Ukraine: Scott Ritter Exposes Six Mainstream Media Lies

There  is no need to recall the familiar memes: Insane, evil, Hitler-like Vladimir Putin! His total war! Russian war crimes! The massacre at Boucha! Mass graves in Mariupol! Russian military ineptitude! Their failure to conquer Kiev! Their stalled campaign in Donbass! Moderate and heroic (reformed) Nazi patriots!

Like most Americans, when this Ukrainian crisis began, it seemed almost irresistible to accept such unanimous mainstream media (MSM) “of course” characterizations.

Most became persuaded that Vladimir Putin expected a quick victory in Ukraine. It also seemed simply given that the madman’s goal was to completely overrun, conquer, and occupy his neighbor to the west. His failure to simply roll over the country in two or three days revealed his miscalculations and the ineptitude of the Russian army. Putin’s calling the invasion a “special military operation” was a cynical renaming of a blatantly illegal incursion. The Ukrainians seemed to have a chance of winning.

Now, however, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to believe any of that – largely because of analysis offered by critically thinking sources  – especially that of Scott Ritter, whose explanations of military strategy seem far more detailed, coherent, logical, and informed than what’s presented on CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, or even on “Democracy Now.”

Let me show you what I mean.   

Critical Analysis

The trustworthy sources I’m referring to include Robert Merschiemer, Noam Chomsky, Stephen F. Cohen,  Chris Hedges, Vijay Prashad, George Galloway, Max Blumenthal, Yanis Varoufakis, Matt Taibbi, Aaron Mate, Ben Norton, and  even Jimmy Dore.

Yes, most of them admit that there was grave miscalculation on Putin’s part. For instance, they point out that he was clearly erroneous in expecting Ukrainian Russian-speakers to rally to his side. His intelligence staffs got that terribly wrong (and heads rolled as a result).

Moreover, according to almost everyone, the Russian president’s operation is rendered unquestionably illegal by international law. Wars of aggression are forbidden, they point out, by post- World War II Nuremberg Laws and the  Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. All those rulings (and more) prohibit wars like Putin’s (and the one, for instance, initiated by President George W. Bush against Iraq in 2003).

However, analysts outside the MSM also agree that the United States and NATO purposely provoked the Russian president to take the action he did. They also concur that the MSM has become simply a mouthpiece for the State Department with no mainstream dissent allowed. They are completely untrustworthy.

Moreover, even apart from the critical sources just mentioned, a close reading of Putin’s speeches delivered just prior to Russia’s entry into Ukraine show him to be much more thoughtful, and rational than most U.S. leaders who typically speak in slogans. By contrast, Putin has a firm grasp of history and an impressive ability to martial persuasive argument including historical and legal justifications for his actions. He respects his audience by treating them like adults. By all accounts, he doesn’t bluff.

Scott Ritter   

Beyond all that, however, Scott Ritter has distinguished himself as the non-MSM commentator offering the most help towards understanding what’s actually happening on Ukraine’s field of battle. It’s not what you think.

A former Marine major, Ritter was a longtime U.S. intelligence expert. He also reached prominence as the U.S. weapons inspector. Before the Iraq War he was charged with investigating U.S. convictions that Saddam Hussein was concealing in his country weapons of mass destruction. Ritter’s team found no evidence of such concealment. They were relieved of their duties when they reported their findings.

Ritter also turns out to be highly literate and knowledgeable about military strategy. That’s where his analysis turns out to be most helpful.     

Consider the following six points contradicting the memes just listed. They represent Ritter’s main points about what’s happening on the battlefield.

  1. Putin’s war is indeed a “special military operation“: It was never the Russian president’s intention to conquer all of Ukraine. Instead, as he stated on the day beginning his Ukrainian foray: “The purpose of this operation is to protect people who, for eight years now, have been facing humiliation and genocide perpetrated by the Kiev regime. To this end, we will seek to demilitarise and denazify Ukraine, as well as bring to trial those who perpetrated numerous bloody crimes against civilians, including against citizens of the Russian Federation. It is not our plan to occupy the Ukrainian territory. We do not intend to impose anything on anyone by force.”

In other words, Putin’s purpose in Ukraine is threefold:

a) To protect Donetsk and Luhansk from what he sees as genocide perpetrated there by the Ukrainian Nazi Azov regiment largely responsible for Kiev’s aggression in Donbass since 2014

b) To bring to justice those who directed the massacres  

c) And denazify and destroy the Ukrainian army in the process.

Those goals are clearly limited. The Russian president completely denies an intention or ability to occupy Ukraine.  

2. The operation has been run with scrupulous respect for rules of war: According to Ritter, the Russian army “came in soft” to Ukraine. As distinguished from U.S. tactics in Iraq, there was no “Shock and Awe” – no preliminary levelling of entire cities such as Mosul and Fallujah.  Instead, in the words of U.S. Colonel Doug Macgregor, “The first five days, I think frankly, the Russian forces were too gentle. They’ve since corrected that.” Moreover, on Ritter’s analysis, civilian targets have been carefully avoided. However, he points out that if Ukrainians use civilians as shields by, for instance, locating tanks next to hospitals or schools, those buildings become military targets. As for “mass graves,” bodies have been identified and given separate temporary marked graves near established cemeteries. In summary, according to Ritter, the rules of war have in general been followed scrupulously by the Russian army which is run by “highly professional” officers.

3. Accounts of the Boucha massacre are questionable: Here, Ritter uses his experience as a weapons inspector to underline the inconsistencies in the widespread mainstream accounts of the execution-style killings in Boucha. According to the MSM, Russian forces were shockingly brutal in leaving behind many Boucha civilians shot in the back of their heads with their hands tied behind their backs. Such accounts, Ritter contends, are suspicious. Questions are raised, he notes, by the fact that the executed civilians often had white or green ribbons displayed around their arms. White, he says, was an indication of neutrality in the war; green showed support of the Russians. As well, in some photos, empty green boxes appeared near the victims. Such boxes were used by Russian soldiers to supply food to civilians in occupied neighborhoods. Ritter’s conclusion: the victims in Boucha were likely executed as collaborators by the Ukrainian police force.

4. Russia’s early attack on Kiev was highly successful. According to Ritter, the early assault on Kiev and other western cities were “feints” – deceptive military maneuvers that are standard parts of what military textbooks call “shaping the battlefield.” The deception’s intention was to fix in place Ukrainian defenders, so that they would be rendered unable to come to the aid of eastern comrades in Mariupol and the Donbass – Russia’s real targets as havens for the Nazi Azov Battalion. No responsible military leadership (and the Russian generals, he says, are consummate professionals) would ever attack any city (much less a huge one like Kiev) with less than a ratio of 3 attackers for every 1 defender. In Kiev, the Russians attacked with far less — only 40,00 troops in total. They therefore had no intention of taking Kiev early on. They were shaping the battlefield. The marvel is that they succeeded in getting Ukrainian defenders to buy their feints.

5. The campaign in Donbass is unfolding according to plan. Putin’s words are that the battle in Donbass is very “literate.” He means it’s being waged by the book – intentionally slowly and deliberately according to classic military strategy in order to lessen Russian casualties. Two pincers (one from the north and one from the south) have about 60,000-100,000 Ukrainian troops trapped in a military “cauldron.” Gradually (not allowing themselves to be hurried by outside expectations, criticism, and misinterpretation), the Russians are moving sector by sector towards their surrounded prey that has nowhere to go. Ukrainian options are to surrender, be killed, or attempt a breakout that will cost them at least 20,000-30,000 dead.  

6. The Ukrainian army is a Nazi organization: Ritter supports this position as follows: He asks, would you say that the U.S. Army is racist? Of course not, he answers. But what if there were in the U.S. south a highly organized KKK regiment? And what if the U.S. Army incorporated that regiment as such into its ranks and distributed its officers throughout the army hierarchy? And what if it used that regiment as the leading edge of its military operations? Would you then consider the army racist? Yes, Ritter concludes. But, he says, (mutatis mutandis) that’s precisely what’s happened in the Ukrainian armed forces. A large Nazi regiment has been incorporated as such into its ranks with Nazi officer distributed throughout. And the Ukrainian government has those forces leading the attack on the Donbass region – which has taken 14,000 lives since 2014. That renders, he concludes, the Ukrainian army and its sponsoring government Nazi.

Conclusion  

Recently, The Economist ran a story based on the memes initially named here. The article’s title was “How Rotten is Russia’s Army?” It contended that:

“The invasion of Ukraine has been a disaster for Russia’s armed forces. About 15,000 troops have been killed in two months of fighting, according to the British government. At least 1,600 armoured vehicles have been destroyed. The assault on the capital, Kyiv, was a chaotic failure. For Mr. Putin this is a crushing setback, because the use of military force is central to his strategy for making Russia count in the world. Russia may be vast, but it is a medium-sized polity that still yearns to be a superpower. To fill the gap between its capacities and its aspirations, Mr. Putin has repeatedly turned to the only sphere where Russia can still purport to worldclass: military force. It is a welcome fact that the failure of Russia’s rotten army in Ukraine weakens this claim. Unfortunately, this also leaves the world facing a nuclear-armed power with a point to prove.”

