Poor Jerry Jones: Worker Protests Threaten His Billions!

Jerry Jones

Poor Jerry Jones! The owner of the Dallas Cowboys complains that his NFL football business is being hurt by his workers’ non-violent protests. So he and other white billionaires respond as only capitalists can and typically do. “Either stop threatening our huge fortunes,” they bully, “or we’ll deprive you and your dependents of your livelihood — forever. We’ll fire you!” (This, of course, is what capitalism empowers bosses everywhere to do against all of us.)

Simultaneously, from their ivory towers, the same rich whites attempt to change the subject. Sheltering in the last refuge of scoundrels, they patriotically wrap themselves in the flag claiming that protests against poverty and police violence somehow dishonor country, flag, and the military.

Note to Mr. Jones: THIS ISN’T ABOUT PATRIOTISM; IT’S ABOUT POLICE BRUTALITY!! IT’S ABOUT POVERTY!!

Let’s talk specifics. The underlying cause of player protests is the huge difference between law enforcement in rich and poor communities respectively. As recently described by Christ Hedges, the difference is exemplified in the infamous “broken windows” policy first implemented in New York City. It enabled law enforcement to send young, mostly black and Hispanic men and women to jail for relatively minor infractions mostly connected with a failed “War on Drugs.” Despite its 40-years of effort, that war leaves narcotics today more widely available, cheaper, and of higher quality than ever before. All of our high school children know where to get them.

Meanwhile, across the tracks, bankers, hedge fund speculators, real estate moguls, and their political enablers remain above the law. And this, despite the fact that their fraudulent practices were responsible for crashing the entire world economy and the financial, personal, and social ruin of millions across the planet. Yet virtually none of them has gone to jail, have they? Instead, many have reaped huge profits from the crash. Moreover, their unconscionable practices are again being deregulated by the legislators they’ve purchased through the legalized system of bribery called “campaign financing.”

All of this amounts to a two-tiered legal system supporting a two-tiered economy. It criminalizes poverty unremedied by government whose main domestic function has become the imprisonment of the poor, and the extra-judicial execution of “criminals” accused of petty offenses like Eric Garner’s selling loose cigarettes, or of Sandra Bland’s failure to signal a lane change. That’s what’s ticking off black heroes like Colin Kaepernick and Michael Bennett.

Again, as Hedges points out, the scale of the resulting police lynchings is no exaggeration. So far in the U.S. this year, there have been 782 police killings of mostly poor people – many shot in the back while offering no immediate threat to cops involved. (By contrast, police in England and Wales have killed 62 people over the last 27 years!) Still, such legalized thuggery is granted near-universal impunity. Badge-wearing murders almost never go to jail.

In fact, far from being punished, local police forces are routinely rewarded by government grants of tanks and grenade launchers which further militarize their cadres. The unspoken intention of such armaments is to enable cops to quash rebellions of citizens incensed by the disparities just described. For instance, here in Kentucky, legislators want to empower motorists to run over protestors exercising their First Amendment rights on public thoroughfares. They want to extend impunity to white supremacists like the killer of Heather Heyer in Charlottesville last August. They want to militarily suppress the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement.

But the footballers on their knees and the marchers in the street are only demanding sensible economic reform. The want well-paying jobs, affordable housing; safe and inspiring public schools; Medicare for all; and community-based policing where most officials are unarmed.

Imagine if Jerry Jones, the billionaire, forgot petty financial losses, and used the bully pulpit his status affords to campaign for such humane measures instead of misrepresenting his workers’ demands.

Don’t hold your breath though. That’s not the way our super-rich bosses operate.

 

 

 

(Sunday Homily) Zacchaeus, White People, and the Case for Reparations to African Americans

reparations

Readings for the 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time: WIS 11: 22-12: 2; PS 145: 1-2, 8-11, 13-14; 2 THES 1: 11- 2: 2; LK 19: 1-10.

In the June 2014 issue of the Atlantic Monthly, Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote an article called “The Case for Reparations.” There he argued that the United States owes a huge debt to African Americans. It’s a debt compounded by 250 years of slavery, 90 years of Jim Crow, 60 years of separate but equal and 35 years of racist housing policy. Until those debts are paid, Coates wrote, America will never be whole.

Today’s gospel story about Zacchaeus, the tax collector, relates to Coates’ concern.  It addresses the problem of unjustly acquired wealth and reparation. As such the reading opens a question very much on the minds of our country’s African American community as described in Coates’ Atlantic piece.

