The Missing Faith Dimension of the Capitalism vs. Socialism Debate

Jesus Communist

Democracy Now recently reported surprising results from a new Gallup poll about evolving attitudes in this country about socialism. The poll concluded that by a 57-47% majority, U.S. Democrats currently view socialism more positively than capitalism.

Let me offer some reflections sparked by those poll results. I offer them in the light of some pushback I received over my related blog posting about the capitalism vs. socialism debate. These current reflections will emphasize the faith perspective that has not only shaped my own world vision, but that should mobilize Christians to be more sympathetic to socialist ideals.

To begin with, the Gallup poll results are themselves astounding in view of the fact that since after World War II all of us have been subjected to non-stop vilification of socialism. As economist and historian, Richard Wolff, continually observes Americans’ overcoming such programming is nothing less than breath-taking. It means that something new is afoot in our culture.

On the other hand, the Gallup results should not be that shocking. That’s because since 2016, we’ve become used to an avowed socialist, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, being the most popular politician in the country.

On top of that the recent 14-point victory of another socialist, Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, grabbed everyone’s attention. Recall that Ms. Cortez defeated 10-term congressional incumbent, Joe Crowley, in her NYC race for the Bronx and Queens seat in the House of Representatives.

Socialist candidates seem to be sprouting up everywhere. They advocate a $15 an hour minimum wage, Medicare for all, and tuition free college education.

Such promises seem to be somehow awakening Americans (at least subconsciously) to the reality that at least since WWII, similar socialist programs have become quite familiar. We’ve all experienced their efficacy since Roosevelt’s New Deal. We expect the government to intervene in the market to make our lives better.

In fact, since the second Great War, there have been no real capitalist or socialist economies anywhere in the world. Instead, all we’ve experienced are mixed economies with huge elements of socialism that we’ve all taken for granted.

Put otherwise, economies across the globe (however they’ve identified themselves) have all combined the three elements of capitalism: (1) private ownership of the means of production, (2) free and open markets, and (3) unlimited earnings, with the corresponding and opposite elements of socialism: (1) public ownership of the means of production, (2) controlled markets, and (3) limited earnings. The result has been what economists everywhere call “mixed economies”: (1) some private ownership and some public ownership of the means of production (exemplified in the post office and national parks), (2) some free markets and some controlled markets (e.g. laws governing alcohol, tobacco and fire arms), and (3) earnings typically limited by progressive income taxes.

What has distinguished e.g. the mixed economy of the United States from the mixed economy, e.g. in Cuba is that the former is mixed in favor of the rich (on some version of trickle-down theory), while the latter is mixed in favor of the poor to ensure that the latter have direct and immediate access to food, housing, education and healthcare.

My article also went on to argue that the socialist elements just mentioned have enjoyed huge successes in the mixed economies across the globe – yes, even in Russia, China and the United States.

“All of that may be true,” one of my readers asked “but how can you ignore the tremendous human rights abuses that have accompanied the “accomplishments” you enumerate in Russia and China? And why do you so consistently admire socialism over capitalism which has proven so successful here at home?”

Let me answer that second question first. Afterwards, I’ll try to clarify an important point made in my recent posting’s argument about the successes I alleged in Russia and China. That point was in no way to defend the horrendous human rights abuses there any more than those associated with the successes of the U.S. economy which are similarly horrific. But we’ll get to that shortly.

In the meantime, let me lead off with a that basic point about faith that I want to centralize here. Here my admission is that more than anything, I’m coming from a believer’s perspective.

That is, without trying to persuade anyone of its truth, I admit that my Judeo-Christian faith dictates that the earth belongs to everyone. So, boundaries and borders are fictions – not part of the divine order. Moreover, for some to consume obscenely while others have little or nothing is an abomination in the eyes of God. (See Jesus’ parable about the rich man and Lazarus (LK 16:19-31).

Even more to the point of the discussion at hand, it is evident that the idea of communism (or communalism) comes from the Bible itself. I’m thinking of two descriptions of life in the early Christian community that we find in the Acts of the Apostles. For instance,

Acts 2:44-45 says:

“All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.”

Acts 4:32–35 reads:

“All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had . . . And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.”

Jesus’ identification with the poor and oppressed is also important for me. He said that whatever we do to the hungry, sick, ill-clad, thirsty, homeless, and imprisoned, we do to him. The words Matthew attributes to Jesus (in the only biblical description we have of the last judgment) are:

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry, and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
There is much, much more to be said about this basic faith perspective. But for now, let that suffice.