As noted earlier, conclusions like The Economist’s are par for the course in the mainstream media. Their propagandistic nature is shown by the fact that they would never have been drawn about the U.S. army after its repeated and obvious failures in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Vietnam. In their light, can anyone imagine an MSM outlet posing the question “How Rotten is America’s Army?”

Neither would The Economist or any other mainstream outlet perceive the obvious psychological projection and irony of describing Russia in terms entirely applicable to the United States which has “repeatedly turned to the only sphere where (it) can still purport to be world class: military force.”

Be that as it may, the common sense of Scott Ritter’s analysis seems far more evident than the The Economist’s or anyone else’s self-serving and misleading memes.

The conclusion here is that the MSM should be ignored as propaganda pure and simple. Instead, analysts like Scott Ritter and the other critical reporters mentioned above should be sought out and heeded.

I’m Interviewed about Liberation Theology & A Course in Miracles

At the beginning of April, I was interviewed on a podcast called “Sunday with Mundy” hosted by Jon Mundy, a leading light in Course in Miracles (ACIM) circles.

Jon was interested in my own podcast site, “A Course in Miracles for Social Justice Warriors.” He wondered about my thesis there that ACIM represents the channelled voice of Christ addressed to North Americans living in the belly of the United States Imperial Beast. In veiled terms, the Christ of ACIM, I contend, speaks against what my late colleague at Berea College, bell hooks, called the “white supremacist, imperialist, capitalist, patriarchy.”

In this episode of Jon’s show, Ted Kneupper, an emeritus ACIM scholar from Slippery Rock University is my dialog partner (along, of course with Dr. Mundy).

Easter Reflection: Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?

Readings for Easter Sunday:ACTS 10:3A, 37-43; PS 118: 1-2, 16-17, 22-23; COL 3:1-4; JN 20: 1-9.

Did Jesus really rise from the dead? Or is belief in his physical resurrection childish and equivalent to belief in the Easter Bunny or Santa Claus?

I suppose the answer to those questions depends on what you mean by “really.” Let’s look at what our tradition tells us.

Following Jesus’ death, his disciples gave up hope and went back to fishing and their other pre-Jesus pursuits. Then, according to the synoptic gospels, some women in the community reported an experience that came to be called Jesus’ “resurrection” (Mt. 28:1-10; Mk. 16: 1-8; Lk. 24:1-11). That is, the rabbi from Nazareth was somehow experienced as alive and as more intensely present among them than he was before his crucifixion.

That women were the first witnesses to the resurrection seems certain. According to Jewish law, female testimony was without value. It therefore seems unlikely that Jesus’ followers, anxious to convince others of the reality of Jesus’ resurrection, would have concocted a story dependent on women as primary witnesses. Ironically then, the story’s “incredible” origin itself lends credence to the authenticity of early belief in Jesus return to life in some way.

But what was the exact nature of the resurrection? Did it involve a resuscitated corpse? Or was it something more spiritual, psychic, metaphorical or visionary?

In Paul (the only 1st person report we have – written around 50 C.E.) the experience of resurrection is clearly visionary. Paul sees a light and hears a voice, but for him there is no embodiment of the risen Jesus. When Paul reports his experience (I Cor. 15: 3-8) he equates his vision with the resurrection manifestations to others claiming to have encountered the risen Christ. Paul writes “Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.”

In fact, even though Paul never met the historical Jesus, he claims that he too is an “apostle” specifically because his experience was equivalent to that of the companions of Jesus who were known by  name. This implies that the other resurrection appearances might also be accurately described as visionary rather than physical.

The earliest gospel account of a “resurrection” is found in Mark, Ch. 16. There a “young man” (not an angel) announces Jesus’ resurrection to a group of women (!) who had come to Jesus’ tomb to anoint him (16: 5-8). But there is no encounter with the risen Jesus.

In fact, Mark’s account actually ends without any narrations of resurrection appearances at all. (According to virtually all scholarly analysis, the “appearances” found in chapter 16 were added by a later editor.) In Mark’s original ending, the women are told by the young man to go back to Jerusalem and tell Peter and the others. But they fail to do so, because of their great fear (16: 8). This means that in Mark there are not only no resurrection appearances, but the resurrection itself goes unproclaimed. This makes one wonder: was Mark unacquainted with the appearance stories? Or did he (incredibly) not think them important enough to include?

Resurrection appearances finally make their own appearance in Matthew (writing about 80) and in Luke (about 85) with increasing detail. Always however there is some initial difficulty in recognizing Jesus. For instance, Matthew 28:11-20 says, “Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshipped him; but some doubted.” So the disciples saw Jesus, but not everyone was sure they did. In Luke 24:13-53, two disciples walk seven miles with the risen Jesus without recognizing him until the three break bread together.

Even in John’s gospel (published about 100) Mary Magdalene (the woman with the most intimate relationship to Jesus) thinks she’s talking to a gardener when the risen Jesus appears to her (20: 11-18). In the same gospel, the apostle Thomas does not recognize the risen Jesus until he touches the wounds on Jesus’ body (Jn. 26-29). When Jesus appears to disciples at the Sea of Tiberius, they at first think he is a fishing kibitzer giving them instructions about where to find the most fish (Jn. 21: 4-8).

All of this raises questions about the nature of the “resurrection.” It doesn’t seem to have been resuscitation of a corpse. What then was it? Was it the community coming to realize the truth of Jesus’ words, “Whatever you do to the least of my brethren, you do to me” (Mt. 25:45) or “Wherever two or three are gathered together in my name, I am there in their midst” (Mt. 18:20)? Do the resurrection stories reveal a Lord’s Supper phenomenon where Jesus’ early followers experienced his intense presence “in the breaking of the bread” (Lk. 24:30-32)?

Some would say that this “more spiritual” interpretation of the resurrection threatens to destroy faith.

However, doesn’t such perception of threat reveal a quasi-magical understanding of faith? Does it risk limiting faith to belief in a God who operates outside the laws of nature and performs extraordinary physical feats that amaze and mystify? Doesn’t it flatten the significance of resurrection belief to simply one more “proof” of Jesus’ divinity?

But faith doesn’t seem to be principally about amazement, mystification and proof analogous to the scientific. It is about meaning.

And regardless of whether one believes in resurrection as resuscitation of a corpse or as a metaphor about the spiritual presence of God in communities serving the poor, the question must be answered, “What does resurrection mean?”

Surely it meant that Jesus’ original followers experienced a powerful continuity in their relationship Jesus even after his shameful execution. Their realm of experience had expanded. Both Jesus and his followers had entered broadened dimensions of time and space. They had crossed the threshold of another world where life was fuller and where physical and practical laws governing bodies and limiting spirits no longer applied. In other words, the resurrection was not originally about belief or dogma. It was about a realm of experience that had at the very least opened up in the context of sharing bread – in an experience of worship and prayer.

Resurrection meant that another world is possible — in the here and now! Yes, that other world was entered through baptism. But baptism meant participation in a community (another realm) where all things were held in common, and where the laws of market and “normal” society did not apply (Acts 2:44-45).

In order to talk about that realm, Jesus’ followers told exciting stories of encounters with a revivified being who possessed a spiritual body, that was difficult to recognize, needed food and drink, suddenly appeared in their midst, and which just as quickly disappeared. This body could sometimes be touched (Jn. 20:27); at others touching was forbidden (Jn. 20:17).

Resurrection and Easter represent an invitation offered each of us to enter the realm opened by the risen Lord however we understand the word “risen.” We enter that realm through a deepened life of prayer, worship, community and sharing.

We are called to live in the “other world” our faith tells us is possible – a world that is not defined by market, consumption, competition, technology, or war.

Pope Francis’ encyclical, Fratelli Tutti supplies the details.

Gleeful Liberal Pundits Arrogantly Bash China’s Covid “Dystopia:” 10 Reasons to Mistrust Them

The war in Ukraine is far from over. Yet already even the so-called “alternative media” are softening us up for the next conflict – this time with China.

That’s the conclusion easily drawn after witnessing a recent Sinophobic segment of “Breaking Points” with Krystal Ball and Saagar Enjeti (see above). Together they gleefully tag-teamed on China’s Covid-19 “dystopia.” (“Dystopia,” you recall is an “imagined world or society in which people lead wretched, dehumanized, fearful lives.”)

According to Enjeti and Ball, that’s China for you. Under its “authoritarian” regime, the people there lead wretched, dehumanized, fearful lives. A familiar story this side of the pond.

But are such charges valid? To find out, consider first the accusations themselves, secondly the hubris behind them, and finally a real-life example suggesting caution about indictments of cultures and policies few in the west can understand.

Accusations Vs. China

According to Enjeti and Ball, the People’s Republic lockdown strategy, though admittedly spectacularly successful in combatting the first two waves of Covid, is failing miserably with the Omicron version.

