience has evidently brought the Master face-to-face with his fundamental God-identity – an identity Paul tells us in the second reading, is shared by all of us who are, the apostle reminds us, “children of God” just like Jesus. Since we exist “in Christ,” Paul implies, we can learn something from the experience of Jesus and from the attitudes he expressed in his words and actions. We should be able to see ourselves “in Christ.”

In any case, Jesus has just encountered the God within. According to the responsorial from Psalm 63, that God is not only powerful and glorious, but our ultimate source of help, support, and joy in life’s greatest difficulties. For that God each of us should be thirsting, the Psalmist says, like parched ground for water. In fact, God’s kindness is more valuable than life itself. Or as the psalmist puts it, God’s kindness is “a greater good than life.” This seems to mean that it’s more important for believers to be kind (i.e. non-violent) than to survive.

With those insights in mind, Jesus decides to share them with his disciples. So he asks a leading question about identity: “Who do the crowds say that I am?” (Jesus really wants his friends to face who they are!) The disciples have a ready response. After all, everyone is talking about Jesus. “Some say you are John the Baptist returned from the dead,” they say. “Others say you are Elijah or one of the prophets come back to life.”

“But who do you say I am?” Jesus insists.

Peter speaks for the others. “You are God’s anointed,” he says – “the Messiah.”

Jesus knows what Peter has in mind. For a Jew living under the Roman jackboot, “Messiah” could mean only one thing – the leader of The War against Rome.

So Jesus says, “Don’t call me that! I am not the Christ you imagine! No, I’m a human being like the rest of you.

“Yes, I’m as much against the Roman enemy as you are.” Like the ‘Son of Man’ in the Book of Daniel, I reject all the enemies of our people in the name of Yahweh our God. I am a patriot just like you – and the prophet Daniel. But rather than use violence to conquer our enemies, I am willing to lose my life even if it means crucifixion at the hands of Rome. They cannot kill my real Self; I will rise again and again despite the way they terrorize us all. In the final analysis the God within all of us cannot be defeated.

“And there’s more. All of you must all be prepared to follow my example – even if it means rejection by the religious establishment and a cross imposed by our foreign enemies. In fact, I tell you all, anyone who tries to save his or her life will lose it.

“Don’t you realize that by killing others, you are killing your Self? You are murdering the God within. But those who follow my example of non-violent resistance will actually save their Selves. They will preserve their in-born unity with the divine core shared by all of God’s children. Don’t be afraid to follow my example of non-violent resistance. You will emerge victorious in the end.”

That, I think, is what Jesus means in this morning’s gospel with his talk about losing life and saving it = with his words about denying self and carrying one’s cross. Suffering, terrorism, and even national enslavement are not the end of the world.

Yes, even national enslavement! The prophet Zachariah makes that point in today’s first reading. Writing at the end of the 6th century BCE, he addresses an Israel defeated and enslaved in Babylon for more than 50 years. They survived, he reminds them. And somehow they’re better off than before. They’ve been purified as if by a gushing fountain.

Of course, the attack in Orlando portends nothing like national defeat by “terrorists.” Such threats to our homeland are remote and relatively insignificant. Americans are more likely to be hit by lightning or killed in an auto accident than by a terrorist attack.

Instead, it is our country’s response to terrorism that threatens us with defeat – responses like the massacre in Kunduz and the killing of civilians in drone attacks. According to Jesus and Zachariah, accepting life’s lessons administered by a foreign enemy might even lead to national purification.

Paradoxically, however, doomed efforts to save our lives through violence will bring about the end we so fearfully seek to avoid.

As Jesus himself put it: “. . . those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake (that is, as a result of living ‘in Christ’) will save it.”

Jesus’ instruction today makes it incumbent on all of us to resist our country’s unending wars and state-sponsored terrorism.

Our 1984 Experience with Paulo Freire (Personal Reflection XIV)

freire-neutral

This 14th “Personal Reflections” blog continues my modest project of explaining myself to my three adult children who are often puzzled by my criticisms of the United States in these blogs and elsewhere. Half- jokingly (I think) they often ask, “Why do you hate America, Dad?”

Of course, I don’t hate the country of my birth. Quite the opposite. But my patriotism and loyalty take quite different directions from those fostered by the mainstream media and the otherwise fine educations our children received at Wellesley (Maggie), Lafayette (Brendan), and Davidson (Patrick). In contrast to those sources, and for reasons connected with faith, my own thinking aspires to view the world from the perspective of the world’s impoverished majority (both nationally and in the Global South) rather than from that of privileged classes within the United States.

Along with liberation theologians, Paulo Freire has played a major role in shaping me that way. Freire’s the great Brazilian educator who (among other books) wrote The Pedagogy of the Oppressed and Education for Critical Consciousness. His influence on liberation theology is immeasurable.