Now for the second point about human rights:

• To repeat: no one can defend the obvious human rights abuses of Russia or China. They are clearly indefensible.
• In fact, they are as inexcusable as the similar abuses by the United States in countries which are or have been U.S. client states. I’m referring to Israel, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Vietnam, and countries throughout Latin America and Africa. In all the latter, it has not been unusual for freedom of press to be violated, for elections to be rigged (think Honduras just recently), for summary executions to be common, for journalists to be assassinated in large numbers, and for dissenters to be routinely imprisoned and tortured. Christians advocating social justice have been persecuted without mercy. (Recall that infamous Salvadoran right-wing slogan, “Be a patriot; kill a priest.”)
• Moreover, while we have been relatively free from such outrages on U.S. soil, the events of 9/11/01 have been used to justify restrictions of freedoms we have historically enjoyed. Here the reference is to wiretappings, e-mail confiscations, neighbors spying on neighbors, and other unconstitutional invasions of privacy that seem to violate the 4th Amendment of the Constitution. It is now even permissible for the nation’s head of state to identify the press as “the enemy of the people.”
• 9/11 has also been used to justify the clearly illegal invasion of at least one sovereign country under false pretenses (Iraq) with the resultant deaths of well over a million people (mostly civilians). Other countries have also been illegally attacked, e.g. Libya, Yemen and Somalia without due congressional authorization. 9/11 has further “justified” the establishment of “black sites” throughout the world, the “rendition” of prisoners to third countries for purposes of torture, innumerable (literally) arrests without charges and imprisonments without trial. It has even led to extrajudicial killings of U.S. citizens.

Such observations make the general point that when countries perceive themselves to be under attack, they implement policies both domestically and abroad that defenders of human rights correctly identify as repressive, cruel, criminal and even homicidal. Russia, China, and Cuba have been guilty of such policies. But so has the United States in supporting friendly regimes throughout the world and by implementing increasingly repressive policies here at home.

Now consider the pressures that led Russia, for example, to implement its own indefensible repression:

• As the most backward country in Europe, its people had suffered enormously under an extremely repressive Czarist regime. [Czarism, in fact, was the model of government that most Russians (including criminals like Stalin) had internalized.]
• Following its revolution, Russia was invaded by a vast coalition of forces (including the United States). It was forced to fight not only the invaders, but Czarist sympathizers and anti-communists within its own population.
• The country had twice been invaded by Germany through Poland and saw itself as needing a buffer from its implacable enemies to the west.
• Its people had fought heroically against German invaders and though suffering 20 million deaths and incredible infrastructure destruction, it managed to defeat the German army and largely be responsible for winning World War II.
• During the Cold War, Russia found itself under constant threat from western powers and especially from the United States, its CIA, and from NATO – as well as from internal enemies allied with the latter.

My only point in making such observations was not to defend Russia’s indefensible violations of human rights (nor China’s, nor Cuba’s); it was, rather, to make my central point about the efficiency of economies mixed in favor of the poor vs. those mixed in favor of the rich.

As shown by Russia (and even more evidently by China), economies mixed in favor of the poor develop much more quickly and efficiently than economies mixed in favor of the rich. While both Russia and China became superpowers in a very short time, the former European and U.S. colonies in Latin America, Africa, and South Asia have remained mired in colonial underdevelopment. The latter’s organizing principle of “comparative advantage” has proven ineffective in enriching them, since it locks them into positions of mere suppliers of raw materials to industrialized countries. No country has ever reached “developed” status by following such principle. In other words, Global South countries are still waiting for that wealth to “trickle down.”

So, readers shouldn’t mistake the argument made by Wolff and others. It was not to defend the indefensible. (Even Khrushchev and Gorbachev recognized and denounced the crimes of Josef Stalin.) The relevant point is about capitalism vs. socialism. It was to indicate that the vilification of socialism overlooks the achievements of that system despite (not because of) restrictions on human rights that are common to both systems in egregious ways that no humanist or follower of Jesus should be able to countenance.

My conclusion remains, then, that it is up to people of conscience (and especially people of faith) to oppose such restrictions and violations wherever we encounter them – but especially in our own system where our voices can be much more powerful than denunciations of the crimes attributable to “those others.”

Think Critically about Syria, Skripal, and Building # 7 Before It’s Too Late: Apply “The 9/11 Principle”

Syria Crisis

What level of evidence of an opponent’s criminal state activity justifies sanctions, diplomatic expulsions, retaliatory bombings, conventional war or even the risk of nuclear war? The question finds urgent relevance amid unsubstantiated charges of chemical weapons use by the Assad government in Syria and in the light of wild accusations against Vladimir Putin of Russian responsibility for the poisoning of double-agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia.

In my new book, The Magic Glasses of Critical Thinking: seeing through alternative fact and fake news, I offer a whole series of criteria for answering questions of evidence and judgment of guilt.

“Magic Glasses” is a term coined by the late comedian and social activist, Dick Gregory for habitual critical perspective that refuses to go along with group-think imposed by American oligarchs and propagated by the mainstream media (MSM). For Gregory, critical thinking was like donning a pair of spectacles that reveal things as they truly are, not as the oligarchs and their publicists would have us see them.