“Whew, thank God,” they seemed to gloat. “That was a close one. Imagine, if we’d have to admit that China’s universal healthcare system and prioritization of citizens’ lives and community health over business profits and getting people back to work has something to teach us.” Close one indeed.

Ball specifically expressed her happy relief by observing that she and others like her initially experienced a kind of “China envy” regarding the way the country so efficiently and effectively dealt with Covid since the pandemic’s dawn in 2020.  She then admired the way lockdowns, testing, contact tracing, provision of personal protective equipment, vaccinations, and expansions of hospital facilities kept Chinese fatalities minimal compared with the nearly one million pandemic deaths in the United States where such policies took months to develop. All of that seemed to explain why even though China has four times the U.S. population, over the first two years of the pandemic, it experienced only a fraction of America’s Covid fatalities.

Thankfully, however, in the welcome light of China’s struggles with Omicron, the truth has come to light. According to a chuckling Enjeti, China’s “dystopian nightmarish lockdown” reveals the sad truth. “This is what full communist collectivism really looks like,” he said.

Say what? “Full communist collectivism?” China?

In other contexts, commentators like our intrepid pair explain China’s economic and social successes as “not really socialism.” Instead, China’s capitalist nature is what accounts for its success.

Now however it’s “full communist collectivism” that explains everything.

Such self-contradictory and infantile analysis enabled Ball to chime in that though there’s “a long way” before we in the U.S. have a real true democracy, “at least the say of the people (she rolled her eyes appropriately at this point) “means something. And I will take that and all of the strife and messiness that it entails on a daily basis over drones circling overhead chastising your soul for wanting freedom.”

Ball’s reference was to Shanghai residents’ being admonished by drone loudspeakers to (according to somebody’s translation) “Please comply with Covid restrictions. Control your soul’s desire for freedom. Do not open the window or sing.”

Oh, the horror! What could be more authoritarian than asking people to control their soul’s desire for freedom and ask them not to sing?  What evil masters the poor Chinese have!

And imagine this: government food deliveries (to Shanghai’s 27 million people!) have been disrupted. Black markets for scarce commodities have resulted. The elderly are especially threatened.

According to a smirking Enjeti, the other end of the mortality table is threatened as well. Officials in Shanghai, he reports, are defending the policy of separating babies and young children from their parents if they test positive for Covid-19. “So, they’re literally taking children, he lamented, who are testing positive for Covid and administering treatment to them in public health centers.

And besides that, “there are people kneeling (sic) in the street and as people pass by, they check their ID passes and swabbing them constantly. This is the full stuff of nightmares of authoritarian lockdown.”

According to the “Breaking Point” hosts, all such horrors are due to Shanghai’s “total zero policy” regarding Covid.

Luckily, Enjeti claimed, we know all about this, while the Chinese people do not. According to young Sagaar, “We probably have a better idea of what’s happening in Shanghai than people in Beijing and in the rest of the country, just because of the Chinese government’s ability in order to crack down. In the Chinese equivalent of Times Square there were signs saying, ‘Don’t believe everything you see on social media and do not share viral videos’.”

Yes, it’s gotten that bad. Shanghai’s government is actually telling its people not to trust what they see on social media. Dangerous advice indeed.

Unhinged Hubris

Please excuse the sarcasm that leaked into my account that I had planned to be simply descriptive. However, the ironies and arrogance of the “Breaking Points” segment was so stunningly slanted and obviously anti-Chinese that I just couldn’t help myself.

I mean, think about the pomposity of young pundits living in a country that has experienced many more per capita Covid deaths than China criticizing a 6000-year-old culture that apparently places the common good above individual “freedom.”  Consider 10 such overreaches by Enjeti and Ball:  

  1. To begin with, they adopt a moral position that amounts to the pot calling the kettle black or people in glass houses throwing stones. To repeat, Americans whose government failed miserably to protect their citizens from a viral pandemic, have no moral right to criticize a government like China’s which did.
  2. That U.S. failure is never seen by commentators like our 2 exemplars as indicating the systemic failure of capitalism. Yet, China’s successes with the first two waves of Covid along with its vigorous efforts to combat Omicron somehow indicate the failure of Enjeti’s “full communist collectivism.”
  3. Enjeti and Ball also naively take at face value a 4 second video (showing buildings somewhere at night with sounds of people wailing in the background). They present the footage as unquestionably demonstrating the plight of Shanghai’s suffering millions. Instead, in the light of recent revelations about CIA and Pentagon deceptions, such easily faked video should have evoked strong journalistic skepticism.
  4. Similarly, Enjeti imagines Shanghai residents’ understandings of complex concepts such as “soul” and “freedom,” and “sing” (and of “government” for that matter) are accurate, non-ideological, non-propagandistic CIA translations of the Chinese terms involved.
  5. He further imagines that such terms have the same meanings for Chinese as they do for Americans.
  6. Moreover, Enjeti actually claims that he, a 20 something American, and the rest of us have a better understanding of what’s happening in Shanghai than the Chinese do. Such hubris needs no commentary.
  7. “Breaking Points” also gives the impression that children separated from parents “to be taken for treatment in a health center” represent permanent involuntary separation of child and parent (like that practiced by the U.S. at the Mexican border) instead of simply taking children (with their parents’ permission?) for treatment.
  8. Perhaps worst of all, “Breaking Points” never explains or even speculates why the Chinese government has adopted its lockdown, zero tolerance policy. The program simply leaves the impression that zero tolerance is a question of the mean communists exercising arbitrary power for the sake of doing so. Could it be however that Beijing actually cares about the health of the Chinese people and prefers saving lives to a return to normal that will increase corporate profits while causing preventable losses of life?  
  9. Finally, the “Breaking Points” hosts assume that the term “authoritarian” is univocal in meaning. China is “authoritarian;” the U.S. is not. “Communism” is authoritarian; capitalism is not. Such misunderstandings fail to reflect the undeniable fact that ALL extant systems of political economy are authoritarian, be they capitalist or socialist. Certainly, it’s undeniable that by definition America’s capitalist “empire” (a term enthusiastically embraced by its politicians) can never claim to be democratic or a respecter of human rights. It’s essentially authoritarian. That is, by nature, empire is imposed upon (not chosen by) its subjects. The same goes for capitalism itself. Yes, it has its Tweedle Dum vs. Tweedle Dee elections. But under capitalism, most of our time is spent working for wages under completely authoritarian bosses who give us no say over how we spend our time and who can fire us at whim.
  10. With all systems sharing authoritarianism, the question is which kind do we prefer – one that takes care of ordinary people or the type that prioritizes the needs of the rich. It’s clear from the examples like “our” allies Brazil, the Philippines, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Hungary, etc.., which type of authoritarians the United States prefers. Policies towards China (which has virtually eliminated poverty among its people and enjoys their 85% approval) as well as towards Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Cuba, do the same thing.

Conclusion

I have a Chinese friend who takes part in a prayer circle my wife and I participate in.

Recently, at one of our sessions with our Chinese friend absent, members of our circle were lamenting the plight of Shanghai’s residents as reported by news outlets like “Breaking Points.” “It just all seems so inhumane,” most prayer circle members lamented.

The next night we checked it out with our this-time present Chinese sister. We knew her elderly parents lived in Shanghai. We were worried about them.

“Well, what about the horror of Shanghai?” we asked her.

“Oh, that’s nothing,” she replied. “It’s just the Chinese government overacting a bit to Covid. My folks are o.k.”

“Wow,” was the response of others in the group. “I guess you just can’t be sure whom or what to believe.”

Why Jesus’ Followers Should Never Support an Empire Like America’s — Not Even in Ukraine

Readings: LK 19:28-40; IS 50: 4-7, PS 22: 8-9, 12-20, 23=24, PHIL 2:6-11, LK 22: 14-23:58.

Can a follower of Jesus ever be pro-empire? Can genuine Christians support an empire like the United States?

If you answer “yes,” you’re in good company. That’s because ever since the 4th century, mainstream Christians have given empire hearty endorsements that Jesus could never have tolerated.

I bring that up because today’s Palm Sunday readings pinpoint not only Jesus’ anti-imperialism, but the precise moment when Christians began their fatal departure from the stance against empire that the Master evidently adopted throughout his life. (After all, he was executed by Rome as an insurgent and terrorist.)

And that departure has made it possible for us who now live in the belly of the imperial beast to naively think that representatives of empire are actually capable of telling the truth when empire’s criminal interests are involved — for example in Ukraine.

From the viewpoint of the imperialized (like Jesus and his counterparts in today’s Global South) imperialists have no idea of truth.  

This whole question is related to the process of discernment in Ukraine as puzzled over recently on OpEdNews.

Let me explain by first looking at questions asked there about the war, truth and falsehood. Then I’ll compare those queries with Jesus’ attitude towards the Roman Empire as described and eventually distorted in today’s reading from the Gospel of Luke. Finally, I’ll return to the Ukraine question with some practical conclusions about truth discernment in the light of the gospel.  

