Bernie Reminds Us that Christianity Is Communism & Jesus Was a Communist!

Bernie

Readings for the 1st Sunday after Easter: Acts 2:42-47; PS 118:2-4, 13-15, 22-29; I PT 1:3-9; JN 20:19-31

Recently, Mother Jones reported that self-identified socialist, Bernie Sanders, is the most popular politician in America. Almost 60 percent of Americans view the Vermont senator favorably.

Bernie’s even more popular among Democratic voters, blacks, and Hispanics. Eighty percent of Democrats, 73 percent of registered black voters, and 68 percent of registered Hispanic voters have favorable opinions of the 75 year old politician.

All of this signals an unbelievable achievement for an economic system we’ve been taught to hate. Long before the Second Inter-Capitalist War (1939-’45), and especially since then, Americans have been subjected to unrelenting anti-socialist propaganda from every side – school, church, media, politicians . . . And following the 1989 fall of the Soviet Union no one wanted to be even remotely associated with socialism, much less with communism.

But things have changed. Fifty-three percent of millennials now have a favorable view of socialism. Sixty-nine percent would cast their ballot for a socialist in a presidential election.

Again: in the light of all that negative indoctrination, that’s incredible. Even if poll-respondents are fuzzy about their understanding of socialism, the phenomena indicate that Americans are profoundly dissatisfied with socialism’s opposite, the reigning capitalist order.

All of that is relevant to today’s liturgy of the word, where the first reading reminds us that (as Mexico’s Jose Miranda says directly) socialism and even communism originated in Christianity. It doesn’t come from Marx and Engels.

In fact, Miranda goes further. He says Christianity is communism. And I think he’s right. Just look at today’s description of life among Jesus’ first followers after the experience they called his “resurrection”:

“All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their property and possessions and divide them among all according to each one’s need.”

Luke the evangelist repeats that refrain later in his “Acts of the Apostles” when he writes:
“Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common . . . There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to any as had need.” (Acts 4:32-36).

There you have it. The early Christians:

* Lived communally

* Rejected private property
* Including land and houses
* Instead held everything in common
* Pooling all their resources
* And distributing them “from each according to ability to each according to need.”
* As a result, they eliminated poverty from their midst.

Did you catch the operative words: they divided their property “among all according to each one’s needs?” To repeat, those are the words of the Bible not of Marx or Engels. In other words the formula “from each according to his ability to each according to his need” comes straight from the Acts of the Apostles. They have nothing to do with atheism. On the contrary, they have everything to do with faith.

They have everything to do with following Jesus who himself was a communist. He’s the one who said, “Every one of you who does not renounce all he has cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:3).

Jesus, not Marx, is the one who set concern for those in need as the final criterion for judging the authenticity of one’s life. He said, “I was hungry and you gave me to eat; I was thirsty and you gave me to drink, was a stranger and you took me in, was stripped naked and you clothed me; sick and you visited me, imprisoned and you came to see me” (MT 25: 35-36). Everything, Jesus insists, depends on recognizing his presence in the poor and oppressed and responding accordingly.

Of course it’s often pointed out that the Christian experiment in communism was short-lived. Jesus’ followers soon backed off from their early idealism. That observation is supposed to invalidate their communistic lifestyle as impossibly utopian and therefore no longer applicable as Christians’ guiding North Star. In fact, this objection is taken as justifying the persecution of the communism the text idealizes and recommends!

But the same argument, of course, would apply to the Ten Commandments in general or to the Sermon on the Mount – or to the U.S. Constitution for that matter. In our day (and in the course of their histories) all of those statements of ideals have only sporadically been lived out in practice. Should we throw them out then? Should we persecute those espousing the Sermon on the Mount ideals or observance, for instance, of the Fourth Amendment? Few in the Christian community or in the U.S. political world would make that argument.

Others anxious to distance themselves from the communistic ideals of early Christianity would point out that the communal life adopted by Jesus’ first followers was voluntary not imposed from above. In doing so, they point to another passage in Luke’s Acts of the Apostles. That’s the one involving Ananias and Saphira – a couple whose life is exacted for claiming to have sold their property while actually keeping some of it back for themselves.

Referring to their property, Peter says to Ananias, “Was it not still yours if you kept it, and once you sold it was it not yours to dispose of?” (Acts 5:4) But (again as Miranda points out) what was optional was not selling their property – Christianity’s indispensable condition. What was optional was the choice to become a disciple of Christ. Choosing the latter option required practicing communism – and that under pain of death!