Magic Glasses Cover

Chief among the criteria I offer in my own Magic Glasses is what might be called the “9/11 Principle.” It enjoys new relevance in the light of a recently-filed petition for a grand jury hearing about the true causes of the destruction of the 3 World Trade Center buildings on 9/11/01. The 54-page petition with 57 exhibits was submitted on April 8th by the Lawyers’ Committee for 9/11 Inquiry. The principle states that:

Since 9/11/01, any evidence for enemy-state wrongdoing (such as use of chemical weapons or alleged assassinations) must surpass the level of the evidence routinely dismissed by the U.S. government indicating that the World Trade Center destruction of 9/11/01 was the result of controlled demolition rather than of fires caused by planes crashing into the structures.

My 9/11 Principle and its implied relationship to Assad, Skripal and the attack on the World Trade Center is found in the final chapter of The Magic Glasses. There I attempt to appropriate Noam Chomsky’s propaganda model of mainstream media (MSM) which identifies its function as not that of seeking truth, but of defending government policy despite the facts.

In the case of designated enemies, Chomsky explains, merely circumstantial evidence, hearsay, and the work of discredited intelligence agencies is all that’s required to establish guilt and justify retaliation. Moreover, responsibility for the alleged misconduct will be attributed to the highest level possible.

This syndrome finds its most recent expression in the just mentioned cases of alleged Syrian use of chemical weapons, and in the Skripal poisonings. In both cases, long before the dust had settled, the Trump administration on the one hand, and Theresa May on the other quickly drew conclusions condemnatory of designated enemies (Syria in Trump’s case, and Russia in May’s) before standard criminal investigations were allowed to unfold. In each case, guilt was linked directly and immediately to the relevant head of state – Bashar Assad and Vladimir Putin.

Contrast such premature judgment with MSM coverage of alleged U.S. crimes. There smoking guns are always demanded. And then if the “gun” is found, responsibility for its use is routinely assigned to the lowest official available. Abu Ghraib represents a case in point. Crimes that were later traced to the oval office itself were originally presented as the work of a few low-ranking bad apples.

More to the point, consider the official story of 9/11. That Washington-sanctioned account has carried the day for more than 16 years despite problematic evidence ignored or dismissed by government investigators. That’s the evidence undergirding the case submitted by the Lawyers Committee for 9/11 Inquiry. It includes:

* The historical facts that no steel-framed building in the history of the world has ever fallen as the result of even the most intense fires burning in some cases for days on end.
” Yet three such buildings fell on a single day after a few hours of localized conflagration.
” World Trade Center Building #7 was not struck by aircraft; yet it too fell into its footprint like Building #1 and Building #2 in fewer than 10 seconds after a relatively few hours of fire.
” Larry Silverstein, the owner of WTC Building #7 is heard on tape admitting that he and an unnamed NYC fire official decided to issue the order to “pull” the building in question. Using the language of demolition engineers, where to “pull it” means to initiate the final demolition process, Silverstein says,

“I remember getting a call from the fire department commander telling me they were not sure they would be able to contain the fire. I said, ‘You know, we’ve had such terrible loss of life, maybe the smartest thing to do is just to pull it. And they made that decision to pull. Then we watched the building collapse.'”

* The scientific fact that Jet fuel (the medium responsible for ignition of the fires in question) cannot produce fires whose temperatures can cause steel to melt.
* The evidentiary fact that widespread traces of thermite explosives were found amid the wreckage of the collapsed WTC buildings.
* The procedural fact that thorough investigation of the WTC debris was prevented by an inexplicably hastened and immediate removal of crime scene evidence following the buildings’ destruction.

In the light of the differences between government and MSM treatment of alleged crimes of the U.S. government on the one hand and of designated enemies on the other, let me repeat my 9/11 principle. It states:

Since 9/11/01, any evidence for enemy-state wrongdoing (such as use of chemical weapons or alleged assassinations) must surpass the level of the evidence routinely dismissed by the U.S. government indicating that the World Trade Center destruction of 9/11/01 was the result of controlled demolition rather than of fires caused by planes crashing into the structures.

Please note that the principle does not take a position on the question of responsibility for the dastardly events of 9/11. Instead, it merely:

* Suggests that for the sake of fairness, balance, logic, and consistency, the same standards of behavior must be applied to designated enemies as that applied by U.S. officials to their own conduct. (This is Chomsky’s Principle of Universality that any child can understand.)
* Underlines the high bar set by authors of the official 9/11 story and of their disinterest in answering the still-open questions surrounding the event.
* Implies that no retaliation in the form of sanctions, bombings or (much less) declarations of war should ever take place in response to alleged crimes of designated enemies unless evidence exceeds that denied or rejected out of hand (as conspiracy theories) by proponents of the official story of the September 11th attacks.
* Means that belligerent responses to recent chemical weapons attacks or to alleged assassinations are virtually impossible to justify.
* Consequentially renders the question of war effectively moot.

In fact, no war justifications since the Second Inter-Capitalist War have met the standard set by the 9/11 principle. And even if the opponents of renewed 9/11 inquiry should block the initiative of the Lawyers Committee for 9/11 Inquiry, their very act of denial will only raise the bar the principle sets even higher.