Peggy and I got to know Paulo quite well beginning in 1982 when we participated in his two-week seminar at Boston College. Then during my first sabbatical from Berea College (1983-’84) Peggy worked with him for six months at his center in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Every week, she joined a team of young Brazilians conducting one of Paulo’s literacy programs in Sao Paulo’s impoverished favelas. It was all part of her research on Freire for her Ed.D (Philosophy of Education doctorate) at the University of Kentucky. In 1986 the American Education Research Association gave Peggy’s work the year’s “Outstanding Dissertation Award for Conceptual Research.” She later published an article based on her work in the Harvard Educational Review.

I remember spending our sixth wedding anniversary in Freire’s apartment in Sao Paulo where we had a memorable supper with him and his wife, Elsa. Afterwards Paulo read aloud from the latest chapter in Peggy’s evolving dissertation. I recall his pausing after reading a lengthy quotation from one of his works and remarking, “Right now I am loving these words.”

I’m convinced that the Rivage-Seul’s were given the gift of tongues for our Brazil experience. During the first semester of my sabbatical (at the end of 1983) and in preparation for our trip to Brazil, I had studied Portuguese at the University of Colorado in Boulder. [I had been given a fellowship there (at the Center for the Study of Values and Social Policy) to research the relationship between freedom and justice. It was to prepare me to head Berea’s newly established Freshman Seminar whose readings were organized around that theme.] In any case, my Latin, French, and Italian helped me learn Portuguese. Peggy’s college French major (at Central Michigan University) helped her as well. Then in Anapolis, Brazil with the help of a tutor, we spent our first two months studying intensively. And it somehow worked. We ended up quite able to carry on in the language.

Brazil at this time was still run by its generals. That was the result of a 1964 coup sponsored by the CIA. The father of my Portuguese teacher at CU was one of those generals. So she arranged for our first few nights in the country to be spent at the Clube Militar as guests of the oppressors and fierce enemies of liberation theology in Brazil which was a hotbed of the discipline. (More about that later.) Staying at the Clube was very creepy for us.

But back to Paulo Freire . . . . After our return to the United States we had a warm reunion with him at the Highlander Center where he was working on a text with the Center’s founder, the great activist, Myles Horton. Horton’s work had directly influenced Martin Luther King. In fact, in the ‘60s, the F.B.I. had published photos of MLK at what they called the “Communist” Center (Highlander). It was part of J. Edgar Hoover’s campaign to portray King as a Red. Paulo’s and Myles’ text was eventually published as We Make the Road by Walking.

As I said, Freire’s method of teaching and learning was central to the methodology of liberation theology, which had increasingly seized my attention since I first encountered it in 1969.

One of Freire’s key concepts (shared with liberation theology) is “the hermeneutical privilege of the poor.”  Basically it says that the poor and oppressed know more about the world (and about the Bible) than the rich and comfortable. That idea constitutes a key basis for my own analysis of the world.

(I’ll explain that more fully next week.)

Was Mary Magdalene the First Pope? (Sunday Homily)

hieros gamos

Readings for the eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time: 2SM 12:7-10, 13; PS 32: 1-2, 5, 7, 11; GAL 2: 16, 19-21; LK 7: 36-8:3

As much as we love Pope Francis, many of us have been disappointed by his consistent refusal to consider ordaining women to the Catholic priesthood. In the light of such irritating consistency, the pope would do well to reconsider today’s Gospel reading.

I say that because it offers a compelling argument not merely admitting women to the priesthood, but to the highest office in the church – the papacy itself. It does so by presenting Mary Magdalene as performing an undeniably priestly function far beyond any recorded of Yeshua’s apostles. Doing so brings to mind the Master’s supreme elevation of Mary Magdalene found in patriarchally-suppressed sources outside the canonical Gospels. There Yeshua designates Mary as superior even to Peter.

Consider the episode Luke records.

Yeshua has been invited to the house of a Pharisee for dinner. For Jews Pharisees were defenders of the father-rule system the Church and Pope Francis have made their own. But in this case, the “host” proves to be inhospitable in terms of Jewish custom. He obviously sees the carpenter from Nazareth and his uncouth fisherman friends as riff-raff. He omits giving them the traditional greeting, and doesn’t even offer them water to wash their feet. Evidently he considers the band from Nazareth unclean – dirty people who won’t even know the difference.

Then the hero of the story appears to set things right. She’s a woman whose gender relegated her to unquestionably second class status. She is Mary of Bethany (whom scholars identify with Mary Magdalene). And she does something extraordinary. She does what Nathan the prophet recalled in today’s first reading that he did for David. She anoints Yeshua as the Christos – the Christ, designating (and making) him God’s chosen one. This is the priestly act I referred to earlier.

