Amos & Jesus Agree: America’s Not the Greatest Country in the World!

Greatest Country

Readings for 15th Sunday in ordinary time: Am. 7:12-15; Ps. 85:9-10, 11-2, 13-14; Eph. 1:3-14; Mk. 6:7-13

Do any of you remember the HBO series “Newsroom?” It lasted only a couple of seasons. However, I found it interesting and watched it faithfully.

As far as I’m concerned, the series’ highlight came when lead actor, Jeff Daniels, delivered a speech about then-current dismal state of our country. I’m sure many of you have seen it. It seems more relevant today than it did in 2012.

As a news anchorman of the stature and credibility of Walter Cronkite, Daniels’ character is badgered into answering the question “Can you say why America is the greatest country in the world?” Here’s how he answered:

Whew! That’s hard for most of us to hear, isn’t it? It’s almost as if the speaker were viewing the United States the way foreigners often do – or at least as someone highly sympathetic to the uneducated, infants, the poor, sick, imprisoned, and the victims of imperialistic wars. He seems to be saying that the experience of such people represents the measure of greatness.

I raise the “Newsroom” speech today because of today’s first reading from the Book of Amos. He was a prophet whose most famous speech was very like the one we just saw.

I mean his words were similar in that they were offensive to patriotic ears and centralized the experience of the poor. And they were delivered by an outsider. As we saw in today’s first reading, Amos’ words also evoked such negative response that they led the chief priest of Israel to lobby for the deportation of the prophet.

And what did Amos say?

Well, he was a very clever speaker. He did his prophetic work towards the end of the 8th century B.C.E. That was after the death of Solomon, when the Hebrew people had split into two kingdoms. The northern one was “Israel;” the southern one was “Judah.” Often the two were at war with one another. Yes, the “People of God” were that deeply divided even then.

Amos came from Judah, the southern kingdom. He went up north, to Israel, and confronted the people there. And he tricked his audience into agreeing with him that all their official enemies were really bad – the Aramites, Philistines, Moabites, and especially Judah, that kingdom to the south. God is extremely angry with these people, Amos promised. They would all be soundly thrashed.

“And they all deserve it!” his audience would have agreed.

And then the prophet turned the tables on his listeners. “But you know the nation that will be punished more harshly than all of them put together, don’t you? You know who the worst of all is, I’m sure.” (By now he now had his audience in the palm of his hand.)

“Who?” they asked eagerly.

“YOU!” the prophet shouted. “The nation of Israel has been the worst of all because of your treatment of the poor. You have shorted them on their wages. You have sold them into slavery. Your rich have feasted and lived in luxury, while those closest to God’s heart, the poor, have languished in hunger and poverty. In punishment, the Assyrians will invade your country and reduce all of you to the level of the lowest among you.

Of course, the prophet lost his audience at that point. They didn’t want to hear it.

It was almost as if the Daniels character in “Newsroom” had responded like this to the question “Can you say why America is the greatest country?” No, I take that back. It’s almost as if some foreigner – one of our designated enemies, say from Iraq or Afghanistan, answered the question by saying:

“Well, America surely isn’t Nazi Germany, and it’s not the Soviet Union. Those places were hell on earth, weren’t they? They caused havoc in the world; I’m sure we’d all agree. Those countries were truly the enemies of humankind. Neither is America Saddam’s Iraq, or Kaddafi’s Libya. It’s none of those. But you know what? AMERICA IS A LOT WORSE! And that’s because of the way it treats not only its own poor, but the way it savages the poor of other countries. Treatment of the poor is God’s criterion for greatness. And America falls flat before it!”

My point is that it sometimes takes someone who doesn’t share our cultural values and especially our class loyalties to help us see ourselves in something like the way God sees us. Those outside our culture often perceive us more clearly than we see ourselves.

Do you think Amos’ concern for the poor (the Bible’s real People of God) might be also centralized in today’s Gospel? I think it is. Mark seems to be reminding his audience (40 years after Jesus’ death) that the poor represent the touchstone for Christian authenticity.

In the Gospel reading, Jesus sends off his 12 apostles two by two as his emissaries. They are to drive out unclean spirits and demons and to cure the sick. Can you even imagine them doing that? They were just fishermen, maybe a traveling merchant or two, a former tax collector – all of them likely illiterate – not public speakers at all. Who would ever listen to such people?

And yet Mark pictures Jesus sending them off in pairs to preach his message: “Repent; the Kingdom of God is at hand.” These are the same disciples who Mark tells us later never really grasped what Jesus was all about. And yet here they are preaching, curing the sick and driving out demons.

Such considerations lead scripture scholars to conclude that these words were probably never spoken by the historical Jesus. Instead they were added later by a more developed church. (Early Christians evidently believed so strongly in Jesus’ post-resurrection presence that they thought the risen Christ continued addressing their problems even though those difficulties were unknown to him and his immediate followers while he walked the earth. So they made up stories like this one.)

And what was the message to those later followers? It seems to have been this: “Remember where we came from. We’re followers of that poor man from Nazareth. So, stay close to the poor as Jesus did: walk; don’t ride. Steer clear of money. Don’t even worry about food. The clothes on your back are enough for anyone. Others will give you shelter for the night.” (This passage from Mark almost pictures Jesus’ followers like Buddhist monks with their saffron robes and begging bowls.)

Mark’s message to his community 40 years after Jesus — and to us today — seems to be: “Only by staying close to the poor can you even recognize the world’s unclean spirits. So concealed and disguised are they by material concerns and by things like patriotism and religious loyalties. Therefore, don’t be seduced by identification with the rich, your own culture, and what they value — sleek transportation, money, luxurious food, clothes and homes.”