By offering its Ten Rules similar to the 9/11 Principle, The Magic Glasses of Critical Thinking attempts to clarify issues such as those inspired by the Assad accusations and the Skripal case. It also is meant to spur practical conclusions including:

* Extreme skepticism of any governmental claims based on circumstantial evidence.
* Absolute refusal to endorse any retaliation towards Russia without an incontrovertible “smoking gun” established by an independent agency conducting thorough investigation and presenting its findings to the United Nations.
* Insistence that the evidence in question be concrete, undeniable, and as easy to recognize as a building falling into its own footprint in fewer than 10 seconds.
* Massive street demonstrations against the American and British oligarchs, “intelligence” agencies, and arms manufacturers whose financial interests are recklessly rushing the world towards nuclear annihilation.

I and my book are desperately appealing to the American public to put on Gregory’s magic glasses and see the fall of Building #7 as the prescient image of what the oligarchy is about to inflict on our homes, offices, schools, factories, businesses, hospitals, and churches.

Following Dick Gregory, we must see things as they are – and act accordingly before it’s too late.

Sunday Homily: Our Willful Blindness (especially about 9/11)

9:11

Readings for 4th Sunday of Lent: I SAM 16: 1B, 6-7, 10-13A; PS 23: 1-6; EPH 5: 8-14; JN 9: 1-14

The Liturgy of the Word for this fourth Sunday of Lent centralizes the themes of blindness, seeing, light and darkness. For me, those topics raise questions about being sightless in our contemporary culture. With us, it’s a nearly universal condition. In fact, you might say that ours is a culture that actually rewards blindness and punishes those who can see. For instance:

  • We “Americans” can’t allow ourselves to even imagine the implications of admitting that a right-wing coup took place in our country in the year 2000 when conservative Supreme Court justices overruled the popular electoral will. So we pretend that was normal. We refuse to see what actually happened.
  • The coup continued in 2016 when the Republican Party stole control of virtually all branches of the U.S. government. Yes, they stole it through a whole series of anti-democratic measures including Citizens United, gerrymandering, voter suppression, hackable electronic voting machines, James Comey’s last-minute investigation of Hillary Clinton, and possible Russian interference in the whole process. And yet we carry on as though none of those elements made any difference.
  • Meanwhile, politicians assure their electoral futures by asking us to close our eyes to their own crimes while they highlight those of the enemy du jour. For example, they want us to wring our hands over Vladimir Putin’s annexation of Crimea and intervention in Ukraine, while ignoring routine and less warranted U.S. interventions from Grenada to Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen.
  • Then there are the climate-change deniers. They refuse to recognize the human causes of climate chaos while reaping billions in profit as the world disintegrates before our sightless eyes.
  • Additionally, we allow ourselves to be more easily persuaded by explanations of the CIA and NSA (part of whose acknowledged mission is to deceive) than by whistle-blowers like Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning and Julian Assange who simply release what government says about itself. Somehow we’ve been convinced that the official sources have authority and integrity, while the whistle-blowers are suspect.
  • Above all, our culture is blind to what our own eyes told us took place on September 11th 2001, when three World Trade Center (WTC) buildings collapsed in demolition style after a few hours of localized fires of quite ordinary intensity as far as such tragic conflagrations go.

I say “above all” because the events of 9/11/01 have truly changed our world and continue to do so. They have been used to justify “works of darkness” like those Paul alludes to in today’s second reading from Ephesians. Though Paul shrinks from even mentioning them by name, today we might say that they include the War on Terrorism itself along with Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, racial profiling, drone warfare, torture, water boarding, rendition, Guantanamo, NSA spying, intrusive airport pat-downs . . . .

It’s all justified by 9/11. Paul implies that no one who performs such works is worthy of belief. They operate in secret and in the dark. “Expose them,” Paul urges.

And what needs to be exposed about 9/11? Clearly it’s the weakness of the “official story” we’ve all memorized so well. It says that in the case of two of the WTC buildings, fires feeding off the planes’ jet fuel caused steel girders to melt or weaken to the breaking point. Higher floors fell on top of lower ones, and the buildings pancaked smoothly to the ground. This explanation is accepted even though fires caused by jet fuel cannot even approach the temperatures necessary for such melt-down.

This is not to mention Trade Center Building # 7 that wasn’t even impacted by an airplane and whose demolition style crumbling remains unexplained to this day. Nor need we mention the testimonies of Scientists for 9/11 Truth, the “group of scientific professionals calling for a new, independent, and scientific investigation of the events of September 11, 2001.”

This is not a claim that the U.S. government was necessarily behind the events of 9/11/01. Rather, what’s called for is addressing unanswered questions posed by the scientists just mentioned as well as by scholars of the stature and theological sensibilities of David Ray Griffin.

Griffin is the Process theologian who has devoted the latest phase of his stellar career to raising consciousness about the need to 9/11’s unanswered questions because of the indisputably key role that the tragedy continues to play in “American” political life. He connects 9/11 directly with Jesus and his Kingdom values. I’m sure that, like me, he would see today’s readings as linked to 9/11 blindness.