Truth & Ukraine

Last week, Meryl Ann Butler published a thoughtful and soberly reasoned article headlined under the title “Russia, Ukraine, and the Elusive Truth.” Towards helping readers uncover that furtive reality, she stated indisputably that “Each one of us can’t physically go all over the globe to find out for ourselves what is actually going on.”

Given that obstacle, she wondered what is a truth seeker to do?

I think Jesus’ example in today’s liturgy of the word suggests an answer. The readings imply that at least for Christians (and leftists and progressives in general) determination of truth relative to wars fought by imperialist powers can be reached much more easily than by on-site visitation or even intense study of each case of imperial involvement in far off corners of the world.

I mean, the case of the colonized Jesus indicates that imperial intervention can NEVER be justified – and certainly not in modern terms of protecting democracy or human rights. This is because (like all victims of imperialism) Jesus must have somehow realized that by definition, empires can NEVER be genuinely interested in realities that contradict their very essence.

I mean that whatever their pretensions, all empires are essentially rapacious systems of tyranny. Again, in terms foreign to Jesus (but relevant nonetheless) they’re all definitively anti-democratic violators of human rights. So, without the strongest evidence to the contrary, interventions by empires MUST BE understood as aggressive self-extension, larcenous enrichment, and anti-democratic control.

With all of that in mind, all that’s required for progressive critical thinkers to evaluate information and disinformation coming from Ukraine is acknowledgment of the above facts coupled with recognition of the presence in Ukraine’s case of established historical patterns followed elsewhere by U.S. empire.

Yes, you might say, but isn’t Russia imperial too?

Not really. The only empire involved in Ukraine is the United States which proudly owns the designation. Russia (whose economy is smaller than Italy’s) is economically incapable of imperialism. In fact, the war in Ukraine pits a David against a huge menacing Goliath – or, as Richard Wolff has expressed it, against at least 15 Goliaths (NATO has 30 members).

Instead of imperialist aggression (like it or not) Russia is simply following the long-established malpractice of the United States by protecting its own “backyard” from imperial aggression, but this time precisely by the U.S. and its NATO clients against a country 6000 miles from U.S. borders. In other words, Russia’s interest in defending itself from an enemy at the gates is on the face of it far more credible and legitimate than the more remote interests of NATO and especially of America.

Jesus Anti-Imperialism

If all of that is true, how did Jesus become a champion of empire? Why would adherents of the Judeo-Christian tradition support U.S.. policy in Ukraine?

Today’s Palm Sunday readings provide some clues. Luke’s so-called “Passion Narratives” reveal a first century Christian community already depoliticizing their leader in order to please Roman imperialists. The stories turn Jesus against his own people as though they were foreign enemies of God.

Think about the context of today’s Palm Sunday readings.

Note that Jesus and his audiences were first and foremost anti-imperialist Jews whose lives were shaped more than anything else by the Roman occupation of their homeland. As such, they were awaiting a Davidic messiah who would liberate them from empire.

So, on this Palm Sunday, what do you think was on the minds of the crowds who Luke tells us lined the streets of Jerusalem to acclaim Jesus, the messianic construction worker? Were they shouting “Hosanna! Hosanna!” (Save us! Save us!) because they thought Jesus’ sacrificial death was about to open the gates of heaven closed since Adam’s sin by a petulant God? Of course not. They were shouting for Jesus to save them from the Romans.

The palm branches in their hands were (since the time of the Maccabees) the symbols of resistance to empire. Those acclaiming Jesus looked to him to play a key role in the Great Rebellion everyone knew was about to take place against the hated Roman occupiers.

And what do you suppose was on Jesus’ mind? He was probably intending to take part in the rebellion just mentioned. It had been plotted by the Jews’ Zealot insurgency. Jesus words at the “Last Supper” show his anticipation that the events planned for Jerusalem might cause God’s Kingdom to dawn that very weekend (Luke 22:18).

Clearly Jesus had his differences with the Zealots. They were nationalists; he was an internationalist open to gentiles. The Zealots were violent; Jesus probably was not.

And yet the Zealots and Jesus came together on their abhorrence of Roman presence in the Holy Land. They found common ground on the issues of debt forgiveness, non-payment of taxes to the occupiers, and land reform. Within Jesus’ inner circle there was at least one Zealot (Simon) . Indications might also implicate Peter, Judas, James, and John. And Jesus’ friends were armed when he was arrested. Whoever cut off the right ear of the high priest’s servant was used to wielding a sword – perhaps as a “sicarius” (the violent wing of the Zealots who specialized in knifing Jews collaborating with the Romans).

But we’re getting ahead of our story. . . Following his triumphant entry into Jerusalem, Jesus soon found himself and his disciples inside the temple participating in what we’d call a “direct action” protest. They were demonstrating against the collaborative role the temple and its priesthood were fulfilling on behalf of the Romans.

As collaborators, the temple priests were serving a foreign god (the Roman emperor) within the temple precincts. For Jesus that delegitimized the entire system. So, as John Dominic Crossan puts it, Jesus’ direct action was not so much a “cleansing” of the temple as the symbolic destruction of an institution that had completely lost its way.

It was this demonstration that represented the immediate cause of Jesus’ arrest and execution described so poignantly in today’s long gospel reading.

Following the temple demonstration, Jesus and his disciples became “wanted” men (Lk. 19:47). At first Jesus’ popularity affords him protection from the authorities (19:47-48). The people constantly surround him eager to hear his words denouncing their treasonous “leaders” (20:9-19), about the issue of Roman taxation (20:20-25), the destruction of the temple (21:1-6), the coming war (21:20-24) and the imminence of God’s Kingdom (21:29-33).

Eventually however, Jesus has to go underground. On Passover eve he sends out Peter and John to arrange for a safe house to celebrate the feast I mentioned earlier. The two disciples are to locate the “upper room.” They do so by exchanging a set of secret signs and passwords with a local comrade (Matthew 21:2).

Then comes Jesus’ arrest. Judas has betrayed Jesus to collect the reward on Jesus’ head – 30 pieces of silver. The arrest is followed by a series of “trials” before the Jewish Council (the Sanhedrin), before Pilate and Herod. Eventually, Jesus is brought back to Pilate. There he’s tortured, condemned and executed along with other insurgents.

Note that Luke presents Pilate in way completely at odds with what we know of the procurator as described for example by the Jewish historian Josephus. After the presentation of clear-cut evidence that the Nazarene rabbi was “stirring up the people,” and despite Jesus’ own admission to crimes against the state (claiming to be a rival king), Pilate insists three times that the carpenter is innocent of capital crime.

Such tolerance of rebellion contradicts Crossan’s insistence that Pilate had standing orders to execute anyone associated with lower class rebellion during the extremely volatile Passover festivities. In other words, there would have been no drawn-out trial.

Conclusion

What’s going on here relative to our questions about empire and Ukraine? Two things.

First of all, like everyone else, Luke knew that Jesus had been crucified by the Romans. That was an inconvenient truth for his audience which around the year 85 CE (when Luke wrote) was desperately trying to reconcile with the Roman Empire which lumped the emerging Christian community with the Jews whom the Romans despised.

Luke’s account represents an attempt to create distance between Christians and Jews. So, he makes up an account that exonerates Pilate (and the Romans) from guilt for Jesus’ execution. Simultaneously, he lays the burden of blame for Jesus’ execution at the doorstep of Jewish authorities.

In this way, Luke made overtures of friendship towards Rome. He wasn’t worried about the Jews, since by the year 70 the Romans had destroyed Jerusalem and its temple along with more than a million of its inhabitants. After 70 Jewish Christians no longer represented the important factor they once were. Their leadership had been decapitated with the destruction of Jerusalem.

Relatedly, Jesus’ crucifixion would have meant that Rome perceived him as a rebel against the Empire. Luke is anxious to make the case that such perception was false. Rome had nothing to fear from Christians.

I’m suggesting that such assurance was unfaithful to the Jesus of history. It domesticated the rebel who shines through even in Luke’s account when it is viewed contextually.

And so what?

Well, if you wonder why Christians can so easily succumb to empires (Roman, British, Nazi, U.S.) you’ve got your answer. It all starts here – in the gospels themselves – with the great cover-up of the insurgent Jesus.

And if you wonder where the West’s and Ukrainian Nazis’ comfort with xenophobia in general and anti-Semitism in particular come from, you have that answer as well.

The point here is that only by recovering the obscured rebel Jesus can Christians avoid the mistake Germans made 80 years ago and Ukrainian Nazis are making today. Then (and now in Ukraine) instead of singing “Hosanna” to Jesus, they shout(ed) “Heil Hitler!” to imperialist torturers, xenophobes, and hypocrites found so plenteously in “neo” form within the Ukraine government and military.

The readings for Palm Sunday present us with a cautionary tale about these sad realities.