Surrendering to such seductions, Mark seems to be saying, is to depart from the instructions of Jesus. We’d say it is a recipe for loss of soul on both the individual and national levels as described by Amos and “Newsroom’s” Jeff Daniels.

But identification with the poor is hard, isn’t it? It’s hard to be the voice of the voiceless as both Amos and Jesus were. It’s difficult to walk instead of ride, to have less money, to share food and housing with others. It’s hard to make political and economic choices on the basis of policy’s impact on the poor rather than the rich.

For that reason, Jesus sends his apostles off not as individuals, but in pairs. The message here is that we need one another for support. This is also true because adopting counter-cultural viewpoints like those of Amos, Jesus, and the “Newsroom” anchorman evoke such negative response.

What do you think? Are we Christians really called to centralize concern for the poor, to simplify our lifestyles, and run the risk of being judged enemies of the state as Amos, Jesus and early Christians were?

If so, how can we support one another in doing that? (Discussion follows.)

The ‘80s War in Central America Never Ended: Today’s Refugees Are the Result

CIA Drugs

Yesterday, on Amy Goodman’s “Democracy Now!” I heard an interview with Jennifer Harbury. She’s a lawyer and human rights activist whose husband was tortured and murdered by the Guatemalan military during its 1980s war against that country’s own population. In that U.S.-supported conflict, more than 200,000 mostly Mayan indigenous were slaughtered. In 1999, President Clinton apologized to the world for what has been described as U.S. support of genocide.

In the clearest of terms, Ms. Harbury described not only her husband’s torture and the Guatemalan catastrophe. Even more importantly, she explained in the clearest of terms, the connections between our current refugee and immigrant crisis on the one hand and the war against the drug trade on the other.

The story goes like this.

During the 1980s the Reagan administration followed by the Clintons waged illegal wars against Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Honduras. The ostensible idea was to stop the spread of communism in tiny countries whose brutal military dictatorships the U.S. had supported for decades. Atrocities by the Guatemalan army prevented starving poor people from trying a way other than obeisance to dictatorships in order to feed, nourish and educate their children.

To fund those illegal wars, the CIA sold drugs. They got them from places like Colombia, Costa Rica, and Mexico. They peddled them through street gangs located in the United States. In the process, Central American military intelligence officers – “assets” trained in the School of the Americas and equipped by the CIA – got very rich.

When the 1980s wars in Central America officially ended, the now-unemployed CIA assets wondered how to continue raking in their money. The obvious solution was to keep doing what they had done as long as they could remember – to terrorize, torture and slaughter their own people. But this time they did it without the benefit of the anti-communism fig leaf. They committed mayhem without lofty pretense – just for the money and to protect the drug trade. The profits remained huge.

In other words, the former CIA assets never finished their U.S.-funded wars against their own. They just formed drug cartels – brutal gangs exquisitely trained in torture and armed to the teeth by the United States. And the kicker was, they enjoyed virtual immunity from prosecution by the U.S. government and its celebrated “War on Drugs.” That’s because the latter’s policy is always (when possible) to protect assets who in the past have served it well.

That’s right: contrary to what Attorney General Sessions tells us, the cartels are not apolitical “street gangs.” They’re not super-predator kids. They are business men with military training and friends in very high places. Their identities are well-known and documented in U.S. government files. But those records remain closed to the public.

So, instead of prosecuting the legally invulnerable drug king-pins, the United States has decided to prosecute their victims – the Central American and Mexican refugees stuck on the border between Mexico and the United States. These include farmers who refuse to grow drugs, young men opting out of membership in drug gangs, businesses owners choosing not to cooperate, people who “know too much,” social-justice activists, women who object to their husbands’ or sons’ involvement, reporters documenting the cartels’ atrocities, academics and researchers – and all the consequently endangered families, along with those “tender age” children stuck in border concentration camps, black sites, and baby jails.

All of them should be protected by laws shielding such refugees. The United States is signatory to many such provisions.

So, what should be done in the face of these clear facts? It’s not as hopeless as you think:

• Begin by observing the law: take in those refugees as stipulated by U.S.-sanctioned international law.
• Release the documents identifying the CIA assets-turned-cartel-gangsters.
• Arrest, try and imprison them.
• Using the same documents, identify the CIA and other government officials responsible for funding the 1980s Genocide Wars with drug money.
• Arrest, try and imprison them as well even if they once held (or even now hold) the highest of offices.
• Defund the drug war.
• Instead, spend its plenty on rebuilding the countries the United States has destroyed by more than a century of supporting dictators, genocidal wars, and by its tolerance and protection of drug cartels and lords.
• In so doing, remove the cause of the current “refugee and immigrant crisis.”

Most Christians Hate People like Jesus: (Homily for 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time)

SON OF GOD
(Forensic archeologists’ estimation of what Jesus probably looked like)

Readings for 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Ps. 123; Ez. 2:2-5; 2 Cor. 12:7-10; Mk. 6:1-6

Today’s liturgy is about prophecy, and about how difficult it is to be a prophet. Prophets are usually vilified and hated. That was the case with Ezekiel whose vocation story we find in today’s first reading. There he is warned that many will reject what God tells him to say. After all, his message was so shocking and blasphemous. At the beginning of the 6th century B.C.E., Ezekiel said that God’s People had strayed so far from Yahweh that the Babylonians would come and destroy the Temple – the very dwelling place of God. That was like predicting the death of God. In modern terms, it was atheistic.

Jesus of Nazareth was also hated right from the start. Today’s second reading shows that. There Jesus finds himself a “prophet without honor” in his home town and even among his own family members. Nazareth saw him as a hometown boy who (as they say in Kentucky where I come from) had “gotten above his raisin’s.”