As for economic systems imposed from above. . .  Can you name one that isn’t?

How many of us have really chosen to live under capitalism? “None of us” is the answer. That’s because to make an informed choice, one must know the alternative. However, our families, schools, churches and civic organizations, our films and novels and news programs mostly conspire together to vilify alternatives and keep them hidden.

Besides that, our government and military have made sure that experiments in alternatives [like the one implemented in Cuba (1959) or Nicaragua (1979)] fail or are portrayed as failures – lest their “bad example” undermine capitalist claims to be the only viable system.

Even worse, our church leaders (who should know better) jump on the anti-communist band wagon and present Jesus as a champion of a system he would despise. Church people speak and act as if Luke’s passage from Acts had read:

“Now the whole group of those who believed lived in fierce competition with one another, and made sure that the rights of private property were respected. They expelled from their midst any who practiced communalism. As a consequence, God’s ‘invisible hand’ brought great prosperity to some. Many however found themselves in need. The Christians responded with ‘tough love’ demanding that the lazy either work or starve. Many of the unfit, especially the children, the elderly and those who cared for them did in fact starve. Others however raised themselves by their own bootstraps, and became stronger as a result. In this way, the industrious increased their land holdings and banked the profits. The rich got richer and the poor, poorer. Of course, all of this was seen as God’s will and a positive response to the teaching of Jesus.”

When are we going to stop this bastardization of Christianity?

First of all, we must face it: Jesus was a communist; so were his earliest followers after his death!

What then should are would-be followers of Yeshua the Christ to do? At least this:

* Read Jose Miranda’s manifesto, Communism in the Bible.

* If we can’t bring ourselves to sell what we have, give it to the poor, and live communally, at least conspire with like-minded people to share tools, automobiles, gardens – and perhaps even jobs and homes in an effort to reduce poverty and our planetary footprints.
* “Out” the “devout Catholic,” Paul Ryan and other congressional “Christians” whose budgets attempt to balance federal accounts by increasing the ranks of the poor whose poverty the communism of the early Christian community successfully eliminated.
* Pressure our government to get off Cuba’s back and allow it to experiment in prophetic ways of living that can save our planet.

I’m sure you can add to this list. Please do so below.

Trumpocalypse: America Just Voted for the End of the World (Sunday Homily)

trumpocalypse

Readings for 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time: MAL 3: 19-20A; Ps. 98: 5-9; 2 THES 3: 7-12; LK 21: 5-9.

We’re still reeling from the astounding results of the November 8th U.S. elections, aren’t we?

For many – especially immigrants, people of color, Muslims, progressives and followers of Jesus – what some have called the “Trumpocalypse” nearly seems like the end of the world as we know it.

Even the Republican Establishment is not completely happy. Mr. Trump is not really one of them.  In effect, (like socialist Bernie Sanders for the Democrats) the Donald was a third (Fascist) party candidate. His election shows that both major parties are disintegrating before our eyes. Powerful third and fourth parties are proliferating alongside Greens and Libertarians. In reality six relevant parties contended in the recently concluded election cycle.

At the moment however, it’s the anti-Gospel political right that is enjoying its moment in the sun.

All of that makes today’s readings disturbingly relevant. They appear to centralize “the end of the world.” And on top of that Paul’s dictum from Second Thessalonians seems eerily to confirm right wing tendencies towards “tough love.” There Paul says “. . . if anyone is unwilling to work, neither should that one eat.”

But don’t be misled. There’s not a trace of “tough love” in Jesus’ treatment of the poor. And “apocalypse” is not about the end of the world. It’s about unsustainability. The word apocalypse means “unveiling.” It’s about “revelation” in that sense – making evident what’s hidden about the world and who’s in charge. Apocalypse affirms the unsustainability of empire. Radical change is inevitable.

Apocalypse emerged a few centuries before the birth of Jesus. To convey its message of impending radical change, it employed stock images of natural catastrophe, plagues, wars, earthquakes, and portents involving the sun, moon, and stars. The change would be cosmic.

The audience of this strange literary form was empire’s victims. It was meant to encourage the poor and dispossessed, the unemployed, sick, widowed and orphaned – not the rich and well-off. Apocalypse assured the poor that all systems of oppression end in flames whether they’re Egyptian, Assyrian, Babylonian, Persian, Greek, or Roman. (Those are the global giants that oppressed Israel at one time or another in its history.) Where are they today? They’ve been swept away by the tide of history. And the apologists for “Eternal Rome” find themselves somewhere in antiquity’s dustbin.