In 9/11 context, consider today’s readings one by one. They establish principles for dealing with all official stories, explanations and denials.

The first reading tells us that political considerations like the ones just mentioned are not out-of-place in reflections like this. Samuel’s unlikely selection of David from among older and more “worthy” candidates to rule over Israel reminds us that the All Parent is deeply concerned with politics and just governance. In the political realm, Her ways cannot be dictated by what is apparent to merely human wisdom. They always involve preferential option for the least. God’s habit is to turn cultural perceptions upside-down.

The excerpt from Paul’s letter to his friends in Ephesus expands that theme. It identifies Jesus precisely as the one who gives sight to “the least” previously living in the darkness of their contemporary culture governed by falsehood, evil and injustice. Paul says that such darkness is exposed and dispelled by Jesus who brings a bright light that makes everything visible and produces all kinds of goodness, truth and justice.

Then in today’s gospel selection, Jesus shows what it means to bring light. He cures a man born blind. John tells the story through a series of seven interviews involving the poor man. In the process, the formerly sightless beggar doesn’t merely regain the physical ability to see. He also obtains an in-sight that helps him stand up to authorities whose “official” interpretations of Jesus’ healing contradict the blind man’s own senses.

The interviews involve Jesus’ disciples, a conversation with the blind man’s neighbors, three exchanges with Pharisees, interrogation of the blind man’s parents, and a final encounter Jesus himself. In the course of the interactions, the story of the blind man’s cure is recounted three times with delightful elements of magic, humor and irony. The repetition is necessary because the Pharisees, the story’s authority figures, refuse to admit that an ordinary person’s act of seeing can reveal more truth than their official theologized denials and a priori explanations.

So the Pharisees try to convince the cured blind man that he’s lying; he wasn’t really blind at all. They try to get the man’s parents to support their allegations. When that doesn’t work, the Pharisees try to discredit Jesus. He’s a sinner, they say, because he doesn’t observe the Sabbath.

But the beggar refuses to cave in. He insists on believing his own senses, especially sight. “I don’t know much about theology,” he repeats, “but I do know that I was blind and now I see.”

Be like the healed blind man, is the message here. Don’t believe the agents of darkness.

Today’s gospel story goes even further with that instruction. It presents Jesus as not merely turning Pharisaic perceptions upside down, but more generally his culture’s blind spots about truth itself. Those convictions are mirrored in the question of Jesus disciples at the beginning of the episode. Along with Jesus, they see the man born blind. So they ask, “Is this man’s condition the result of his own sin or that of his parents?”

By the end of the story Jesus answers their query with a statement worthy of a Zen master. He says that blindness is no sin at all. It’s seeing that’s sinful. To “clarify,” Jesus adds, “I came into this world for judgment, so that those who do not see might see, and those who do see might become blind.”

In other words, the story is meant to raise the question, what kind of blindness is virtuous and what kind of seeing is sinful? For Jesus, the Pharisees’ claim to clear sightedness is actually blindness. The blind man’s admission that he was formerly blind and that Jesus cured him represents clarity of vision.

With all that in mind, here are the quasi-principles for post 9/11 discernment that today’s readings suggest:

  • Sacred Scripture is indeed concerned with political realities.
  • From the faith perspective, official explanations are probably false.
  • We should not believe those who perform works of darkness.
  • Kingdom consciousness turns official “reality” upside-down.
  • Those whom dominant culture dismisses as blind probably have clearer insight than their “betters.”
  • We should believe what we see with our own eyes regardless of what the agents of darkness tell us.

In a world shaped by our dear “leaders’” entirely suspect account of 9/11, accepting those gospel principles would drive us to join David Ray Griffin and the 9/11 Truth Movement as they call for a new, independent, and scientific investigation of the events of September 11, 2001.

Curing our nation of 9/11 blindness would deprive our masters of a powerful pretext to justify their works of darkness. That deprivation would truly change everything.

Charlie Hebdo: a Thought Experiment

 

 

Jews 1

If World War II Jews did in Berlin exactly what the Charlie Hebdo killers did in Paris, they would be considered heroes, not terrorists. That realization alone should help us re-vision what took place in Paris last week. It should make us more careful about using the term “terrorism” in the context of our country’s so-called “War on Terror.”

To get what I mean, perform the following thought experiment.

Imagine Germany in 1943. The country is at war with Russia, Great Britain, France, and the United States. The Jewish holocaust is in full operation. German newspapers and magazines are full of anti-Semitic propaganda including grotesque cartoons (like the one above) depicting Jews in general and their Jewish faith in particular. The ones attacking Judaism and Moses are especially offensive to devout Jews throughout the diaspora.

One dark morning in Berlin, two Jewish gunmen burst into the offices of Lustige Blatter , the German humor magazine which as part of Germany’s war effort specializes in the publication of anti-Semitic cartoons. The gunmen know the particular cartoonists they’re looking for. They’re delighted to find them protected by a couple of Ordnungspolizei.