Who did he think he was trying to teach them anything? He was that kid whose nose they had wiped growing up. He wasn’t a scholar. In fact, he could barely read. He was just a working stiff carpenter. He was the son of that woman, Mary. Who knows who his father was? (By the way, the townspeople’s identification Jesus by his mother’s name in today’s reading and not by his father’s, was extremely insulting. It indicated that his father was unknown. It was like calling him a bastard or S.O.B.) So Jesus was rejected by his neighbors and relatives in no uncertain terms. It is told that following his first sermon in Nazareth, they actually tried to kill him.

And it got worse from there. Like Ezekiel, Jesus too predicted the destruction of the Temple – a successor to the one that was rebuilt after the Babylonians did what Ezekiel said they would – level it to the ground. When they heard Jesus’ prophecy about God’s dwelling place, everyone who mattered scorned him – the scribes, Pharisees, Sadducees, the Temple high priests, the Romans. In their eyes, Jesus had turned against religion. Even his disreputable mother and the brothers and sisters mentioned in today’s Gospel accused Jesus of losing his mind. They thought he had gone absolutely crazy.

As far as the powerful were concerned, Jesus had not only gotten above his raisin’s; he was not merely (in modern terms) atheistic; he was an agent of the devil himself. Jesus was possessed. That was the worst insult anyone in Jesus’ culture could deliver. It would be like calling him a terrorist or Communist today. In fact, the Romans did consider Jesus a terrorist. That’s indicated by the form of execution they used on him. Crucifixion was reserved for insurgents and terrorists. Politically and historically, it speaks volumes to say that Jesus was crucified. (What did he do to make the Romans classify him as they did?)

And yet Jesus was wildly popular among the poor and powerless outside of Nazareth. He was one of them. He looked like them. As pictured above, he was unimposing – probably about 5’1” and weighing about 110 pounds (if we are to believe forensic archeologists). His skin was brown. His hands were calloused. And his message was tailored especially for the poor. His initial sermon in Nazareth began: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed.” That was Jesus’ program – a message of liberation for the poor.

Jesus’ message then was not about himself. It centralized what he called “the Kingdom of God.” His was a utopian vision of what the world would be like if God were king instead of Caesar. In that realm everything would be turned upside down. The poor would be rich; the rich would be poor; the last would be first, and the first would be last. Prostitutes would enter the kingdom; the religious leaders would trail after them. No wonder Jesus’ message resonated so well among the downtrodden, the poor and sex workers. No wonder, he was feared and vilified by the rich, powerful and respectable.

And no wonder that kind of Jesus is virtually unknown today. The fact is, he continues to be hated even by those who call themselves “Christian.” I mean, we still don’t like scruffy or poor. We don’t like small, brown, working class or barely literate. We don’t like prostitutes. We don’t like utopian. And we don’t believe, as Jesus did, that another world is possible. So if Jesus came among us, we’d probably respond like his hometown crowd. We’d be like Ezekiel’s audience described in our first reading – “rebellious,” “obstinate,” and “stubborn.” We’re not only unreceptive to people like Jesus. We’re positively hostile – ironically in the name of Christianity itself.

Why is that? It’s because Christianity was hijacked way back in the 4th century. At that point and for various reasons too complicated to rehearse now, it became the official religion of the Roman Empire. To achieve that status, the scandalous prophetic faith of Jesus had to be domesticated beginning with Jesus himself. So the champion of the poor was transformed from a counter-cultural outlaw to a “King” – and yes, to a “God” resembling quite closely those war-deities the Romans worshipped like Jupiter and Mithras.

Jesus’ message then became not about God’s Kingdom, not about the “other world” that is possible here and now, but about himself and that familiar “other world” up in the sky to be inherited when we die. Being Christian became about “accepting Jesus as your personal savior,” about being a Good American, and supporting a military whose chief task, by the way, is to keep people like Jesus in their place. That kind of Jesus, that kind of message was acceptable to the Romans and their successors as well as to the equivalents of the scribes, Pharisees, Sadducees, and High Priests. It was acceptable because it was anti-Kingdom as Jesus understood it. Christians don’t like that Kingdom.

Such considerations are not trivial. They are necessary not only for rescuing Christianity from its centuries-long perversions; they are required for saving our very world. I mean Christianity has been turned upside-down and its ship needs to be righted. Ever since the 4th century, Jesus and the church have been used by the forces of conservatism (those who would keep the world as it is) to subdue the weak and support the wars of the powerful against those without public power. It’s happening now before our very eyes.

But who can believe that? We are so brainwashed! Believing that would mean honoring the poor and turning against the rich and against empire. It would mean loving and honoring scruffy, small, poor, brown, working class, utopian, disreputable, illegitimate, and illiterate. It would mean seeing the prostitutes as holier than the pope! In Paul’s terms in today’s second reading, following the Jesus rejected by his townspeople entails finding salvation in what the world rejects as weak and without honor. And which of us can do that in the “most powerful country in the world,” where “pride” is not the leader in the list of Seven Deadly Sins, but an honored boast? “U.S.A.! U.S.A.!”

No, we just don’t like people like Jesus. Repentance (for me at least) means reversing all of that. What would such reversal entail? And what does repentance mean for you in the light of today’s readings? (Discussion follows)

A Very Sad Independence Day

Weeping Lady Liberty

The following reflection somehow seems appropriate for the 4th of July when everyone is celebrating our Founding Fathers and our great democratic tradition.

The piece comes out of a family discussion that took place about three weeks ago. In the exchange, I ended up characterizing the detainment facilities for refugees and migrants attempting to cross our borders as “concentration camps.” I was told in no uncertain terms that my comparison was inflammatory since it evoked inappropriate connections with Hitler’s extermination camps – an implied comparison that, for my conversation partners, was way “over the top.” We have no extermination camps, they said.