As for the search for truth, my practical conclusion here is that the reason for imperial interest in a far distant country like Ukraine can be determined by what I call “historical pattern analysis,”

I mean, the well-established U.S. pattern of imperial aggression involving oil-rich nations strongly suggests that the operative reason for United States interest in Ukraine is not only connected with threatening and controlling NATO’s prime enemy (its very raison d’etre), but with capturing Russian oil and liquid natural gas markets – along with astronomical profits benefitting the military industrial complex – not to mention rehabilitating the status of a president with precipitously plunging poll numbers.

Statements by U.S. spokespersons contradicting the above are at best highly questionable and at worst outright lies.

They also contradict the experience and example of Jesus.

Ukraine: We’re Falling for CIA Lies Again!

I just can’t believe what’s happening before our eyes. I’m talking about Ukraine.

My disbelief is not related to Vladimir Putin’s relatively restrained assault on his beleaguered neighbor. Yes . . .“relatively restrained.”

(I see no need here to obscure my point by joining the chorus of Putin haters – just as there was none to join haters of Castro, Milosevic, Noriega, Chavez, Ortega, Maduro, Gaddafi, or the other innumerable “Emmanuel Goldsteins” identified as objects deserving of our de rigueur, periodic two minutes of hate.)

No, my disbelief is more about the fact that after being fooled in Vietnam, Iraq and elsewhere, so many Americans have been roped into somehow thinking anyone in this country has the moral authority to criticize any “war crimes” or perceived violations of “democracy” — as directed by the CIA!

In fact, by despicable U.S. standards, Putin is absolutely justified in his assault on Ukraine. By those criminal canons, Russia deserves its own Monroe Doctrine, its own buffer zone against a hostile and Russia-phobic NATO, its own sphere of influence. And unless we’re out in the street denouncing what “our” government routinely does and is currently doing in the world, we have no right to utter a syllable of protest about Mr. Putin. Not a single syllable!

War crimes? Are you kidding me? Think about those our current government is committing and supporting in Yemen, Afghanistan, Palestine, Libya, Somalia, and who knows where else. Think about its use of the cluster bombs it now decries. Think about its shooting contaminating nuclear waste at enemies du jour. Think about its use of agent orange and white phosphorous – both chemical weapons. Think about its rejection of World Court jurisdiction when there’s all those questions about U.S. war crimes.

All of that makes Putin’s gambit in Ukraine look absolutely statesman like. That’s compared (to take just one example) to U.S.routine “shock and awe” devastations. Putin’s crimes are nothing like the levelling of Iraq’s Fallujah.” Civilian casualties in Ukraine don’t even approach the million Muslims the U.S. military has slaughtered in Iraq alone – not to mention the million children who will die this year because of U.S. sanctions now operative in Afghanistan.]

Face it: our troops and government are out-and-out butchers compared with Putin’s.

That can’t be said too strongly.

And as for democracy, Putin’s system is no less democratic than ours. Are you aware of our new Jim Crow laws (supported by a criminally cooperative Supreme Court)? Think about how the system rigs elections to disenfranchise the poorest among us.

And you’re telling me that given the corruption legendarily involved in American electoral politics (with its interminable campaigns, demonstrably mendacious ads, gerrymandering, voter suppression, hackable voting machines, dark money, bribes in the form of “campaign contributions,” and the absolutely silly “politicians” that emerge to represent their donors – you’re telling me that we want Russia or China to follow suit?)

Please!

Our ignorance is not only blind, but arrogant!

Of course, Putin, like other heads of state in the capitalist world (the only one we’ve got), represents the rich elite. For that reason, as I’ve tried to show elsewhere (here, here, here, here, and here) his authority is no more legitimate than Joe Biden’s. Yes, that’s the hard truth:  if Putin’s authority is somehow de-legitimized, so is Biden’s.

Neither of them nor U.S. clients in Europe and throughout what is laughably called the “free world” cares a wit about people like you and me – much less about those with darker skins and emptier wallets.

With all of this in mind, think again about our collective stupidity. . ..

When was the last time you believed someone who told you that he makes a living by telling lies? You think you’re too smart for that, I’m sure.

But that’s what’s happening relative to Ukraine.

You know that, right?

I’m referring to the words of former CIA head, Mike Pompeo. Remember how he joked and bragged about that. He actually said, “We lied, we cheated, we stole all the time. We take entire courses about. . .. Ha, ha, ha!”

Well, the joke’s on us if we believe a single word coming out of Langley. In view of Pompeo’s words and reams of evidence supporting their truth, why would we ever think otherwise? Why would we ever not draw the conclusion, “If the CIA (or our government!) says ‘black,’ it’s definitely got to be ‘white.’”

Who wouldn’t draw the conclusion, “If the CIA’s involved on Ukraine’s side, Putin can’t be all that bad?”

That’s a serious question, because, of course, the CIA is deeply involved with the Ukrainian situation.

What I’m saying is that we’ve got to wake up. Sadly, this is the way the world works. “Great powers” – including Russia, China, and (in spades) the United States always act just the way Putin does — just the way U.S. presidents always have. If we accept borders and sovereign states, great powers, lesser powers, imperialism, and client states, this is what we have. Great powers (especially the United States) only selectively respect international law.

That’s the system that needs identification, rejection, and overthrow.

So, what’s called for is not rending our garments over the crimes of Vladimir Putin, but over those of our own government – of the entire capitalist system for that matter. Those are the ones we can do something about.

So, it’s time to shut up about Ukraine. Correlatively, it’s well past time to get out into the streets over our own war crimes and assaults on democracy not in a single country, but throughout the world and especially here at home.

Sexual Morality and Social Control: Yeshua Preaches a Silent Liberating Parable about Sex

Readings for 5th Sunday of Lent: Isaiah 43: 16-21; Psalm 126: 1-6; Philemon 3: 8-14; John 8: 1-11

Did you ever wonder why religious leaders seem so preoccupied with sex?

I have.

I bring the question up, because today’s reading from the Gospel of John presents Yeshua as confronting that clerical obsession. I’m referring to the famous case of the woman caught in the act of adultery.

Before I get to that, however, think of the preoccupation itself.

Clerical Preoccupation with Sex

We witness it all over the place, don’t we? Clerics, it seems, constantly worry about a long list of cringe-worthy and curious topics that include abortion, contraception, transgenderism, homosexuality, pornography, masturbation, artificial insemination, sex before marriage, oral sex, vasectomy, divorce, priestly celibacy, male-only priests, and (I guess) pedophilia.

Moreover, the clergy’s own sexual failings never inhibit their volubility on those topics. I mean, the record shows that Catholic priests have rather regularly sexually molested little boys. Famous evangelicals have consorted with prostitutes of both genders. Yet, Catholic or Protestant, both continue to pronounce on the topics just listed as though they retained their long-lost moral authority to do so.

 Why?

I think it’s all about the social control that over centuries religious “leaders” stumbled upon with increasing clarity and emphasis. Here’s what I mean focusing on the Catholic tradition with which I’m most familiar and which, of course, also shaped Protestantism:

  1. To begin with, religion is a very powerful means of social control. That is, if religious authorities can convince people that the clergy’s understandings of life and morality are shared by God, they’ve won the day in terms of power over “the faithful.”
  2. This is where sex comes in. As the second most powerful (and arguably the most enjoyable) drive shared by human beings, there is virtually no human being who can refrain from sexual activity.
  3. Therefore, making all sexual acts sinful outside of marriage (and “mortally” sinful – i.e., deserving of hell) the church guaranteed that every church member would sin and need absolution (which only the clergy was empowered to give.)
  4. Without that absolution, the church taught (infallibly) everyone who thought sexual thoughts or performed sexual acts (looking, touching, fornicating, committing adultery) would be tortured eternally in hell’s Lake of Fire.
  5. Even married couples would suffer such fate if they engaged in contraceptive acts.
  6. And since only the clergy and their Sacrament of Penance (confession) could save people from that horrible fate, the clergy possessed God-like power over the lives and fates of believers.

Incredibly, within my own lifetime, Catholics believed all of that – literally! Consequently, Saturday nights in any given parish would find long lines of people waiting to confess their sins in order to receive the absolution necessary for them to “save their souls” from a vengeful sex-obsessed God. Wow!

Yeshua & the Adulterous Woman

In Yeshua’s day, his religion’s clergy played a similar game. They had established themselves as the sex police. Only, instead of sending sexual transgressors to hell, Jewish law punished adultery with death by stoning.

That was a biblical requirement. However, the Jewish patriarchy applied that law differently to men and women. A man, they said, committed adultery only when he slept with a married woman. But if he slept with a single woman, a widow, a divorced woman, a prostitute, or a slave, he remained innocent. A woman, on the other hand committed adultery if she slept with anyone but her husband.

Yeshua calls attention to such hypocrisy and double standards in today’s gospel episode. You probably remember the story.

The Master is teaching in the temple surrounded by “the people” – the same outcasts, we presume, that habitually hung on his every word. Meanwhile, the Scribes and Pharisees are standing on the crowd’s edge wondering how to incriminate such a man?

As if ordained by heaven, an answer comes to them out of the blue. A woman is hustled into the temple. She’s just been caught in flagrante – in the very act of adultery. What luck for Yeshua’s opponents!