White people probably disagree. Surveys show that nearly 75% of us oppose reparations. Slavery happened so long ago, the dissenters argue. They deny that slavery constitutes a factor contributing to the contemporary wealth gap between blacks and whites. At any rate, they think reparations are impractical and even impossible. Needless to say, Christians in that group see no connection between their faith and the reparations Coates was writing about.

Today’s Gospel reading calls such convictions into question.

There Jesus invites himself for dinner to the home of Zacchaeus, a tax collector. The latter is so overjoyed by the invitation that his very first reaction is to divest himself of his wealth and to make reparations for his ill-gotten affluence. He exclaims, “Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone I shall repay it four times over.”

The first part of Zacchaeus’ promise (“Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor”) represents recognition on the tax collector’s part that his extorted wealth constitutes a crime against poor people in general. So it calls for general divestment on his part. He’s going to give away half of his property – half to the poor of Jericho where he’s been overseeing tax collection for years!

The second part of Zacchaeus’ promise (“And if I have extorted anything from anyone, I shall repay it four times over”) is directed specifically to identifiable victims of his extortion. He’ll return to them four times what he defrauded – four times!

Luke’s remembering and repeating a story where wealth divestment and reparation are the very first reactions of a rich person to Jesus’ offer of table fellowship is significant. It seems to suggest that such rectifications are not only recommended for those deciding to join “The Way” of Jesus; they constitute a requirement of discipleship.

All of this suggests that in today’s Gospel we find an invitation to open our eyes to the fact that, far from impractical, reparations are not only possible but required from people of faith. In fact, they have already been proven to work. For instance, in 1988, President Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act that recognized the need to redress the wrongs suffered by Japanese-Americans unjustly interned in World War II concentration camps. Cash payments were made to survivors.

But slavery and its aftermath have been far more hurtful than that particular instance of wrongful imprisonment. Consequently, much more than one-time payments seem due to the descendants of the millions of slaves whose unpaid labor contributed so mightily to the building of America.

Reparations are also due for Jim Crow, low wages, glass ceilings, denial of loans, and segregation’s practices of red-lining. All such measures have prevented the descendants of slaves from participating in the American Way of Life that has remained largely closed to blacks.

As shown by police killings from Ferguson to Baltimore and the resulting Black Lives Matter movement, as shown by the resistance of heroes like Colin Kaepernick, by the brave example of the Black Panthers (whose 50th anniversary we celebrate this year), it’s time for a national conversation on race – for a Peace and Reconciliation Commission to consider the form that long-overdue reparations might take.

Suggestions for spending the estimated $14.2 trillion owed the descendants of slaves include:

  • A federal employment program offering well-paid jobs to all our country’s poor.
  • The provision of state-of-the-art day care centers to help newly-employed parents.
  • A housing program providing decent dwellings for African Americans in urban centers now being gentrified.
  • Major upgrading of public schools attended by black children – to make them equal to those in affluent white suburbs.
  • De-militarization of urban police forces and the introduction of community controlled policing.
  • Release of non-violent offenders from prison and the restoration of their voting rights.
  • Transformation of prisons from places of punishment and degradation to centers of education and personal reform.

All such reparations are clearly possible. They will not happen without the national conversation just mentioned and without a Peace and Reconciliation Commission.

However, as Ta-Nehisi Coates says, absent such measures our country will never be whole.

Today’s Gospel reading seems to endorse his observation. It invites Jesus’ followers to lead the way.

Colin Kaepernick as Heretical Prodigal Son (a Sunday Homily)

kaepernick-homily

San Francisco 49ers quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, shocked us all recently by refusing to stand up for the singing of “The Star-Spangled Banner” before football games. His bold action seems intimately connected with Andre Gide’s daring reinterpretation of Jesus’ parable of The Prodigal Son which is centralized in today’s liturgy of the word.

To begin with, think about the reasons for Kaepernick’s action and the response it has evoked. Explaining himself, the Pro Bowl quarterback said, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”

In effect Kaepernick was supporting the Black Lives Matter movement (BLM). He was pointing out the fact that from the African-American point of view we don’t actually live in anything like “the land of the free and the home of the brave.”

Instead our homeland is a place where African-Americans are still not as free as white people, and where most of us are scared out of our wits. White people walk around frightened of terrorists, black men, immigrants, Muslims, and a whole host of ailments whose remedies Big Pharma hawks to us incessantly through our computers and flat screens. Free and Brave? Not so much.

By sitting down during the singing of the National Anthem Kaepernick was symbolically calling attention to that contradiction. He was separating himself from the comfort of his patriarchal home dominated by the false consciousness of American exceptionalism, machismo, militarism, and knee-jerk jingoism.