So it’s ironic that apocalypse should be embraced by conservatives and their rich patrons – by those who want to keep things as they are. Things do not have to be that way. And “by God,” they won’t be! That’s the message of apocalypse. A new era is dawning, and you’d better be on the right side of history or you’ll lose out. Being “left behind” means supporting the old order that’s doomed.

The problem is that right from the beginning, believers took literally the cosmic and highly poetic symbolism of apocalypse. (We always get in trouble for being too literal.) That’s the attitude that caused Paul to tear his hair out in today’s second reading. Some in the early Christian community took the imminence of this expectation so seriously that they even stopped working.

What was the point of work, they reasoned? Everything was about to change profoundly by God’s intervention. That made human work meaningless. All believers had to do was sit back and wait for Jesus’ triumphant arrival. Eat, drink, be merry, and whistle past the graveyard in the meantime.

Those are the people Paul addresses in this morning’s excerpt from Second Thessalonians. He’s clearly exasperated. He says, “Look I’m working. And I’m the one responsible for your believing in Jesus’ Second Coming! Get real, people. Go back to work. Stop sponging off the community. Instead, be like me and do your part to bring about the new order we all expect. “

Paul’s words bring to mind the people who refuse to work today because they deem apocalyptic expectations divinely ordained or “natural.” And I’m certainly not referring to welfare queens.

Instead, I’m talking about people so committed to the old order that (with Margaret Thatcher) they’re convinced that “There is no alternative,” even though the “inevitable order” they support threatens the very survival of their own grandchildren. So they do what must be done to perpetuate what in God’s eyes is unsustainable.

Such “busy-bodies” refer to their endeavors as “work,” but in reality, their occupations represent a refusal to work. That is, if we identify that term with what contributes to life and the establishment of the Kingdom community Jesus proclaimed.

On this understanding, involvement in the military and the military-industrial complex is certainly not work. Neither is labor in financial market casinos or in the health-insurance and fossil fuel industries and their nuclear power counterparts. Advertising, fashion, professional sports, or much of what we refer to as “education” and journalism might also qualify as anti-work. Such occupations are not only highly questionable in terms of building up human community and protecting the planet. They are often positively destructive. Their purpose is to ward off or distract from the impending Big Change promised by the great unveiling.

Do I mean followers of Jesus should renounce such “work?” Yes I do. Or at least, we need to work to bring about a world where such occupations are not rewarded with pay – i.e. with a ticket to overconsumption even in terms of food and drink. And, to quote St. Paul, if arms manufacturers want to continue their anti-work as inevitable, let them starve! The world will be better off.

What about the unemployment caused by such radical change? It’s simple: share the remaining work. Make sure everyone is working – say for four hours each day, or three days a week, or six months each year. Get everyone to work building or rebuilding infrastructure, paving highways and covering rooftops with solar cells, and cleaning up the dump sites where all our toxic waste has been buried.

Think of the freedom such changes would create for building up God’s kingdom – to play, to garden, write, converse, make love, raise our children, and do all the things that make us human!

“Totally unrealistic” you say? Precisely! Apocalypse is by nature unrealistic. It calls us to work for an entirely different order we can hardly imagine. It calls us to reclaim our humanity from the insanity of destructive anti-work.

So maybe the election of Donald Trump is exactly what we needed. After all, “America” is just another of those oppressive empires God’s People have always suffered from. It is doomed and will soon disintegrate like Babylon, Rome – and the Soviet Union.

Our apocalyptic readings tell us the present order must end. Second Thessalonians helps us discern directions for a new one

The destruction of both the Democratic and Republican Parties portended by Mr. Trump’s election is a very good start.

Silent Thunder: Jill Stein’s Absence from the Third Debate

cornel-west-endorsement

Well, I watched the final debate last night. Once again, it pointed up the debate format’s limitation and the absence of alternatives to the duopoly of Democrats vs. Republicans.

Specifically, it made me miss the voice of Green Party candidate, Jill Stein.

Her absence on the debate stage prevented voters from hearing her viewpoint on vital issues virtually excluded from the three personality-focused brawls between Mr. Trump and Ms. Clinton. I’m referring to income inequality, student debt, climate change, public transportation, disease prevention, and the continuing need for 9/11 transparency to blunt its rationale for insane military expenditures and endless war.