The gunmen open fire.

With their bloody work finished, the killers leave twelve bodies of Lustige Blatter cartoonists, copy writers, and Orpo bodyguards dead on the office floor. The assassins flee the premises.

Later on, they’re cornered and killed in a fire fight with the Gestapo.

How would the world outside the Reich’s orbit react to that sequence of events?

  • Would it consider the Jewish perpetrators “terrorists”?
  • Would it sympathize with massive protests defending the press freedom of the Lustige Blatter cartoonists to make fun of Jews and their religion?
  • Would it admire those waving banners declaring “Ich bin Lustige Blatter” while demonstrating in Berlin’s central Paris Square on behalf of the right to insult Jews and their faith?
  • Would it expect their leaders to join Adolph Hitler, Benito Mussolini, and Tojo at those demonstrations?

The answer to each of those questions is probably a resounding NO! Most likely, the only ones considering the shooting an act of terrorism would be supporters of the Third Reich.

If that’s true, the thought experiment puts into perspective the events of last week surrounding the horrific events in Paris connected with the Charlie Hebdo shootings. It enables us to see this latest event in the “war on terror” from the viewpoint of the other side.

It reminds us that.

  • The Charlie Hebdo killers are combatants in a war and have grievances as real as any that Jews had in 1943.
  • For example, over the last fourteen years, western governments have daily killed untold (literally) numbers of Muslim civilians in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Syria, Yemen, Libya, Somalia and elsewhere throughout the world.
  • More specifically, their recent attacks on Palestinians killed more than 2000 in Gaza (mostly civilians) including 500 children.
  • By some counts, more than one and a half million Muslims (mostly civilians) have been slaughtered in the allied invasion of Iraq since 2003.
  • In war, both sides kill one another; retaliations are routine and to be expected; they are part of war, not to be considered acts of terrorism.
  • In war (as the above thought experiment shows) most would consider propagandists and psy-ops agents as vital cogs in the combat machine, and hence legitimate targets.

And now a final thought. . . .

What if, during WWII, again during the holocaust, a group of 19 Jews from the Warsaw ghetto somehow hijacked three Lufthansa airliners? And suppose they flew two of them into Berlin’s tallest building housing the offices of companies like AIG Insurance, Bayer Pharmaceuticals, Krupp Aviation, and Volkswagen — all vital to the German war effort?

How would we remember those Jews? Would we consider them “terrorists” or heroes?

Hmm.

The bottom line is this: if western governments insist on fighting a “War on Terrorism,” they have to expect counter-attacks even on what the “enemy” considers war propagandists and psy-ops personnel.

Simply put, that’s war.

The Advent Project of Pope Francis (and Jesus): A World without War by Christmas! (Sunday Homily)

Evangelii-Gaudium-Image

Readings for First Sunday in Advent: IS 2: 1-5; PS 122: 1-9; ROM 13: 11-14; MT 24: 37-44 http://usccb.org/bible/readings/120113.cfm

Isn’t it amazing how quickly the world changes? At times radical transformation happens so rapidly that we can miss the significance of events unfolding right before our eyes. One of those events occurred last week. Pope Francis astonished the world by publishing a revolutionary platform (Evangelii Gaudium) for his papacy, church and world. In doing so he is the first world leader among the global elite to call corporate globalization by its true name (systematized murder). As a result, 1.2 billion Catholics suddenly find themselves challenged about the free market, “trickle-down” theory, world hunger and poverty, the roots of terrorism, the unacceptability of war, the surveillance state and obsession of the rich with “defense” and “security.” All of those familiar elements were thoroughly rejected by the pope.

If Catholic Christians (and other fellow-travelers) were to embrace the pope’s message, history’s door would suddenly fling itself open to truly radical change. It would mean for the first time since the 4th century Christians would embrace “the way” of Jesus as opposed to that of Caesar, Constantine and their Euro-American successors. A world at peace would at last be possible.

Today’s liturgy of the word, this first Sunday of Advent, invites us to envision such an unabashedly utopian world. Evangelii Gaudium makes that vision even more compelling and somehow brings it within reach.

Yes, a utopian world! It’s the Judeo-Christian vision. It’s the vision of Pope Francis.

Take the initial reading for this first Sunday of Advent. There the prophet Isaiah identifies Jerusalem as a Center of Peace. He does so in the most unlikely of circumstances – at a time when the city and the entire Kingdom of Judah (as well as the Northern Kingdom of Israel) finds itself under imminent threat from the Assyrian Empire. The threat obscured the vision of Isaiah’s contemporaries –but not the prophet’s.

Despite the fog of war, Isaiah can still see Jerusalem (and the world) as he wants them to be – as he thinks God wants them to be. Jerusalem suddenly becomes a harbinger of a place and time when war will completely disappear from the face of the earth. Then, Isaiah says, resources for battle will be reinvested in agriculture and forestry. Swords will be turned to plows and pruning hooks. No nation will rise against any other. Military training camps will be abolished. An era of light, the prophet promises, will have dawned with Jerusalem (City of Peace) as its center.