“Master,” they say, “This woman has just been caught in the act of adultery. As you know, our scriptures say we should stone her. But what do you say?”

Here Yeshua’s enemies suspect he will incriminate himself by recommending disobedience of the Bible’s clear injunction. After all, he is the Compassionate One. He is especially known for his kindness towards women – and others among his culture’s most vulnerable. He is the friend of prostitutes and drunkards.

But instead of falling into their trap, Yeshua simply preaches a silent parable. He first scribbles on the ground. Only subsequently does he speak — but only 18 words, “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”

A wordless parable . . .

What do you suppose Yeshua was scribbling on the ground? Was he writing the names of the guilty hypocrites who had cheated on their wives? Was he writing the laws the Scribes and Pharisees were violating? Some say he was simply drawing figures in the dust while considering how to reply to his opponents?

The first two possibilities seem unlikely. How would this poor country peasant from Galilee know the names of the learned and citified Scribes and Pharisees? It is even unlikely that Yeshua knew how to write at all. That too was the province of the Scribes. The third possibility – that Jesus was absent-mindedly drawing figures in the dust – is probably closer to the mark.

However, it seems likely that there was more to it than that. It seems Yeshua was performing some kind of symbolic action – that mimed parable I mentioned. By scribbling in the dust, he was wordlessly bringing his questioners down to earth. Was he reminding them of the common origin of men and women?

Both came from the dust, Yeshua might be saying without words. The creation stories in Genesis say both men and women were created from dirt and in God’s image – equal in the eyes of God. “In God’s image God created them. Man and woman created he them,” says the first creation account (Genesis 1:27). By scribbling in the dust, Yeshua was symbolically moving the earth under the feet of the Scribes and Pharisees. He was asserting that they had no ground to stand on. They were hypocrites.

If this is true, then Yeshua’s 18-word pronouncement offers his own standard for judging the guilt of others even in the fraught field of sexuality. According to that standard, one may judge and execute only if he himself is without sin. This, of course, means that no one may judge and execute another.

Conclusion

The conclusion from all of this seems clear to me. Human beings don’t need sex police. To regulate the field, it would be enough to simply say “Don’t use your God-given gift of sexuality in any way that hurts another. After all sex is a precious gift from God. Enjoy the pleasure it gives but never in a way that hurts someone else.” 

That may well have been Yeshua’s attitude too. His final comforting words to the woman in today’s Gospel episode indicate that.

Yes, I believe today’s story ended with the words, “Neither do I condemn you.”

And here I’m basing my judgment on one of the criteria used by The Jesus Seminar for separating Jesus’ words from the creations of the early church and evangelists like Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John.

For Seminar participants, the more radical the pronouncement, the more likely it is that the words belong to Jesus himself. By the same token, the more conventional the words, the less likely they are to have come from Jesus’ own mouth. The words, “Go now and sin no more” seems pretty conventional to me.

What I’m saying is that the addition “Go now and sin no more” bears all the fingerprints of community elders (those clergy we’ve been focusing on) who were scandalized by the radicality of Yeshua’s response to the woman’s “sin.” They needed to tone down Yeshua’s words for fear of losing social control.

Meanwhile, “Neither do I condemn you,” is beautifully radical and characteristic of the Compassionate Yeshua.

Now that is Good News for us sexual beings.

In Ukraine, “Gangsters of Capitalism” Have “Gone to the Mattresses” Again

I just finished reading Jonathan Katz’s Gangsters of Capitalism. It helped me understand what’s really going on in Ukraine, where they’re at it again. I mean they’re fighting yet another White People’s inter-capitalist war between Mafia dons. I’m talking about Vladimir Putin and Joe Biden.

Let me explain the connections by first identifying those involved as no better than blood thirsty mafiosi, then linking them to Katz’s book, and finally suggesting the shocking conclusion thoughtful people might draw after considering the gangland realities of the Ukraine fiasco.

White People’s Inter-capitalist War

To begin with, like everyone else, I’m appalled by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Nothing can justify such blatant transgression of the UN Charter.  Putin’s a thug.

However,  I’m even more dismayed by our nation’s part in provoking the conflict, and its apparent reluctance to help bring it to conclusion. Biden’s a thug too.

[On that latter point about wanting to prolong the war, Hillary Clinton’s recent pronouncements are telling. She apparently wants to turn the Ukraine war into a decades-long disaster modeled on Afghanistan’s. Think about that. Clearly, from the safety of  her mansion in Chappaqua New York, her faux heroism provides courage to continue the fight (6000 miles away) to the very last Ukrainian.]

Most outrageous of all however, is both sides’ entertainment of the possibility of nuclear war — over Ukraine, a place most Americans can’t find on the map! Mr. Putin’s explicit threats and and Zelenskyy’s appeals for a suicidal “no fly zone” should scare the hell out of anyone.

All of that should also make us doubt the sanity and validity of “leadership” on both sides. That’s my main point here. These people are insane!

And I’m not just talking about Putin and Biden. The real powers in question are the deeper, darker forces that the two front men represent. In Russia we refer to the latter as “the oligarchs.” Over here, we call them the “deep state” – you know, the military industrial complex, fossil fuel magnates, bankers, financiers, the CIA, FBI, NSA — the whole disaster.  

Like the Mafia, those forces and the sock puppets just mentioned are accountable to no one – only to their own personal and class welfare including most prominently their bank accounts. They’re like Cosa Nostra bosses – willing to kill bystanders as they’ve “gone to the mattresses” fighting over protection money, gun running, “territory,” “credibility,” “reputation” and “respect” on behalf of conflicting “families.”  

Let me say it again: neither Putin nor Biden represent anyone resembling you or me or ordinary Ukrainians and Russians. For instance, Biden and his henchmen can find billions and billions for war, but nothing for infrastructure, universal health care, guaranteed incomes, or free university education.

No doubt, we should feel for these godfathers’ victims. But allegiance to either side and what they represent is entirely misplaced.

Gangsters of Capitalism

Such realizations have come home to me starkly as I finished reading Katz’s eye opening Gangsters of Capitalism: Smedley Butler, the Marines and the Making and Breaking of America’s Empire. It’s one of the saddest books I’ve ever read.

It has made me realize how despite my supposed sophistication, I’ve been completely duped over the last month of conflict in Ukraine into taking the sides of capitalist gangsters fighting over those traditional Mafia concerns I just mentioned.

The book’s title says it all. Gangsters of Capitalism is a biography of General Smedley Butler (1881-1940), the most famous military figure of his era who after devastating countries all over the world ended up authoring the famous book-length mea culpa, War Is a Racket.

There, towards the end of his life he famously confessed:

“I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested. Looking back on it, I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents.”

The racket Butler described involved his Marines in massacres, looting, slavery, outright robbery of national treasuries, and support for dictators and tyrants. It all took a severe toll on Butler’s body and mind. But it also awakened him towards the end of his life to the criminality of the U.S. capitalist system itself. He came to understand that its overlords care nothing for the lives of workers lost as a result of their fights, especially if the laborers are not white.

Mafiosi in Ukraine

Now, think about Butler’s revelations in view of the current inter-capitalist conflict between the mafia bosses, Vlad “the Czar” Putin on the one hand, and  “Sleepy” Joe Biden on the other – with “Pretty Boy” Volodymyr Zelenskyy thrown in for good measure.

As noted earlier, these guys are thugs one an all. They care nothing for democracy, law, or even genocide. An overriding concern is “credibility” understood as instilling fear by a demonstrated willingness to kill the disobedient without a second thought.

In the current political climate, there’s no need to convince anyone that Vlad the Czar is a thug.

But Zelenskyy? And Biden ?

Think about “Pretty Boy” first. He’s head of the ninth most corrupt country in the world. Its leadership (including him) is deeply involved with self-identified Nazis. They’ve been incorporated into the army. Moreover, just last week, the Boy outlawed 11 opposition parties and forbade airing of any accounts of the Ukraine war that differ from the state’s official narrative. These, of course, are the very policies for which Zelenskyy’s (and our) press criticize Vlad the Czar.  

As for Sleepy Joe . . .. One minute in defense of “democracy” and “international law” he’s denouncing and sanctioning Vlad as a “war criminal.” Then the next minute the American godfather considers a trip to Saudi Arabia to “restore relationships” with another mafioso kingpin, Moe “the butcher” bin Salman.

The Butcher is the mafia boss who over the last seven years has been bombing a neighboring country (Yemen) into rubble. In the process he’s created what the UN calls the world’s greatest humanitarian crisis with an overwhelming number of its victims, children. As a Saudi royal, the Butcher is a sworn enemy of democracy.

He’s also the one who just this week beheaded 81 men in a single day – many of them for thought crimes. And by the way, the he got his nickname from instructing his hit men to use bone saws to dismember a Washington Post journalist. I mean, this man’s got real credibility; you better not cross him.