Mary’s act is absolutely extraordinary. Remember, the term “Christos” (or Christ) itself means “anointed.” And in the gospels there is only one anointing of Yeshua the Christ. And, as we see, it occurs at the hands of Mary Magdalene, not of some male priest. In other words, the Magdalene in today’s gospel acts as prophet and priestess on a level arguably above Nathan’s role recalled in today’s reading from 2nd Samuel.

And there’s more. The Magdalene appears in public with her head uncovered and hair flowing – a condition appropriate for a woman of Yeshua’s time only in the presence of her husband. And besides anointing Yeshua, she performs what can only be described as an extremely intimate act. She continually kisses his feet with her lips and washes them with tears of love.

But how could a woman perform such an act? Why would Yeshua allow it? After all, according to Jewish law, women were not even permitted to say ritual prayers at home, much less perform religious rites of such central import as identification and anointment of the Christ.

That is, not according to Jewish law. . . However, according to universally recognized pre-patriarchal traditions, such election by a priestess was not only permitted but essential for any sacred king. There according to the rite of hieros gamos or sacred marriage, the priestess would anoint the priest-king. By virtue of her act (often consummated by ritual sex), the anointed would be flooded with power of the god. Conversely, without the power conferred by the woman, the king would remain powerless and have no knowledge of himself or of the gods. These facts would have been evident to Yeshua’s contemporaries.

Why has this history and the prophetic role of Mary Magdalene in identifying (and consecrating) the Christ been hidden from us all these years? Feminist scholars tell us that patriarchal misogyny – anti-woman sentiment – is the answer.

And negativity towards women is written all over today’s excerpt from Luke’s Gospel. There the evangelist emphasizes the sinfulness of the Magdalene as that of the other women in Yeshua’s company.

Luke describes Mary as “a sinful woman in the city,” and “a sinner.” He has Yeshua tell those seated at table that “many sins have been forgiven her,” and say to the woman, “Your sins are forgiven.” So we won’t miss the point, Luke gratuitously describes Mary Magdalene as the one “from whom seven demons had been cast out.” And finally, women in Yeshua’s company are described as formerly sick and possessed.

Nevertheless, Luke feels compelled to note what everyone in his community would have known: women like the Magdalene and Joanna and Susanna and the “many others” who followed Yeshua were financial supporters of Yeshua and “The Twelve.”

But Luke reveals no corresponding negativity towards the male leaders of the early church. He doesn’t call the apostles “free-loaders.” Neither does he parallel his description of the women as sinners by recalling that one of the 12, Peter, was identified with Satan himself by Yeshua. Nor does he recall that a key apostle, Judas, actually betrayed Yeshua or that all of the twelve but one (unlike the Master’s women followers) abandoned him in his hour of greatest need. Instead, Luke simply mentions “the twelve,” who by the evangelist’s omissions are implicitly contrasted with the “sinful” women.

Above all, Luke omits the description of Mary Magdalene which we find in the church-suppressed Gospel of Thomas. There she is described as “the apostle of apostles” – no doubt because of her key role in identifying and anointing Yeshua as the “Christos,” and because she was the one to whom the resurrected Yeshua appeared before showing himself to any of “the twelve.”

In fact the Gospel of Thomas says explicitly:

“. . . the companion of the Savior is Mary Magdalene. But Christ loved here more than all the disciples, and used to kiss her often on her mouth. The rest of the disciples were offended . . . They said to him, “Why do you love her more than all of us?’”

Here the word for “companion” is koinonos which refers to a consort of a sexual nature. Moreover in other suppressed writings, Magdalene emerges as Yeshua’s star pupil and the center of his attention. He praises her as “one whose heart is raised to the kingdom of heaven more than all thy brethren.” He predicts that she “will tower over all my disciples and over all men who shall receive the mysteries.” Additionally, following Yeshua’s ascension, it is Magdalene who comes to the fore to encourage the disheartened apostles to man-up and get on with the business of understanding and living out the teachings of the Master.

These words and the Magdalene’s functioning as prophet and priest should be extremely meaningful for contemporary women – and patriarchs blind to women’s leadership in the early church. They highlight the way at least one female disciple of extraordinary talent and charisma was not only marginalized but denigrated in the patriarchal church right from the beginning. And that denigration has continued in church circles and beyond to our very day.

Put otherwise, besides shedding light on the distant past, today’s readings expose the extreme weakness of contemporary ecclesiastical “fathers” in their exclusion of women from the priesthood and from other forms of church leadership. They also uncover the perversity of their other anti-woman pronouncements regarding topics such as contraception, abortion, and women’s rights in general.

In short today’s liturgy of the word helps us see beyond the “official story” to discern the fact that female leadership in the Christian community is nothing new. It is the males – the ones we call “father” – who are the interlopers and charlatans.