From there the conversation spun to more detailed comparisons of the United States to Hitler’s Third Reich and to what I and so many others perceive as a return of fascism, which I connected with capitalism. Once again, my observations were dismissed as wildly exaggerated, too general and jumping all over the place, bringing up issues not germane to the topic at hand. My references were to Iraq, Yemen, police brutality, xenophobia,

All of that drove me to compose the following essay more for myself than for anyone else — to clarify my own thought. To repeat, it seems appropriate for publication here on this 4th of July.

Hitler Redivivus:
How He Has Returned Triumphant in the Person of Donald Trump

Let me begin this piece on the contemporary return of fascism with an “easy essay” I wrote back in 1993. Today, the essay’s description of the triumph of “Hitlerism with Hitler” is proving far more prescient than I realized in the moment of its composition. Its form follows the spirit of Catholic Workers’ co-founder, Peter Maurin, who invented the poetic “easy essay” genre when he wrote for the Catholic Worker newspaper which he founded with Dorothy Day.

This particular imitation of Maurin’s style references Marge Schott, an infamous admirer of Adolph Hitler. Schott is the deceased owner of the Cincinnati Reds baseball team. She was a racist and collector of Nazi memorabilia. Besides disdaining some of her players as “nigger millionaires,” she once famously said that Hitler was originally “a good guy,” until he “went too far.”

As you’ll see, the essay is about Ms. Schott’s hero and how he and the system he embodied actually did win World War II and has reincarnated today in thinly disguised form. That is, Hitlerism with its fascism, concentration camps, and genocide have in this era of Donald Trump more evidently returned to our world than seemed possible to most 25 years ago when I first published my own easy essay.

For starters though, here’s the Maurin-inspired piece as I originally wrote it:

Hitler, Bonhoeffer, Jesus and Us
(An “Easy Essay” with apologies to the memory of Peter Maurin and thanks
to Marge Schott)

Following Germany’s defeat
in “the First Inter-Capitalist War,”
the system was in trouble in das Vaterland.
It also foundered world-wide
after the Crash of ‘29.
So, Joseph Stalin
convoked a Congress of Victory
to celebrate the death of capitalism
and the End of History —
in 1934.

Both Hitler and F.D.R.
tried to revive the corpse.
They enacted similar measures:
government funds to stimulate private sector production,
astronomically increased defense spending,
nationalization of some enterprises,
while carefully keeping most in the hands of private individuals.
To prevent workers from embracing communism,
both enacted social programs otherwise distasteful to the Ruling Class,
but necessary to preserve their system:
legalized unions, minimum wage, shortened work days, safety regulation, social security . . .

Roosevelt called it a “New Deal;”
Hitler’s term was “National Socialism.”
Roosevelt used worker discontent
with their jobs and bosses
to get elected four times.
Meanwhile, Hitler successfully directed worker rage
away from the Krupps and Bayers
and towards the usual scapegoats:
Jews, communists, gays, blacks, foreigners and Gypsies.

He admired the American extermination of “Indians”
and used that model of starvation and internment
to guide his own program for eliminating undesirables
by hunger and concentrated slaughter.
Hitler strictly controlled national unions,
thus relieving the worries of the German elite.
In all of this,
he received the support of mainline churches.
Pius XII even praised der Führer as
“an indispensable bulwark against communism.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the German “Confessing Church”
resisted Hitler’s program
of social Darwinism, patriotism and persecution of the undeserving.
Confessing faithful were critical of “religion”
which combined anti-Semitism, white supremacy, patriotism and xenophobia
with selected elements of Christianity.
They insisted on allegiance
to Jesus alone
who stood in judgment over soil, fatherland, flag and blood.
They even urged Christian patriots
to pray for their country’s defeat in war.
Bonhoeffer participated in a plot to assassinate Hitler
and explored the promise of
Christianity without “religion.”

Hitler initially enjoyed great popularity
with the powerful
outside of Germany,
in Europe and America.
He did!
Then as baseball magnate and used car saleswoman, Marge Schott, put it,
“He went too far.”
His crime, however, was not gassing Jews,
but trying to subordinate his betters in the club
of white, European, capitalist patriarchs.
He thus evoked their ire
and the “Second Inter-Capitalist War.”

Following the carnage,
the industrialists in other countries
embraced Hitlerism without Hitler.
They made sure that communists, socialists and other “partisans”
who bravely resisted German occupation
did not come to political power,
but that those who had cooperated with Nazis did.

Today, the entrepreneurial classes
still support Nazis, whenever necessary.
The “Hitlers” they love have aliases
like D’Aubisson (El Salvador), Diem (Vietnam), Duvalier (Haiti), Franco (Spain),
Fujimori (Peru), Mobutu (Zaire), Montt (Guatemala), Noriega (Panama), Peron (Argentina), Pinochet (Chile), Pol Pot (Cambodia), Resa Palavi (Iran), Saddam Hussein (Iraq), Somoza (Nicaragua), Strossner (Paraguay), Suharto (Indonesia). . . .
The list is endless.

The global elite deflect worker hostility
away from themselves
towards communists, blacks, gays, immigrants and Muslims,
towards poor women who stay at home
and middle class women who leave home to work.
Today, Christians embrace social Darwinism
while vehemently rejecting evolution.
Standing on a ground of being
underpinning the world’s most prominent culture
of religious fundamentalism,
they long for Hoover,
and coalesce
with the right.

In all of this
is forgotten the Jesus of the New Testament
who was born a homeless person
to an unwed,
teenage mother,
was an immigrant in Egypt for a while,
came from the working poor,
was accused of being a drunkard,
a friend of sex workers,
irreligious,
possessed by demons
and condemned by the state
a victim of torture
and of capital punishment.

Does this make anyone wonder about Marge Schott,
the difference between Hitler’s system
and our own,
and also about “religion”
and how to be free of it,
about false Christs . . .
And who won that war anyway?