All of reminds me of the hero of The Prodigal Son story retold in today’s liturgy of the word. (We’ll return to Kaepernick in a moment.) No, I’m not talking about the father of the so-called prodigal. Instead, I’m referring to the central character in Andre Gide’s version of today’s over-familiar tale.

Here’ I’m taking my cue from John Dominic Crossan’s book The Power of Parable: how fiction by Jesus became fiction about JesusThere Crossan suggests challenging Luke’s parable as excessively patriarchal. After all, the story is about a bad boy who realizes the error of his ways and returns home to daddy and daddy’s patriarchy with its familiar rules, prohibitions, and tried and true ways of doing things.

But what if the story were about escaping the confines of a falsely-secure patriarchal reality. What if prodigal left home and never looked back? Would he have been better off? Would we be better off by not following his example as described today by Luke – by instead separating from the patriarchy, its worship of power, violence, and patriotism and never looking back? Would we be freer and braver by following the example of Colin Kaepernick?

The French intellectual Andre Gide actually asked such questions back in 1907 when he wrote “The Return of the Prodigal Son.” In his version, Gide expands the cast of the parable’s characters to five, instead of the usual three. Gide adds the father’s wife and a younger son. The latter, bookish and introspective, becomes the story’s central figure who escapes his father’s walled estate never to return.

According to Crossan, Gide tells his version of Jesus’ parable through a series of dialogs between the returned prodigal and his father, his older brother, his mother, and lastly, his younger brother. In his dialog, the father reveals that the older brother is really in charge of the father’s household. According to daddy, the brother is extremely conservative. He’s convinced that there is no life outside the walls of the family compound. This is the way most people live.

Then the mother comes forward. She tells the prodigal about his younger brother. “He reads too much,” she says, and . . . often perches on the highest tree in the garden from which, you remember, the country can be seen above the walls.” One can’t help detect in the mother’s words a foreboding (or is it a suppressed hope) that her youngest son might go over the wall and never come back.

And that’s exactly what the younger son decides to do. In his own dialog with the returned prodigal, he shares his plan to leave home that very night. But he will do so, he says, penniless – without an inheritance like the one his now-returned brother so famously squandered.

“It’s better that way,” the prodigal tells his younger sibling. “Yes leave. Forget your family, and never come back.” He adds wistfully, “You are taking with you all my hopes.”

Gide’s version of Jesus’ parable returns us to Colin Kaepernick, and how in these pivotal times he has followed the youngest son in Gide’s parable as he goes over the wall into the unfamiliar realm of uncertainty, danger, and creative possibility.

Echoing the younger son’s lack of material concern, Kaepernick has said, “I am not looking for approval. I have to stand up for people that are oppressed. … If they take football away, my endorsements from me, I know that I stood up for what is right.”

In response to Kaepernick’s audacity, patriarchal authority figures came out of the woodwork not only to denounce his point about cops killing unarmed black people, but to connect his protest with patriotism and the military.

“Many have given their lives defending the freedom and justice the flag stands for,” they all repeated. “Kaepernick is slapping all those brave service men and women in the face. If he doesn’t like it here, let him move to Cuba, Venezuela, North Korea or Russia. Then he’ll come to his senses.”

The shrillness of such reaction, suggests that the powers that be might be deathly afraid themselves – afraid that the rest of us might see Kaepernick’s point and start following his example.

What if we all suddenly grasped the BLM message. What if we realized that our military isn’t really defending us from anything, but instead is at the service of international corporations intent on stealing the resources of poor countries especially these days in the Middle East?  What if we started reading and discussing General Smedley Butler’s War Is a Racket? What if we drew obvious conclusions from Fallujah, Haditha, Abu Ghraib, and the fact that the Pentagon can’t account for $6.5 trillion of our tax money?

Such realizations might force many of us to remain seated during the pre-game rituals that reek so much of patriarchal machismo and pure propaganda. And that might lead to political rebellion, refusal to pay taxes, and formation of parties representing alternatives to Democrats and Republicans.

In other words, Colin Kaepernick has taken a small step. But because of his courage we’re all better off, and our country’s false reality is correspondingly weakened.

Imagine football fans all over the country wearing their Kaepernick jerseys and refusing to stand for “The Star-Spangled Banner.” That would be a start towards those other more radical measures I mentioned

The Day I Chickened Out on My Colin Kaepernick Moment

kaepernick-poem

This morning the Lexington Herald-Leader published an essay I wrote about Colin Kaepernick’s refusal to stand for the ritual singing of “The Star-Spangled Banner before games involving his San Francisco 49ers. I had published a longer version of the piece on my blog and on OpEdNews.