But he’s okay with the Sleeper who not only supports the Yemen slaughter, but wants to kiss the Butcher’s ring in order to persuade him (in the midst of climate catastrophe) to pump more oil. (That oil by the way, won’t go online till next winter. Think of the progress against climate change that would happen if instead of using the coming year to prepare for pumping more oil, the time were used to go all out to replace fossil fuels with renewable green energy.)

Say what?

I’m sure you see what I mean about criminality, insanity, and general disregard  of human welfare. That’s the Mafia for you.

Conclusion

I do not mean to make light of the war in Ukraine. No, I’m as serious about my characterization of Putin, Zelenskiyy, and Biden as Mafiosi as Smedley Butler was about his own war crimes. My point is that none of them – not Putin, not Biden, not Zelenskyy, not MBS – enjoy a scintilla of credibility in the sense of responsible statecraft.

None of them gives the slightest damn about the rest of us, our health care, education, debts, or jobs – and much less about democracy, freedom, justice, or the continuity of human life on a planet facing the imminent threats of climate change and nuclear war. The record speaks for itself. Simply put, every one of them is certifiably insane.  

And the certification?  Let me put it this way: Anyone, and I mean ANYONE, who talks about using nuclear weapons is ipso facto nuts.

No one has that right? Why do we give it to them? And why are we not outraged at the mere mention of employing nuclear weapons? 

And for what? To defend ultimately imaginary entities like “Ukraine,” “Russia,” “The United States,” and NATO.” That’s what they are, you know – imaginary constructs. History shows that like all such entities, they inevitably emerge and disappear and have no lasting reality.

So-called “leaders” who stand ready to commit collective suicide on behalf of such constructs either belong in an asylum at best or in a maximum security prison – simply for threatening the rest of us on behalf of their venality, stupidity, and incompetence.

So, let me say it even more starkly although it will offend many. Here it is: The Sandinistas were right. In their anthem, they identified the Yankee as “the enemy of humanity.” As Katz shows, “our” government roams the world stirring up trouble everywhere, exploiting differences, dividing and conquering. As Dr.King put it, we’re the world’s “greatest purveyor of violence.”

One can hardly resist endorsing such conclusions after reading Gangsters of Capitalism. It rehearses so well the planetary devastation brought on by the United States government and its military which allied so easily with mafias everywhere, as well as with dictators, fascists, Nazis, drug dealers, terrorists, and (it seems) with the devil himself.

It’s time to stop being “Good Americans” and to realize instead that our real enemy resides in DC.

In Memoriam: Gustavo Esteva (1936-2022)

The world lost a great prophet last week. Peggy and I lost a great friend and mentor. He died of Covid-19 in Oaxaca, Mexico, his hometown.

No doubt, Gustavo would be shocked by my characterizing him as a prophet. After all, he always claimed to be an atheist. He was a harsh critic of the Catholic Church — and all religions for that matter.

Gustavo was once an IBM executive, and an official high-up in the Mexican government. At one time he was also a revolutionary guerrilla. But for many years, he called himself “a de-professionalized intellectual and itinerant story-teller.” He’s the founder of an alternative university (Unitierra). He also authored more than 30 books, among them Grassroots Postmodernism and Escaping Education.

Nonetheless, I’ll stick with my assertion: he was a prophet – not in the sense of a forecaster of future events, but of a powerful voice for Truth, which some of us still insist on calling “God.”

In the presence of someone like that, you can imagine the transcendent conversations we had around our dinner table each time Peggy and I got together with him in Berea (Kentucky) – sometimes with dear friends listening in and sharing. At others, it was just the three of us.  Invariably, we talked of almost nothing else but politics, literature, spirituality, and the direction of history.

Among Gustavo’s most outstanding roles was the position he occupied as advisor to the Zapatista revolutionaries. Perhaps you remember them. They were the Native Americans who on January 1, 1994 captured the imagination of Mexico (and many of us outside) when their lightly armed military forces occupied five Mexican towns around San Cristobal in the state of Chiapas.

They were protesting the implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which they said spelled the death of their culture and way of life. Their courageous “Indian Uprising” made them instant international heroes. So did their eventual abandonment of armed struggle in favor of non-violent resistance.

With Gustavo’s blessings, on more than one occasion, Peggy and I led Berea College students into Zapatista communities to experience their radically counter-cultural lives firsthand.

According to the Zapatistas, women were leading the way they had embarked upon.  In fact, 60% of their army commanders were women.

The importance of women’s leadership was the heart of the extraordinary convocation I remember Gustavo giving at the beginning of his “scholar-in-residence” stint at Berea College. It was a theme to which he returned often during his many classes and lectures there. Women are leading the way, he said, into the “other world” that is not only possible but required if our planet is to survive.

Our threatened survival is where Gustavo always started. He said our world stands in a position of unprecedented danger. It is threatened by climate chaos, oligarchical governments, tremendous wealth disparities, an economic system that simply doesn’t work, schools and communications media that propagandize rather than inform, and by an emerging and universal police state with its system of perpetual war that (suicidally) defends the status quo. Under the present world order, the line between governments, the military, the police, and the judiciary on the one hand and the criminals and thugs on the other has completely disappeared. Not a pretty picture.

During that general convocation I mentioned, Gustavo held us all spell bound as he outlined the seven principles to guide us out of the morass just described. The principles represent the North Star that guided not only the Zapatista movement, but Gustavo’s entire life. In fact, the Zapatista principles call into question our entire way of life.

Here they are as Gustavo explained them:

  1. To serve others, not self. For Zapatistas, the goal of life was the common good, not the accumulation of money or power.
  2. To represent, not supplant. The Zapatista model of revolution was not the seizure of power (supplanting one government with its mirror image), but the representation of the majority without reproducing old relationships of domination.
  3. To construct, not destroy. The Zapatistas taught that the new order could not be built upon violence.
  4. To obey, not command. However, the Zapatista model of obedience was never that of servant to master or of soldier to comandante. It was that of mother to her infant child.
  5. To convince, not to win. As taught by Gustavo, the Zapatista way centralized respectful dialog based not primarily on logical argument, but supplementing logic with intuition derived from the experience of life.
  6. To propose, not impose. Imposition represented the violence rejected by Zapatismo.
  7. To go down, not up. For Zapatistas the geography of social discourse and action had changed. Old categories of left and right, conservative and liberal were no longer applicable. The new more relevant topography directed our gaze up and down, north and south – to recognize the gap between the one percent and the rest of us.

Not surprisingly, not everyone welcomed Gustavo’s convocation message of cooperation, non-violence, care, and acceptance. During the Q&A following his principal address, a particularly articulate young man posed a question that must have been on the minds of many “exceptionalist Americans” in the audience.

“You’ve described a rather bleak world, Gustavo,” the young man said. “But surely, you’re talking about a reality outside the United States. After all, here we enjoy extraordinary freedom and prosperity. That’s shown by the fact that so many foreigners are anxious to come to America. Isn’t that true?”

Gustavo responded, “I have bad news for you, my friend. The United States you describe is fast disappearing and is harder and harder to find. Your country with its pot-holed highways, homeless beggars, and falling bridges increasingly resembles what you call the “Third World.”

“And that’s the purpose of your politicians’ New World Order – to create a reality where we’re all racing to the bottom, while they enjoy the cream on top. Unfortunately, that cream is also fast evaporating. Soon the system benefitting the 1% will collapse entirely. (In fact, it’s happening before our very eyes.)  There is simply no exception to the collapse I’ve described. To save ourselves we have no alternative to a complete change of guidelines and world vision. The Zapatista principles I’ve just described, and which centralize women’s ways of knowing show us the way.”

That’s how real prophets talk. They’re usually right. This time however the warning was planetary and universal.

All of that is why I called Gustavo Esteva a prophet and why Peggy and I will miss his powerful voice, friendship, and guidance.  His words still echo from his newly turned grave.

Will we listen before it’s too late?

Thank you, Gustavo for all you gave us! 

What Yemen Tells U.S. Christians Blinded by Ukraine

Readings for the Third Sunday in Lent: Exodus 3: 1-8a, 13-15; Psalm 103: 1-11; 1st Corinthians 10: 1-6, 10-12; Matthew 4: 17 ; Luke 13: 1-9

Because the readings for this Third Sunday of Lent celebrate the identity of the biblical God as the champion of the poor and oppressed, they should offer encouragement to war victims in Ukraine but especially in Yemen where the United States is acting far more brutally than Putin.

Today’s selections should therefore give pause to American followers of Moses and Yeshua. Typically, we have no trouble lamenting what’s happening in Ukraine’s “white people’s war” involving middle class people who “look and live like us.”

Generally, however, we are less perceptive about the immeasurably greater slaughter of black and brown Muslims taking place at the hands of our own government in Yemen.

Ironically, in Ukraine our politicians and the media would have us believe we’re on principle against invasion of a sovereign state and indiscriminate slaughter by a cruel tyrant. In Ukraine, we present ourselves as champions of democracy and peace.