Fascism

Having summarized my general argument in that easy essay, the first point to be clarified is the nature of fascism. As I argue in my new book, The Magic Glasses of Critical Thinking: seeing through alternative fact and fake news, fascism is really a species of capitalism. In my book, I call it “capitalism in crisis.”

What I mean is, fascism is the form capitalism often assumes when the free market’s endemic dysfunctions (periodic downturns, creation of obscene wealth disparities, inability to address environmental pollution, labor unrest, etc.) endanger its very survival. In its fascistic form, the system morphs into a police state.

With such enforcement, fascism’s essence may be summarized in three points. It is (1) Police State capitalism, (2) that favors the culture’s elite, and (3) blames the system’s disfunctions on scapegoats – in Hitler’s case on communists, socialists, Jews, Gypsies, blacks, and the disabled.

That’s the 1930s form capitalism took not only in Germany, but in Italy, Spain, Portugal and elsewhere during the Great Depression following the systems worst crisis ever precipitated by the Stock Market Crash of 1929.

However, since pure capitalism does not really exist in unregulated, free-market form, it is not exactly accurate to describe fascism as a kind of capitalism. That is, especially since the Crash of ’29, to insure its survival, capitalism has had to adopt elements of socialism such as: social security, minimum wages, severe limits on income, rent control, unions, guaranteed health care, public schooling, food subsidies, creation of national parks, etc. Economists call such provisions combined with free markets, “mixed economies.”

To cope with the problems of the Great Depression, such accommodations with socialism became so common that it is now true to say that neither capitalism nor socialism in their pure forms exist today – if indeed they ever did. Instead, mixed economies are all we have in the world. All economies are mixtures of capitalism and socialism.

This, however, does not mean that all economies are the same. The crucial question distinguishing, for example, Hitler’s mixed economy from that of Franklin Roosevelt is: “Mixed in favor of whom?” Hitler’s economy was mixed in favor of blond, blue-eyed Arians. Roosevelt’s with its social security and high taxes on the wealthy was modestly mixed in favor of working classes.

Or to put it in more contemporary terms, “Mixed in favor of whom?” is the crucial question differentiating Cuba’s mixed economy from that of the United States. The United States economy is unabashedly mixed in favor of the wealthy on the theory that the abundance enjoyed by the rich will trickle down to the general population. Cuba’s on the contrary is mixed in favor of the working classes based on the observation that the system’s “trickle” is never enough to provide a decent standard of living for entire populations.

Fascism Today
Its Concentration Camps

The argument in my earlier quoted easy essay was that Hitler’s system, whatever we might call it, persisted following his presumed defeat in 1945. More specifically, in our own day, our country has been taken over by fascist criminals like Hitler. But, let’s be clear: this is not a new phenomenon begun with the presidency of Donald Trump. No, the take-over has been in process at least since the end of the Second Inter-Capitalist War in 1945.

In fact, the argument can be credibly made that our country was founded by such criminals. Using rationale supplied by John Locke, our Founding Fathers committed genocide against North America’s indigenous peoples, eventually confining them in concentration camps (called “reservations”). They employed the same logic to enslave workers kidnapped from Africa imprisoning them in labor camps (called “plantations”).

For Locke, who inspired Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence, the crucial and ironic pronouncement behind such operations was that “All men are created equal.” But note well that in his formulation, the statement had no liberating relevance for Native Americans, African slaves, women or propertyless whites. Instead, its expressed intention was to establish the right of imperialists like him and his cohorts to steal land and resources from the continent’s indigenous inhabitants.

Locke’s point (as explained in The Magic Glasses of Critical Thinking) was that just because the “Indians” were here first, they had no special claim on the lands they called home. That is, since (in Locke’s estimation) huge tracts were not being farmed as they would be in England, they were there for the taking by the Indians’ equals from Great Britain.

Locke said that a refusal by the Indians to recognize such equality amounted to a declaration of war against the British. So, the natives could be exterminated with abandon – a task our country’s great Indian Fighters took on with enthusiasm and relish creating a holocaust that killed millions.

Adolph Hitler himself took inspiration from the examples just cited. He liked the concept of concentration and work camps. He was expressly impressed by the efficiency of U.S. extermination of our continent’s First Peoples. It inspired him and evidently the minds behind contemporary concentration camps.

With all this in mind, it is no exaggeration to say that the camps are reincarnating today before our very eyes. Our government has set them up world-wide. They are so ubiquitous and normalized that they remain practically invisible. But consider their contemporary equivalents in:

• The U.S. prison-industrial complex itself for blacks, browns and poor whites transforming “Americans” into the most imprisoned population on the planet
• Guantanamo Bay for holding “terrorists” who after years of internment and torture have yet to be charged with crime and which Fuhrer Trump promises to fill to the brim
• Black Sites concealed throughout the world where kidnapped Muslims and others disappear without a trace and are tortured without mercy
• Fort Bliss (sic), a concentration camp for immigrant children
• Baby Prisons for infants as young as four months
• Detention centers for refugees from U.S. wars of aggression in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Yemen and elsewhere
• Family prisons immigrant workers from Mexico and Central America as they await trials which can be postponed indefinitely
• The Gaza Strip, the world’s largest open-air prison for Muslim Palestinians, “the Jews’ Jews” – unconditionally endorsed by U.S. politicians of all stripes

Fascism Today
Its Genocides

In such hell-holes the criminals (often the guards) commit murders, rapes and inflict torture with impunity. Nonetheless, since Hitler, it is no longer permissible for such polite company to crudely incinerate victims in ovens or to poison them in gas chambers. (That would be too “inhumane” and reminiscent of the unspeakable.) So, today’s executioners murder and incinerate Muslims (today’s “Jews”), and others on site. (It saves the trouble and expense of packing them into box cars.)