Turns out that the Herald-Leader op-ed received more response from Lexingtonians than any of the other editorials I have published in that venue. Most of the comments were quite critical of Kaepernick – and of me.

That doesn’t really bother me. As a matter of fact, it makes me hopeful. It shows that Kaepernick has touched a nerve. Perhaps he has even started a movement. What if all progressives sympathetic to Black Lives Matter (BLM) and unsympathetic to post 9/11Permanent Warfare decided to follow his example? Other sports figures have already begun to do so.

Mind you, it’s not so easy to follow their example. It takes a lot of courage for fans to remain seated during the National Anthem and endure the remarks, taunts, denunciations, and even threats of unthinking “patriots” who (despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary) still identify the United States as the land of the free and the home of the brave.

The evidence I’m thinking of involves not only out-of-control police executions of unarmed African-Americans, but unending wars against impoverished Muslims in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Somalia and elsewhere. I’m thinking of Fallujah, Haditha, Abu Ghraib – and before that of Vietnam, Laos, Grenada, and Panama. Even before any of that, I’m referring to “War Is a Racket” written  by General Smedley Butler way back in 1935.

With all of that in mind, I am no stranger to the impulse to remain seated during the singing of the National Anthem. I hate the ritual. What does such patriotic display have to do with sporting events? And as I have just suggested, I object to honoring a nation that Martin Luther King identified as the“greatest purveyor of violence in the world.”

Yet (to my embarrassment) I still cave in to group pressure at sporting events.

The following piece published as a Sunday Homily on my blog a couple of years ago describes the conflict between my higher Christ-inspired impulses and the craven behavior I hope to change in the future thanks to the courageous example of Colin Kaepernick. Can you join me in this aspiration?

As I say, we could start a movement of principled people against hypocrisy.

“I Stood Up”

Recently, between innings
Of a Cubs-Pirates game
At Wrigley Field,
They celebrated a Marine from Iraq –
A local boy
Who emerged from the Cubs’ dugout
Waving
To a hero’s welcome
From a crowd on its feet
Cheering
Between swigs of PBR
As if the poor kid had hit
A game-winning dinger.

Reluctantly I stood up with the rest.

I now regret my applause.
I should have remembered shaved-headed
Brain-washed innocents
Kicking in front doors
Petrifying children
Calling their parents “mother f_ _kers”
And binding tender wrists
With plastic handcuffs.
To rid the world of evil.

Pitiful brainwashed innocents,
They are
Driven to war by poverty
And debt
To HadithaFallujahAbu Grahib,
To weddings transformed in a flash and bang
Into funerals
Leaving mourners shocked and awed –
Collateral Murder,”
By what King called
“The greatest purveyor of violence in the world”
And what the Sandinista hymn identified as
“The enemy of mankind.”

I should have remembered
Iraq (and Afghanistan btw)
Were wars of choice,
Of aggression,
The supreme international crime.”

Why did I not recall Zechariah?
(And here come my references to the readings for this Sunday)
And the peace-making Messiah
Christians claim he prophesied.
The prophet’s Promised One would be
Gentle and meek
Riding an ass
Rather than a war horse
Or Humvee
And banishing chariots, cross-bows
And drones raining hell-fire
From the skies.
His kingdom disarmed
Would encompass the entire world.
Refusing to call
Any of God’s “little ones”
(To use our military’s terms of art)
Rag-heads” or “Sand ni_ ggers

Paul called such imperial hate-speech “flesh.”
(Judging by appearances like skin color, nationality, religion)
“Live according to Christ’s Spirit,” Paul urged.
(Compassion for all, works of mercy)
No room for door-kickers there.

I should have remembered Jesus
And his yoke.
So good and light
He said
Compared with
The heavy burdens
The Roman War-makers
Laid on their subjects
Who kicked in Nazareth’s doors
And called parents like Joseph and Mary
“Mother f_cking Jews.”

Their imperial generals were “learned” and “wise”
In the ways of the world
But they piled crushing burdens
On the shoulders
Of those “little ones”
Jesus preferred –
In places far from the imperial center
Like Palestine (or Iraq today).
Victims there might be out of sight
And mind
For those enjoying bread, circuses
Cubs and Pirates,
But not for the All Parent
Described by the Psalmist today
As gracious, merciful, slow to anger, hugely kind, benevolent to all, compassionate, faithful, holy, and lifting up (rather than crushing) those who have fallen under the weight of the burdens Jesus decries.