Urban renewal with a vengeance will result. That’s what today’s responsorial psalm (# 122) says. It had us chanting “Let us go rejoicing to the house of the Lord.” The psalm goes on: Let us go to Jerusalem for it is not only a City of Peace, but of the prosperity that inevitably follows the abolition of war and the reinvestment of military resources. Jerusalem’s infrastructure is completely rebuilt. It is as if (in the psalmist’s words) peace had penetrated the city’s very walls and the stones of its buildings. It’s the result of people reinvesting resources in peace, internalizing peaceful aspirations, and adopting the mantra “May peace be within your walls, prosperity in your buildings . . . “Peace be within you!” Action follows thought.

In Chapter 13 of his Letter to the Romans, Paul agrees. He takes up Isaiah’s theme of peacemaking as “walking in light.” If you insist on arming yourselves, he says, let it be with light. This is a reference to the Enlightened Jesus. “Walking in Light,” Paul says, means embodying the Christ’s very presence. So Paul urges us to “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ” – as if he were a garment – so that all who see us find themselves looking at Princesses and Princes of Peace. Paul contrasts walking in light with working in darkness – idolizing pleasure along with competition, jealousy, blind consumption, and drunken oblivion that saps awareness of who we really are. These are the very evils Pope Francis identified as underlying corporate globalization’s systematized oppression.

Finally today’s gospel excerpt from Matthew calls us away from business as usual – the business of war. It challenges us to choose between destroying ourselves and working for the advent of God’s Kingdom.

We stand on the cusp of a new era, Jesus insists – a new beginning as radical as the new world facing Noah after the Great Flood. As then, today’s order is about to be destroyed, Jesus warns. (And it was, when Rome invaded Israel and turned Jerusalem to a pile of rubble.)

It doesn’t have to be that way, the Master insists. Instead of war’s destruction, there could be universal peace. Jesus called it “The Kingdom of God” – what the world would be like if the Parent of All were King – instead of Caesar, the great patron of war and oppression. Like Isaiah’s, Jesus’ vision too is utopian. In God’s Kingdom each treats the other as kin – as sister, brother, friend, and lover. The Golden Rule applies. The earth’s resources are shared, not horded or carelessly destroyed. There are no poor, because everything is shared in common, just as happened in the idealized community of Jesus’ earliest followers (Acts 2:44, 4:32, 5:9).

That Kingdom (or its opposite – it’s up to us) will arrive sooner than we expect, Jesus promises, “like a thief in the night.” This means most might not even know a new era has dawned till after the dreams that sleepwalkers cherish have disappeared. If they don’t wake up, it may even seem that the somnambulants’ very selves have been “taken” – like the man in the field and the woman at the mill Jesus mentions. They simply vanish while their minds and hands are focused on work that then becomes irrelevant.

Like Jesus (and Pope Francis), Noah tried to warn such people about the karma they were creating for themselves. But they were asleep – in denial really – concerned merely with eating, drinking, starting families and laboring as though Noah’s warnings were nonsense.

But then . . . la deluge!

Of course, most progressives hearing all of this today are about as believing as Noah’s audience – or Jesus’ for that matter. We find it hard to believe that real positive change can happen to our world. The evil surrounding us seems so permanent; its forces so overwhelming. But that’s only because we’re asleep. “Wake up!” is the message of Isaiah, the psalmist, Paul and Jesus.

It we do so, it immediately becomes apparent that eras really do change – and sometimes for the better. And I’m not just referring to Evangelii Gaudium. Think about it. All of a sudden, it seems:

• The Soviet Union dissolves – unexpectedly in a matter of weeks. No one saw it coming.
• Someone in the neo-colonial world decides “enough!” and 9/11 happens. In a single day, everything changes. With minimum expenditure, in one fell swoop empire’s victims begin dismantling an “indestructible” behemoth.
• Similar frustrations erupt throughout the empire in rebellions that the imperialists are powerless to control. It’s called an “Arab Spring.” Alternatively, the rebellions are characterized as “terrorism.”
• The Big Brother, who controls by watching us, suddenly becomes the object of our scrutiny and surveillance, and empire’s credibility is lost seemingly overnight. (Thanks, Edward Snowden.)
• In response, empire’s order crumbles before our eyes with its “leaders” themselves doing most of the destroying. That is the elite respond to attacks by looting the empire’s treasuries while they still can. They dismantle everything that made the empire proud. They destroy the basis of their country’s wealth – its infrastructure, the “freedoms of its citizens,” their jobs, the empire’s very Constitution. (Meanwhile, those responsible for 9/11 stand in the wings and laugh.)
• Nature itself cooperates and sympathetically unleashes its fury on a way of life that interferes with her laws. Mountains are literally moved as ice and glaciers melt. The corresponding world-wide deluge gives new meaning to Jesus’ reference to Noah in this morning’s gospel selection.
• Suddenly the imperial order finds itself discarded on the ashbin of history along with its counterparts – most recently Great Britain and the Soviet Union.