Clearly, Pope Francis, should change his mind on women’s ordination.

Our Dinner with Amy Goodman

Amy Goodman

A week ago today, Peggy and I had dinner with Amy Goodman, the host of “Democracy Now: the War and Peace Report” (DN).  The program airs each Monday through Friday on radio and TV stations across the country. I watch it every morning in its podcast version that can be accessed at any hour at http://www.democracynow.org/

The dinner was a Christmas present from my daughter, Maggie who (with her husband, Kerry) had given DN a substantial contribution.

[The gift came with a black Democracy Now tee shirt (which I wore to our dinner) and two coffee cups showing the program’s logo. The meal portion of the gift was for me and a companion of my choice. Naturally, it was Peggy. Still another of the gift’s components was attendance at one of the show’s morning productions (which we’ll take advantage of sometime in the future).]

There were four of us in Thursday’s dinner party. Amy brought along her factotum, Edith Penty, whose presence was absolutely delightful. We ate at the Hangawi Korean restaurant on 32nd street between Fifth and Madison Avenue. There we shared “The Emperor’s Tasting Menu” that featured starters, appetizers, entrees and dessert –   acorn noodle salad with avocado fritters, dumplings in pine nut and pineapple sauce, tofu with sesame leaves and seaweed sauce, and dessert.

As the meal unfolded we all shared our biographies.

Amy is a New Yorker raised in Bay Shore. She is the daughter of an ophthalmologist father and a mother who taught literature and Women’s Studies. Her family is Jewish Orthodox. Her maternal grandfather was an Orthodox Rabbi.  She studied Hebrew and Torah from kindergarten through high school. Amy graduated from Radcliffe College in 1984, with a degree in anthropology.

From her stories about participation in demonstrations, vigils, and campaigns, it’s clear that Amy Goodman has always been an activist. For some years she worked in an organic bakery that eventually supplied buns for Arby’s restaurants. Journalism has always been in her family’s blood. (Her brother published a family newspaper before reaching his teenage years.) She founded Democracy Now in 1996; this is its 20th anniversary year. Throughout Amy’s account of her life, there wasn’t a trace of self-promotion. On the contrary, both Peggy and I were impressed with her interest in our stories, and with her unassuming presence.

In all the four of us spent about two hours together. And of course conversation went far beyond autobiographies. Inevitably we discussed Trump, Bernie and Hillary.

The most interesting insight came when Amy shared the fact that the Obamas and Clintons can’t stand one another. Obama made Hillary his Secretary of State following the principle: Stay close to your friends, and even closer to your enemies. One of the first questions asked in any Obama or Clinton vetting process is: “What do you think about Hillary?” “What do you think about Barrack?” Hiring decisions are made accordingly.

Towards the end of our time together, Amy left the table for a moment. Soon afterwards waiters came to our table with ice cream and small cakes and a candle. Amy had informed them that Peggy and I are celebrating our 40th wedding anniversary. That’s the kind of thoughtful person Amy Goodman is.

As we left Hangwai, a young African American man caught sight of my Democracy Now tee shirt. He said to me: “Love your tee shirt. I watch that program every day. Love that too!” I pointed ahead of us to Amy who was deep in conversation with Peggy. I said, “That’s Amy Goodman right there.” He couldn’t believe it. Soon we were all taking pictures with the celebrity. It was a moment that topped the evening off just perfectly.

If Democracy Now isn’t part of your daily news-gathering routine, it should be.  Unlike other newscasts, it centralizes stories from the grassroots. So it often interviews victims of police violence, representatives of NGOs (non-governmental organizations), political dissidents, and community organizers. Noam Chomsky, Glen Greenwald, Naomi Klein, Bill McKibben, Medea Benjamin, Cornel West, Lori Wallach, Richard Wolff, Tariq Ali, and many other thought-leaders and journalists are among the program’s frequent guests.

“Democracy Now” covers the Black Lives Matter Movement along with the Boycott, Divest, and Sanction campaign against the Israeli apartheid system – whose proponents are almost never interviewed in the mainstream media.

If you watch Democracy Now, you know details of the recent coup in Brazil, its predecessor in Honduras, and current attempts at still another in Venezuela. You know about Michael Brown, Eric Garner and Tamir Rice. But you also are familiar with police killings of Sandra Bland, Tanisha Anderson, and Miriam Cary.

None of the stories is reduced to sound bites. Interviewees like Noam Chomsky are sometimes given an entire hour (without commercial interruption) to analyze a whole host of world and national issues. An hour-long broadcast was devoted recently to Daniel Berrigan, the Jesuit peace activist who died last month.

Peggy and I are so grateful to Maggie and Kerry for making possible such a memorable evening — and of course, to Amy Goodman for spending so much time with us and for being the huge inspiration she is