Liberal funnyman, John Oliver, recently endorsed such exclusion in a strained barely-comic monologue that merits comment not only because of its shallowness, but because it discouraged expanding the narrow parameters of current political debate. (See Stein’s own response to Oliver here.) In his routine, Oliver attempted to disqualify Dr. Stein because she raised the very issues just indicated. More specifically:

  • She looks too nerdy.
  • Her plan for relieving student debt lacks specific detail.
  • She chose not to explain the intricacies of “quantitative easing” in a press conference.
  • Even as a physician with 27 years’ experience, she (like everyone else btw) is not completely certain about possible connections between vaccines and autism.
  • She agrees that the recently declassified pages from the government’s 9/11 report justify further investigation into that signal event that even Official Inquiry leaders, Thomas Kean and Lee Hamilton, say was “incomplete and flawed.”
  • She was part of a 1990s folk rock band whose lyrics contain a poetic device (paradox) that Mr. Oliver apparently doesn’t grasp – specifically, the apparent contradiction, “silent thunder.”
  • She is not a perfect candidate.

Ignored in all of this is the fact that Jill Stein’s positions are identical with those of Bernie Sanders who (now that he is no longer a candidate) has been nearly canonized by people like Oliver. In fact, Dr. Stein invited Sanders to join her on the Green Party ticket; she would run, she offered, as his V.P.

Ignored too were the actual lyrics of candidate Stein’s songs that (unlike Mr. Trump and Ms. Clinton) dared to raise the issue of climate change – as well as specifics about child and maternal health. Instead, Oliver focused on Stein’s voice [which turns out to be about as (dis)pleasing as Bill Clinton’s saxophone on Johnny Carson or Michelle Obama’s dancing with Jimmy Fallon.]

However, the most significant omission from Oliver’s denunciation was the importance of voting for Dr. Stein in red states. If Stein garners only 5% of the national vote, her name can appear on presidential ballots in many states in the next election cycle, Even more importantly, the Green Party will receive millions of dollars in campaign funds in 2020.

So, red state Democrats (like me in Kentucky) concerned about overcoming the dominance of the duopoly, and about continuing the Bernie Revolution should discount Oliver’s shallow criticisms and recognize their vote for Jill Stein as a small, but significant step towards reaching the Green Party’s important 2020 goals.

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

Democracy at Work and in Play: Capitalist Rams vs. Socialist Packers

On Tuesday , Stan Kroenke, the owner of the NFL Rams franchise decided to move operations from St. Louis to Los Angeles.

The decision brought sorrow and a bitter sense of betrayal fans in St. Louis who have supported “their” football team through thick and thin. For them the penny dropped: their Rams were not theirs at all.

The obvious injustice prompted them to chant “Kroenke Sucks!” when the move was announced during a St. Louis Blues –New Jersey Devils hockey game.

The chant showed that people intuitively recognize the problem. It’s the problem of capitalism: a single owner backed by a small group of similar wealthy stockholders can override the interests of an entire local community for one reason and one reason only — MONEY!

With capitalism, it happens all the time. A small board of directors (15-20 people) can decide to override the interests of entire communities — Detroit, Youngstown, Camden New Jersey — and move operations offshore to Mexico, China, Taiwan, and who knows where else? In doing so, the private owners devastate the abandoned communities. Yet they bear no responsibility for their actions.

They simply leave. They leave without reimbursing the community for roads built to service their facilities, for tax breaks granted, for plants constructed with community subsidies, for families destroyed by loss of employment.

And, once again, it’s done for one reason and for one reason only — MONEY! It’s the logic of capitalism.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

As economist Richard Wolff has indicated, there can actually be democracy at work. Democracy at work means that if workers shared ownership of their factories, they’d never vote to offshore their jobs.

Following Wolff’s logic, there can also be democracy in play — even in the NFL.

The case of the St. Louis Rams contrasted with that of the Green Bay Packers illustrates the possibility. Unlike the NFL Rams, Packers’ owners could never vote to move their franchise. That’s because the owners are the club’s fans themselves. So moving from Green Bay (pop. 104,000) even to Los Angeles (pop. 4.8 million) is out of the question.