I should have asked,
If following that Messiah
If worshipping that All Parent
Allowed standing and applauding
A robot returned
From a war
Where over a million civilians have been slaughtered
To rid the world of violence.
(In 1942 would I have joined the crowd
Applauding an S.S. “hero” in a Munich stadium
Just back from the front –or Auschwitz?
Or a pilot who had bombed Pearl Harbor
At a “Wrigley Field” in Tokyo?)

No: I should have had the courage
To remain seated.
And so should we all
Instead of
• Celebrating the military
• Waving flags on the 4th of July
• Paying war taxes
• And wondering with Fox newscasters
What makes America great?

Colin Kaepernick’s the Real Hero, Not Desperate U.S. Soldiers

kaepernick

Can you imagine yourself as a twenty-something – a black person sitting in the San Diego Chargers football stadium – with 70,000 angry mostly white people booing you and you alone? Can you imagine how that would feel – or what it would do to your psyche and to your feeling of being oppressed – not to mention your performance on the field?

Well, that’s the position the San Francisco 49ers Colin Kaepernick was in last Thursday night. Every time he touched the ball (virtually each of his plays, since he’s the 49ers’ quarterback) he was booed mercilessly by a hostile overwhelmingly white crowd. Many of them obviously took the opportunity to scapegoat Kaepernick for their anger towards the Black Lives Matter Movement (BLM).

That’s because in the spirit of BLM, this 28 year-old bi-racial athlete has used the pre-game singing of “The Star Spangled Banner” to protest the numerous killings of unarmed black men and women by police officers over the past few years. He refuses to stand. He’s sitting it out.

As Kaepernick himself put it: “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”

Ignoring those reasons, the quarterback’s critics have somehow turned his protest into his alleged attack on the honor the military who have given their lives “defending our freedom.” So when Thursday’s Chargers-49ers contest coincided with San Diego’s 28th annual Salute to the Military, the pre-game ceremony took on added meaning. It featured a special flag ceremony that only heightened Kaepernick’s “unpatriotic” stance – and the reaction against it.

Specifically, before the game a huge flag was spread across the playing field, its borders held aloft by service men and women in Army, Navy, Marine, and Air Force uniforms. It was then that the National Anthem was sung. While everyone else stood with caps doffed and right hands over hearts, Kaepernick took a knee. He knelt while the others stood. Afterwards the boos rained down – on him and him alone.

For me, the boos called attention not simply to many white people’s opposition to BLM, but to our unthinking, unconditional support for capitalism and the U.S. military in general. The fact is that those soldiers, sailors, marines and pilots on that San Diego football field are not in any way defending our freedom. Instead they are victims of nationalistic propaganda and of a failed economic system.

Think about it: since 9/11 and well before (e.g. Korea, Vietnam, Grenada, Panama), U.S. military personnel have been simply brain-washed agents of U.S corporations defending the “right” of modern robber barons to steal resources, markets and cheap labor. General Smedley Butler said as much long ago. “War is a racket,” he charged.

The fact is that despite their good intentions, the military agents on that San Diego field do not deserve celebration any more than Hitler’s servicemen did.

Daniel Geery says it would be more fitting to celebrate conscientious objectors, deserters, and members of Iraq Vets against the War. It would be better to cheer young people who choose to actually do something productive with their lives. As he has identified them, they “serve us as nurses, doctors, teachers, construction workers, garbage men, laborers, cooks, waiters and waitresses, writers, inventors, organic farmers, architects, scientists, engineers, computer programmers, landscapers, and all those who choose to actually do something with their lives. . . Far better to be a prostitute, even, than to be a military person. You are at least hiring out to bring pleasure to others, not misery and destruction.”

Problem is, the “capitalist” economy is unable to provide enough of such jobs. So it funnels a desperate under-educated surplus workforce into the military whose commercials promise that there they can “Be all that you can be.” And the commercials are right. Under capitalism many simply can’t be more than killers for corporations. For them there is no alternative other than subscribing the neo-Cartesian principle, “I kill therefore I am.”

So subconsciously realizing capitalism’s failure to provide adequate jobs, but unable to face that music, propagandized fans express their anger by booing a scapegoat – a worker like themselves instead of the system’s managers.

Nonetheless, Kaepernick remains steadfast in his brave witness. He said, “I am not looking for approval. I have to stand up for people that are oppressed. … If they take football away, my endorsements from me, I know that I stood up for what is right.”

We should keep those words (and Colin Kaepernick’s example) in mind the next time we’re asked to stand for the National Anthem. Can we be as insightful and courageous?