In other words, the executioners travel to the victims’ countries of origin in the Middle East and Africa and do the dirty work there – often from 10,000 feet in the air, where the screams of incinerated Muslim children cannot be heard. They cremate their victims more humanely in the targets’ own homes with napalm and white phosphorous. Alternatively, “pilots” seated comfortably in their air-conditioned “theaters” send automated death squads (killer drones) to decapitate those suspected of evil thoughts. In the process, the system’s butchers have massacred millions far exceeding anything imagined by that little man with the toothbrush mustache:

• Already by 1978, John Stockwell, the highly decorated ex-CIA Station Chief in Angola, estimated that his agency’s “Secret Wars” had killed more than six million in its dirty wars against the world’s poor. In Stockwell’s own words, every one of those wars was illegal and “bloody and gory and beyond comprehension almost.”

• Add to that
o The hundreds of thousands slaughtered during the 1980s in El Salvador,
Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Honduras
o More than a million victims in the completely illegal war in Iraq
o Untold fatalities in Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Ethiopia,
o The 10,000 already killed in Yemen, the poorest country in the Middle
East – with the numbers increasing each day from cholera and
intentionally-inflicted starvation

Again, the numbers are staggering – far beyond anything accomplished in Hitler’s death camps.

Meanwhile, at home, “Americans” are dissuaded from protest by a militarized skin-head police force of body-builders and thugs. “Dressed to kill” in their black or camouflaged flack suits, and anonymous under their helmets and behind polarized face-shields, they stand ready with batons, tasers, and AK47s – as well as employing surplus military tanks, and Humvees – to punish anyone who dares opposition.

Conclusion

Connect such apparently disparate issues – Hitler, concentration camps, extermination, the prison-industrial complex, U.S. wars of aggression, Stockwell’s calculation of 6 million victims, Guantanamo, torture, militarized police, Palestine, unpunished police killings of unarmed blacks, Black Lives Matter, black sites, Muslim bans, baby jails . . . – and one might well get accused of “changing the subject” or “jumping all over the place” or of being a negative alarmist.

But the truth is, the dots, though scattered, are there just waiting to be linked, just as they were in Germany during Hitler’s rise to power. As then, the basic connection is the crisis of capitalism as described in my earlier-shared easy essay. With that crisis becoming more evident each day, fascism’s arrival has been clearly signaled, though its concentration camps and holocausts have been effectively renamed and camouflaged. As a result of such stealth and rebranding, the system’s reappearance has passed almost without notice.

However, patriots like John Stockwell have seen it coming since 1978. More recently, so has Michael Moore. It’s high time for the rest of us to take note!

Jesus Was a Radical Feminist: Homily for 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Bleeding Woman

Sunday’s Readings: Wisdom 1:13-16, 2:23-24; Ps. 30:2, 4-6, 11-13; 2Cor. 8:7, 9, 13-16; Mk. 5:21-43

My wife, Peggy, is a radical feminist. As director of the Women and Gender Studies Program at Berea College in Kentucky, she has always been so.

Whenever we discuss world issues, my tendency is to trace their roots to capitalism. Peggy’s is to find their origins in patriarchy. Capitalism itself, she says, is founded on patriarchy. Until we realize that and address the influence of patriarchy, nothing can really change.

She goes on. Ironically, patriarchy has men making decisions for women on issues that impact females much more directly than males – matters such as contraception, maternity leave, funding for childcare, abortion, wage disparity between men and women, the Equal Rights Amendment, and wages for housework. All of that, she adds, has to change.

I find Peggy’s logic and criticism compelling. This morning’s gospel reading indicates that Jesus would too.

In fact, the gospels in general show Jesus himself to be a radical feminist. In addressing specifically female issues, he favored women who spoke for themselves and courageously exercised their own initiative. Jesus even praised women who disobeyed laws aimed against them precisely as women. He ended up preferring the disobedient ones to females who were passive captives of the religious patriarchy. To repeat: we find an example of such radical feminism on the part of Jesus in today’s reading from the Mark’s gospel.

First of all, consider Mark’s literary strategy. In today’s reading he creates a “literary sandwich” – a “story within a story.” The device focuses on two kinds of females within the Jewish faith of Jesus’ day. In fact, Mark’s gospel is liberally sprinkled with doublets like the one just described. When they appear, both stories are meant to play off one another and illuminate each other.

In today’s doublet, we find two women. One is just entering puberty at the age of 12; the other has had a menstrual problem for the entire life span of the adolescent girl. (Today we’d call her condition a kind of menorrhagia.) So, to begin with the number 12 is centralized. It’s a literary “marker” suggesting that the narrative has something to do with the twelve tribes of Israel – and in the early church, with the apostolic leadership of “the twelve.” The connection with Israel is confirmed by the fact that the 12-year old in the story is the daughter of a synagogue official. As a man in a patriarchal culture, he can approach Jesus directly and speak for his daughter.

The other woman in the doublet has no man to speak for her; she has to approach Jesus covertly and on her own. She comes from the opposite end of the socio-economic spectrum from the 12-year old daughter of the synagogue leader. The older woman is without honor. She is poor and penniless. Her menstrual problem has rendered her sterile, and so she’s considered technically dead by her faith community.

Her condition has also excluded her from the synagogue. In the eyes of community leaders like Jairus, the petitioning father in the story, she is “unclean.” (Remember that according to Jewish law, all women were considered unclean during their monthly period. So, the woman in today’s drama is exceedingly unclean. She and all menstruating women were not to be touched.)

All of that means that Jairus as a synagogue leader is in effect the patriarchal oppressor of the second woman. On top of that, the older woman in the story has been humiliated, exploited, and impoverished by the male medical profession which has been ineffective in addressing her condition.