More specifically, according to the Packers’ 1923 Articles of Incorporation, no single person can control more than 4% of the club’s stock. So these spiritual descendants of workers — the Green Bay Meatpackers’ Union — have no one like Kroenke to deal with.

Moreover, Incorporation Articles stipulate that profit from any (unimaginable) transfer of ownership must go not to individuals but to the Green Bay Packer Foundation which benefits community education, civic affairs, health and human services and youth programs.

There are lessons in all of this:

– Democracy at work and in play is possible.

– It is preferable to capitalism’s oligarchical tyranny.

– The traditional name for such democracy is “socialism.”

– Socialism can be successful. (The Packers have won more championships than any of their capitalist competitors).

– Maybe workers should be rooting for the Packers in Saturday’s matchup with the Arizona Cardinals.

– Bernie Sanders is a socialist. Hmm . . .

Encouraging Signs that Capitalism is on Its Last Legs

End of Capitalism

Last week President Obama rejected the Keystone XL pipeline. His announcement caused huge celebration in the anti-fossil fuel resistance movement.  The victory made it clear that we’re living in revolutionary times. Powerful movements for social justice are springing up everywhere, not only on the climate change front, but more generally nationally and internationally.

Even more importantly, there is a red thread running through it all. The changes (and there are many as we’ll see) all represent the impending collapse of capitalism. We are likely standing on the brink of a transformation world-wide that parallels the fall of the Soviet Union a quarter century ago.

To begin with, think about what’s happening with the climate movement. Environmental activists are on a surprising roll in terms of their recent successes.

These include:

  • The September 2014 Great Climate March in New York City which brought out 400,000 people.
  • The subsequent rapid spread of the fossil fuel divestment movement.
  • The recent TransCanada Corporation’s decision to temporarily suspend the XL Pipeline project even before President’s Obama’s announcement.
  • The unexpected election of Justin Trudeau as Canadian Prime Minister on a platform highlighting commitment to Canada’s First Nations who are key players in the movement to keep fossil fuels in the ground.
  • Shell Oil’s abandonment of its arctic drilling plans.
  • The expose of ExxonMobil’s cover-up of its own 1980s research identifying fossil fuel combustion as a major cause of global warming. (Despite its findings the company spent millions over a 27 year period promoting climate change denial.)
  • The prospect of a lawsuit against ExxonMobil for adopting that “cigarette strategy.”
  • Widespread outrage following the release of the Transpacific Partnership text which accords multinational corporations the power to override local environmental protection standards because they might impede corporate profit.
  • The resultant promise of huge demonstrations and citizen lobbying efforts against the treaty.
  • Pope Francis’ eco-encyclical, Laudato Si’, legitimizing the positions of environmental activists previously called “extremists” for expressing the same ideas.
  • Next month’s Climate Conference in Paris which promises to yield further victories.

As Naomi Klein has pointed out, such changes – such widespread resistance throughout what she calls “Blockadia” – change everything. They signal a growing awareness that an economy based on fossil fuel consumption just cannot continue.

And that’s not all. Other mobilizations of people dissatisfied with the socio-economic status quo are sweeping our own nation and creating new socio-political configurations. Here I’m thinking of:

  • The success of the Occupy Movement in coining the “One Percent” watchword and making economic disparity a key political campaign issue.
  • The unexpected phenomenon of the Bernie Sanders presidential candidacy. (After more than 50 years of subjecting Americans to the most intense anti-socialist propaganda, who would have thought that a self-identified socialist could gain such a following?)
  • The mobilization of the Black Lives Matter campaign as a 21st century resurrection of the Civil Rights Movement.
  • The spread of the movement to campuses like Yale and the University of Missouri where students of color forced the resignation of Mizzou’s president and chancellor.
  • The invasion of our country (and of Europe) with refugees from the U.S.-led and/or supported wars in Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Yemen, and elsewhere. (In fact, refugees represent the most powerful and effective anti-war marchers in the history of our planet.)
  • The invasion of the U.S. with refugees from Mexico and Central America demonstrating the failure of the War on Drugs which has torn that country and region apart.
  • Ditto for immigrants manufactured by the disastrous North American Free Trade Agreement and its Central American counterpart (CAFTA).

Yes, the chickens of Orwellian wars and of neo-liberal economic policies are coming home to roost with a vengeance.  It is now possible to speak openly (as Pope Francis has done) about the failures of unfettered capitalism. It not only destroys the environment. It creates massive wealth disparities and unemployment especially in communities of color. Government cut-backs in public services (including police training) wreak havoc everywhere. As a result people are out in the streets. They’re stopping traffic. Students are walking out of class. Even the Mizzou football team and its coach went on strike.