However, in Yemen the U.S. is supporting a vastly more deadly and indiscriminate invasion of a sovereign state by an ally (Saudi Arabia) that is specifically anti-democratic and led by a head of state more openly barbaric even than Vladimir Putin.

To get what I mean and its implications for adherents of the Judeo-Christian tradition as presented in this Sunday’s readings, please consider our day’s historical context in the light of today’s liturgy of the word. Then consider what people of faith should do about all of it.

Our Context

Of course, there is no need to rehearse the horrific scenes from Kiev and Mariupol. For the past four weeks they’ve assaulted our eyes and have broken our hearts on behalf of the victims of Russia’s merciless assaults.

Ironically, however, virtually no one in the mainstream media (MSM) connects those atrocities with what our own government has done and continues to sponsor in Yemen.

There, “we” have been supporting the country’s invasion by neighboring Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed bin Salman (MBS). He, of course, is a royal prince who (as I said) is specifically against democracy.

For instance, just last week, he had 81 men beheaded in just 12 hours. The executed had no legal representation. Many of the charges against them amounted to thought crimes.  

Additionally, a couple of years ago, MBS had his hitmen butcher with surgical bone saws the Washington Post journalist, Jamal Khashoggi.

More to my point here: for the past seven years, MBS, perhaps the richest man in the Middle East, has waged a genocidal war on Yemen, making it the poorest country in the world. In the process, (with full American support) he has created what the UN’s World Food Program has identified as genocide and the world’s greatest humanitarian crisis. — far greater than Ukraine.

Over those seven years, MBS has come to the aid of Yemeni oligarchs who have kept the country’s rich oil wealth for themselves. The Saudi crown prince thinks that’s a good idea. So, supplied and guided by the U.S., he’s been bombing, blockading, and starving the children of Yemen and their parents. The brutal process has claimed more than 100,000 lives. An additional 85,000 Yemenis are dead as the result of the famine and cholera epidemic produced by our war.

And what is it that the opponents of MBS and the United States are seeking? According to a Newsweek report, rebel groups (the Houthis) are fighting  “for things that all Yemenis crave: government accountability, the end to corruption, regular utilities, fair fuel prices, job opportunities for ordinary Yemenis and the end of Western influence.”  

Today’s Readings

As I mentioned at the outset, today’s liturgy of the word focuses on the character of Israel’s and Yeshua’s God as the protector of the poor and oppressed – the champion of those like the people in Ukraine and especially in Yemen.

In fact, as you’ll see below, the first reading recounts the vocation story of Israel’s great rebel leader, the prophet Moses. When Moses asks God’s name, the Source of Everything says, She is the liberator of the poor and oppressed. The second reading from St. Paul’s letter to a Christian community in Greece expands on that theme.

Then today’s final selection from the Christian Testament presents Yeshua as doing exactly what I’m attempting in this homily. He raises two “current events” connected with the hegemonic force of his own day, the Roman Empire. Of course, it was the invader of Yeshua’s homeland Israel.

In one event the infamous Pontius Pilate, the brutal Roman procurator in charge of Palestine had just slaughtered several Jewish insurgents in the act of offering sacrifice in Jerusalem’s temple. They were honoring the liberating God of Moses.

Meanwhile, another group of insurgents tunneling under a Roman armory (it seems with a plan to steal its arms cache) had caused the tower’s weak foundations crumble and fall not only on top of the tunnellers but people in nearby houses as well. According to Maria Lopez Vigil and her brother, Jose Ignacio, the armory was located in the Tower of Siloam.

In response, Yeshua expresses sympathy for its resisters. “They’re no more sinners than the rest of us,” he says. “All of us are ‘guilty’ of wanting to be rid of the Roman invaders. But actions like Pilate’s and the fate of those undermining the Tower of Siloam foreshadow a more general slaughter that will inevitably take place in response to such “direct action.”  

In effect, Yeshua says, “Those who resist the hated Romans by resorting to arms are (understandably) bloodthirsty too. And if we follow their example, we’ll all drown in a bloody deluge.” Or as Yeshua put it, “I tell you, if you do not change your minds, you will all perish as they did!”

And time is running short, he adds with today’s parable about a fig tree. The bloody deluge has been building for at least three years, he says. We have maybe another twelve months before the chickens of the deadly cycle of violence come home to roost. Without replacing violent resistance to Roman butchery with non-violent tactics, we’ll all be cut down like a barren fig tree.

(Jesus’ prediction of bloodbath, of course, eventually came true, but not as soon as he thought. The Romans would defeat the Zealot uprising in the year 70, and definitively squash all Jewish rebellion in 132. Jesus was right however about the extent of the slaughter. It was horrific resulting in the deaths of more than a million Jews. Such disaster is inevitable, Jesus teaches for all who “live by the sword.”)

His words, of course, have implications for our nation which like none other has lived by the sword ever since its foundation.

The Readings Translated

With all of that in mind, here are my “translations” of today’s powerful readings. Please check out the originals here to see if I got them right.

Exodus 3: 1-8a, 13-15
 
A stuttering shepherd 
Tending his father-in-law’s beasts 
In the barren desert 
Encounters a bush 
On fire 
But unconsumed. 
Fantastically, 
The stammering one 
Hears a voice 
From the raging flames 
Frightening him 
Out of his wits, 
Crumbling the man 
To the desert floor 
But calling on Moses 
In the name of 
The Great “I Am” 
To lead A motley horde 
Of slaves 
To freedom, prosperity 
And abundance. 

“This,” says the voice 
“Remains the unchanging 
Will and identity 
Of your people's God – 
The Liberator Of the poor 
And oppressed 
Everywhere.” 

Psalm 103: 1-11 

Yes, the Great “I Am”. 
Is the champion 
Of the downtrodden 
Throughout the world 
Hungering and thirsting 
For justice. 
Yahweh is 
Kind and merciful 
Gracious and loving 
Kinder than anyone 
Can even imagine 
The giver of abundance 
The physician 
Who cures, forgives 
And saves the enslaved 
From destruction. 

Who cannot love 
Such a One? 

1st Corinthians 10: 1-6, 10-12 

Certainly, Paul did
Whose God 
He recalls 
Protected His fugitive people 
With cloud, fire 
Desert and sea 
From pursuing 
Egyptian slave holders 
And then fed 
The liberated ones 
In the desert 
With manna 
And water 
Drawn from a rock 
(Foreshadowing Jesus himself.) 

While complainers 
(“What, manna again?”)
Perished 
Preferring instead 
The fleshpots and security 
Of Egyptian captivity. 

For your own good,
Paul warns, 
Don’t be like them! 

Matthew 4: 17 

I mean, 
Leave behind 
Enslavement 
With all its predictability 
And false security 
Choosing instead 
The insecure 
But imminent realm 
Of God’s New Future 
With all its promised 
Freedom, prosperity 
And abundance. 

Luke 13: 1-9 

That’s the realm 
Yeshua based 
His entire life upon. 
He contrasted it 
With Pilate’s Cruel slaughter 
Of insurgent Jews 
Simply trying 
To worship 
Their Great “I Am” 
And 18 other 
Revolutionaries 
Tunnelling under 
A Roman armory 
That collapsed upon them 
At Siloam. 

“No,” Jesus cautioned 
“Choose Yahweh’s 
Non-violent Order, 
Along with 
Complete abandonment 
Of (sinless) religious naivety 
And equally understandable 
And innocent 
Revolutionary derring do. 
Otherwise, 
You’ll have no future 
At all. 

And time’s running out,” 
He warned, 
“You’ve got maybe a year 
Before you’ll reach 
The point of no return.”

Conclusion

As you’ve just seen, the readings for this Third Sunday of Lent call us to repentance – to change of mind about empire, brutal invaders, occupiers, and what to do about all of it.

Followers of the biblical heroes, Moses and Yeshua, are summoned to examine their own consciences about how we see and respond to “current events.” We’re called to repentance.

Many would say that the tragic events unfolding in both Ukraine and in Yemen can be laid at the doorstep of the United States, the bloody successor of the Roman Empire that plagued Yeshua and his people.

Regardless of “the fog of war” that might impede such perception for many regarding Ukraine, the case of Yemen should be crystal clear. It should help us realize that our country’s leaders are not in the least interested in democracy, the deaths of innocents, preventing genocide, or opposing brutality of national leaders considered “friends.”

Instead, the guiding interests of U.S. “leadership” are money, oil, and maintaining hegemony, whatever the cost in human lives. History shows that to realize those interests they’ll ally with anyone – with butchers like MBS, with Nazis like Ukraine’s Azof Battalion, with the Mafia, drug dealers, ISIS, or the devil himself.

Events in Ukraine and Yemen should be forcing us to such shocking conclusions. They should be driving us all towards non-violent revolution — and towards publicizing and resisting U.S. aggression, warmongering and policy hypocrisies on every front.

That is, according to the teachings of Moses and Yeshua, the proper response for believers is unrelenting clarity of thought and analysis, along with non-violent resistance. And we’d better act quickly. As Yeshua warns, time is running out for us too..