In other words, the second woman is the victim of a misogynist religious system which, by the way, saw the blood of animals as valuable and pleasing in God’s eyes, but the blood of women as repulsively unclean.

Nonetheless, it is the bleeding woman who turns out to be the hero of the story. Her faith is so strong that she believes a mere touch of Jesus’ garment will suffice to restore her to life, and that her action won’t even be noticed. So, she reaches out and touches the Master. Doing so was extremely bold and highly disobedient to Jewish law, since her touch would have rendered Jesus himself unclean. She refuses to believe that.

Instead of being made unclean by the woman’s touch, Jesus’ being responds by exuding healing power, apparently without his even being aware. The woman is cured. Jesus asks, “Who touched me?” The disciples object, “What do you mean? Everybody’s touching you,” they say.

Finally, the unclean woman is identified. Jesus praises her faith and (significantly!) calls her “daughter.” (What we therefore end up finding in this literary doublet are two Jewish “daughters” – yet another point of comparison.)

While Jesus is attending to the bleeding woman, the first daughter in the story apparently dies. Jesus insists on seeing her anyhow. When he observes that she is merely asleep, the bystanders laugh him to scorn. But Jesus is right. When he speaks to her in Aramaic, the girl awakens and is hungry. Mark records Jesus’ actual words. The Master says, “Talitha Kumi,” i.e. “Wake up!” Everyone is astonished, and Jesus has to remind them to feed her.

What does all the comparison mean? The doublet represented in today’s Gospel addresses issues that couldn’t be more female – more feminist. The message here is that bold and active women unafraid of disobeying the religious patriarchy will save our world from death. It will awaken us from our death-like slumber.
“Believe and act like the bleeding woman” is the message of today’s Gospel. “Otherwise our world will be for all practical purposes dead.”

Could this possibly mean that feminist faith like that of the hero in today’s Gospel will ultimately be our salvation from patriarchy? Is our reading calling us to a world led by women rather than the elderly, white, out-of-touch men who overwhelmingly claim hold elective office?

My Peggy would say yes.

Today’s Gospel, she would say, suggests that it’s time for men to stop telling women how to be women – to stop pronouncing on issues of female sexuality whether it be menstruation, abortion, contraception, same-sex attractions, or whether women are called by God to the priesthood.

Correspondingly, it’s time for women to disobey such male pronouncements, and to exercise leadership in accord with their common sense – in accord with women’s ways of knowing. Only that will save our world which is currently sick unto death.

Talitha Kumi! It’s time to wake up.

Borders Are for Poor Suckers Like Us, Never for the Rich: Tear Down That Wall!

Borders

Isn’t it interesting how the world’s richest 1% have managed to convince most among us that the world’s poorest 1% are responsible for all of our problems? These days, they have us talking about almost nothing else.

Yes, billionaires like Donald Trump and his effete allies in D.C. have pulled “the immigrant problem” completely out of the air. And they’ve done it precisely to paper over the fact that they themselves, not the poor, are the cause of our genuinely distressing economic and social problems. It’s all a familiar diversionary tactic to keep us from seeing how the rich are screwing us over every single day.

Think about it. What troubles us aren’t immigrants and refugees who are somehow alien. Hell, if we’re not Native Americans, every one of us comes from immigrant (not to say “invader”) stock or from slaves brought here against their wills by immigrants. Every one of us!

No, our problems are persistent low wages, the emergence of the gig-economy, withdrawal of worker benefits, destruction of unions, police brutality towards people of color, lack of decent health care, deteriorating infrastructure, underfunded schools, impoverishing student debt, disappearance of retirement prospects, a bloated military budget, the threat of nuclear war, climate change denial, voter suppression, mass imprisonment of non-violent offenders, and a nation-wide drug problem induced by Big Pharma.

That’s the short list of our country’s real dilemmas. They are caused by the filthy rich who give themselves the very tax breaks that rob our common treasury and necessitate the austerity measures the wealthy prescribe for the rest of us.

Nonetheless, those plutocrats want us to take our eyes off that particular ball. Instead, they’d have us believe that the very refugees whose homes and jobs, schools and hospitals have been destroyed by the one-percent’s endless wars in the Middle East are somehow attacking the rest of us. Similarly-guilty, they say, are those fleeing the chaos and gang violence produced by the illegal counter-revolutionary wars waged by “our” country in Central America throughout the 1980s. The same for simple Mexican farmers displaced by NAFTA provisions favoring U.S. corn over locally-produced maize; that’s what’s made them poor and jobless.

As a result, all of those just mentioned – victims of our unjust wars and one-sided trade policies – along with their children, have been excluded from entry to the U.S. whose borders, our “leaders” tell us are somehow sacrosanct as if created by God. So, (we are told) we must pay for a multi-billion-dollar wall to exclude the victims the billionaires have created and characterized as rapists, gang-members, drug dealers, and criminals.

Thing is: borders are completely arbitrary; they’re fictions the rich would have the rest of us worship, while they pay them no mind. That’s another thing to think about.

In historical perspective, current demarcation lines dividing countries are totally artificial and changeable. Many of them, for instance in Africa and the Middle East, were drawn up in a field tent by basically ignorant imperial generals.

The colonial outsiders’ overriding interest was accessing the resources of the areas in question. So, they formed alliances with local chiefs, called them “kings” of their new “nations,” and drew those lines I mentioned describing the area the nouveau royalty would govern.

But the colonial conquerors did so without knowledge of traditional tribal habitats, shared languages, or blood connections between families their random lines separated. As a result, from the viewpoint of the groups divided, the problem with borders is not that people cross them, but that the borders cross peoples.

Closer to home, that ironic crossing phenomenon is best illustrated in the cases of Texas, California, New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona, and Utah. Before 1848, all those states were part of Mexico. Then following the Mexican-American War (1846-’48), the U.S. border crossed Mexicans in those new states and they suddenly became foreigners in what previously had been their own country.