Finally, think about what’s happening internationally:

  • On June 17 th 2014, 133 of the world’s 196 countries met and declared their intention to “destroy the New World Order” championed by Western Empire.
  • Russia has risen from the ashes and is confronting the Empire on all fronts.
  • Vladimir Putin has emerged as the world’s most effective international leader and practitioner of diplomacy aimed at and independence from U.S. Empire.
  • Russia and China are both returning to their socialist roots often advancing policies far more humane than their western counterparts.
  • Despite recent setbacks, Greece has threatened the neo-liberal order in the heart of the European Union. SYRIZA’s original anti-austerity message has spread to Italy, Spain, and France.
  • Latin America has broken free of the shackles of the Monroe Doctrine. Cuba, Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil are all forging their own paths while cooperating with and supporting one another. All are moving closer to Russia and China.
  • The BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) representing at least half the planet’s population, are trading with each other in their own currencies now making themselves immune from western sanctions.
  • World-wide computer news sites have largely replaced a corporate-controlled mainstream media (MSM). People have awakened to the fact that the MSM can’t be trusted. In Latin America, Russia, China, and Iran, the new media are not even “alternative” any longer. Their mission is exposing the crimes of the West, its Empire and client states. Their message couldn’t be more straight-forward: No more war, torture, rape or genocide.

Economist, Richard Wolff, is fond of saying that when social change happens, it often comes quickly. He says that for decades it might seem that nothing happens. Then in a matter of days, decades happen. That’s the Soviet Union story of a little over 25 years ago.

We’re now in one of those periods where pent-up frustration and zeal for change is being released with hurricane force. It’s a good time to be alive – and to get on the band wagon.

Pope Francis, “Evangelii Gaudium,” and the Catholic Vote

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For the last 30 years the religious right (both Protestant and Catholic) has been telling us that Christian values should influence the way we vote. What will they say now that Pope Francis has called 1.2 billion Roman Catholics to move beyond obsessions with sex – abortion, contraception, and same-sex marriage?

How will they respond to his demands in his recent Pastoral Exhortation (Evangelii Gaudium) to centralize instead issues of poverty and the huge income gaps between the haves and have-nots? How will they answer the pope’s call to recognize the futility of directing billions towards a doomed “War on Terrorism” rather than correcting the structural injustices that cause such violence in the first place? What about his suggestion that those billions would be better invested in meeting human rights to food, health and education? (Yes, they are human rights according to the pope!)

All of that puts the Republicans and their fellow-travelers on the spot. After all, they have been the voting booth beneficiaries of obsession with sexual issues. They are the champion privatization, deregulated markets, and huge tax breaks for the rich. They oppose universal health care, investing money in public education, increasing the minimum wage, supporting labor unions, Food Stamp programs, and even Social Security financed by workers’ own savings. Republicans are the “tough on terrorism” bunch who (unlike the pope) attribute such violence to “hatred of our freedom,” rather than to blowback for the injustices of global capitalism.

According to the pope, such right-wing attitudes represent the very causes not only of world hunger and poverty, but of violence and terrorism. Only by interfering in the out-workings of the free market – by regulation (such as Glass-Steagal or the Tobin Tax), redirecting defense spending towards social programs (such as Medicare, Medicaid, Food Stamps), by increasing the minimum wage, and taxing the rich, – can such problems be solved.

In other words, it’s not possible this time to say “Oh, yes, we all know that good Catholics are expected to give generously to their favorite charities.” That’s not sufficient, Pope Francis asserts. No, the pope has faulted not lack of charitable giving, but the free enterprise system itself for causing the problems of global poverty and hunger as well as those of terrorism and war.

For years at election time, both the political and religious right has inundated us with directions about voting based on what the pope has identified as sexual obsessions.

It will be most interesting to observe any change in tone or direction in the upcoming general election.

Will we now be directed towards voting Democratic – for Hillary? Or will our Christian “leaders” be even more heedful of Pope Francis’ direction and urge voting instead for consumer protectionist Elizabeth Warren, for Socialist Bernie Sanders – or the Green Party candidate?

In red state Kentucky, we anxiously await direction from Mr. McConnell and Lexington’s Bishop Gainer.