In 1848, ordinary Mexicans viewed the entire process as highway robbery. As a result, their descendants often speak of contemporary Mexican migration to “America” as a Reconquista – a justified re-conquest of lands stolen from their forebears.

Nevertheless, 170 years later President Trump wants to solidify America’s unlawful annexation of huge swaths of Mexico by building a wall along this relatively new line of separation. His argument is that borders are holy, and that people who cross them are “illegals” and criminal. But that just raises questions about his rich confreres’ attitude towards borders.

So, let’s consider that second point.

Fact is: The rich disrespect borders in two principal ways, one questionably “legal” and the other completely otherwise.

So-called legal border crossings are claimed as a right by international corporations. According to its free enterprise principles, Wal-Mart, for example, has the right to set up shop wherever it wishes, regardless of any resulting impact on local merchants, farmers, or suppliers. Thus, capitalists claim license to cross into Mexico in pursuit of profit. They legalize their border crossing by signing agreements like NAFTA with their rich Mexican counterparts.

Meanwhile, workers (the second equally key factor in the capitalist equation) who are impoverished by “free trade” enjoy no similar entitlements. For them, borders are supposed to be inviolable, even though the boundaries prevent them from imitating the rich by serving their own economic interests – in their case, by emigrating to wherever the availability of good wages dictates.

Workers everywhere intuitively recognize the double standard at work here. So, they defiantly cross borders without permission.

The other disrespect for borders on the part of the rich is more insidious. It takes the form of their own defiant transgression of international law by crossing borders to drop bombs on poor people wherever and whenever they wish, without formal declaration of war. (Imagine if poor countries claimed that same right vis a vis their wealthy counterparts, because they consider the wealthy’s bombing raids and drone operations as “terrorism.”) Let’s face it: in the so-called “war on terror,” borders have become completely meaningless – for the rich.

The point is that we “Americans” need to re-examine our attitudes towards borders and border walls. Borders, after all, are not sacred to the rich. Never have been. So why should rich corporatists expect workers and refugees from their destructive and illegal border-crossings to respect boundaries the elite have drawn so arbitrarily and violated so cavalierly?

I’ll say it again: in the eyes of Mr. Trump, borders are for suckers and poor working stiffs, not for people like him.

The truth is, however, that borders should be the same for everyone, regardless of wealth and power. If capital has the right to disregard borders, so should labor. If the workers cannot cross them, neither should rich investors.

Mr. Trump, tear down that wall!

Jeff Sessions as Mullah: His Christianist Version of Sharia Law

immigrant mothers

Last Wednesday and Thursday were the most theological days I can remember.

It all revolved around the Trump administration’s practice of separating children from their immigrant parents, including tearing nursing infants from the breasts of their mothers and the attendant prospect of “baby jails.”

To begin with, the Roman Catholic Bishops’ Conference condemned such policy as clearly immoral.

Even evangelical Trump supporter, Franklin Graham, called the Trump policy “disgraceful.”

In response, Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, offered his best imitation of the Islamic theocrats his type loves to vilify. Instead of invoking U.S. law, the Constitution, or legal and historical precedent, the nation’s leading law enforcement agent decided to justify Trump policy theologically. He claimed that the apostle Paul would endorse it, since the program comes from government, which Sessions declared enjoys ipso facto divine authority.

Sharia Law, anyone?

More specifically, the AG referenced Romans 13. He said, “I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13 to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained them for the purpose of order.”

The next day, Mr. Trump’s press secretary, Sarah Sanders followed suit averring that “It is very biblical to enforce the law.”

Such theological debate invites refutation.

The first response is that Paul obviously could not have meant that all government legislation reflects the will of God. That would mean not only that the U.S. slave system was divinely approved, but that the decrees of Genghis Kahn, Hitler, and Stalin enjoyed divine approbation.

Even closer to home, the Sessions interpretation of Romans 13 would mean that Jesus himself, Paul, and all the great Christian martyrs – not to mention religiously-motivated champions of civil disobedience like Martin King and Mohandas Gandhi – were all condemned by God.

On the contrary, all of them (including Gandhi), drew inspiration from the example of biblical prophets who made a point of disobeying laws which routinely claimed divine origin.

In fact, Jesus’ defense for breaking the most inviolable law of his time, the Sabbath Law, was that law’s very purpose was to serve human beings. Laws contradicting such humanitarian purpose, he implied, have no authority at all.

So, what, then, did Paul intend by his words, “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God”?

Try this:
• Authority means the power or right to give orders, make decisions, and enforce obedience.
• All such power comes from God and God’s law.
• Government legislation reflecting God’s law must be obeyed.
• Obviously, all other laws must be disobeyed.
• According to Jesus’ teachings, God’s law is to treat others as you would like to be treated with special care for the poor, widows, orphans, and immigrants.

In the end, the great Dr. William Barber II, the dynamic animator of the contemporary Poor People’s Campaign gave the best response to the self-serving absurdity and hypocrisy of Mullah Sessions’ invocation of the Judeo-Christian tradition. Barber called their interpretations “heresy” and said:

“First of all, (they’re) misinterpreting that text. Paul actually was arrested by the government, because Christians challenged the government. That’s one of the reasons Paul ends up getting killed. . . Second of all, the Bible is clear, from the Old Testament to the New Testament, that one of God’s primary concerns is that we care for the stranger, that we do not rob children of their rights, and mothers of their children, that we welcome the stranger and make sure that the stranger, the immigrant, the undocumented person, is treated like a brother or sister. You cannot find anywhere where Jesus or the prophets would say anything like what Sessions said.”

Today it’s immigrants. One wonders about the next victims of Sessions’ Christian counterpart of Sharia Law. Beware!