Will our future simply be more of the same with some other empire replacing the old one? Or will the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics and 2.5 billion Christians in total finally wake up, truly follow the Enlightened Jesus, and transform the world – as the pope has invited us to do?

That’s the Advent project set before us today!

What will you do this week – what will I do – to hasten the advent of the world without war that Isaiah, Paul and the Prince of Peace imagined?

(Discussion follows.)

9/11 Reconsidered in the Light of U.S. Drone Policy

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So, let me get this straight: you direct airborne vehicles to fly into buildings in order to destroy enemies your Leader has unilaterally judged are terrorizing your people. Those “taken out” don’t necessarily terrorize directly. Nonetheless you kill them because they’re associated with, are near, and/or are sympathetic to the ones who do actually or potentially terrorize. Alternatively, those killed have been designated “signature” terrorists, because they look like those you and your inner circle have decided are terrorists or potential terrorists.

Sound familiar? Sounds like the loose logic attributed to the still-undisclosed Obama rationale for extra-judicial drone killings in at least five countries. . . . Or like the logic of 9/11.

You recall, of course, why Osama bin Laden allegedly mounted the 9/11 attacks. If you’ve forgotten, you can read about it in The Guardian (http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2002/nov/24/theobserver)
According to the “Letter to the American People” finally posted there in 2002, it was all response to U.S. terrorism.

More specifically, after repeatedly invoking the authority of Allah, bin Laden said the attacks were retaliation for unprovoked western aggression against Arabs in the form of:
– Eighty years of occupying the Arab world (since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in 1921).
– U.S. support for Jewish crimes against Muslims and Arabs in Palestine.
– The killing of more than 500,000 children during the sanctions American regime against Saddam Hussein.
– U.S. desecration of Muslim holy sites, Mecca and Medina by the stationing of American troops there following the first Gulf War.

And bin Laden didn’t confine his rationale for 9/11 simply to retaliation for general acts of terrorism in the political or structural sense. He had particular more easily recognized instances in mind. He wrote,

“It will suffice to remind you of your latest war crimes in Afghanistan, in which densely populated innocent civilian villages were destroyed, bombs were dropped on mosques causing the roof of the mosque to come crashing down on the heads of the Muslims praying inside. You are the ones who broke the agreement with the Mujahideen when they left Qunduz, bombing them in Jangi fort, and killing more than 1,000 of your prisoners through suffocation and thirst.”

According to bin Laden, the entire American people were guilty of such acts of terror against the Muslim world. After all, he said, they elect the officials who formulate such policies. The American people pay the taxes that fund the manufacture of the tanks and planes involved. They’re the ones who populate the army directly involved in illegal invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.

It was all too much to take, bin Laden implied. So on the 80th anniversary of the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, he was unilaterally declaring what might be called a “War on American Terror.” And, of course in a state of war, international law simply does not apply. As a Great Man once said, he would have to “work the dark side.”

More particularly, the rules of warfare allowed bin Laden to attack those doing their own shadowy work inside the World Trade Center. Everyone there matched the profile of what we now call “signature terrorists.” After all, they worked in that iconic center of economic oppression and terrorism that in the eyes of bin Laden was symbolically and actually responsible for the devastating debt that impoverishes the entire Third World. That debt and associated trade policies administered from the Twin Towers cause the deaths of at least 30,000 innocents who die every day from hunger-related and debt-related causes.

More specifically still, according to bin Laden, the usurious interest rates — in many ways the basis of “world trade” – are the culprit. They and those who determine and enforce them, like those working in the Twin Towers, are as guilty of terroristic murder as if they put guns to the heads of the innocents and pulled the trigger 30,000 times each day. They’re as guilty as if they flew planes into 10 Twin Towers on a daily basis.

Bin Laden wrote: “You are the nation that permits Usury, which has been forbidden by all the religions. Yet you build your economy and investments on Usury.”

What I’m saying here is that 9/11 was a prescient expression of drone warfare. The only difference was the 9/11 “dronists” possessed a courage of conviction entirely lacking in today’s U.S. drone terrorists. While the latter inflict death across the world entirely isolated from danger in their fortified air conditioned theaters, their 9/11 counterparts sacrificed their own lives to kill those they judged guilty of terrorizing their people. In any case, the rationale for 9/11 was nearly indistinguishable from that of Bush, Brennan and Obama, namely,

1. Those who have been terrorizing our people have gathered together by the thousands in the Twin Towers.
2. If they are not actually terrorists in the strict sense, their association with and sympathy for terrorists makes them guilty.
3. Since we have declared war on our opponents, the rules of war dispense us
from any obligation to observe peacetime procedures connected with international law.
4. We can do all of this because Allah is on our side. (Or as Bush/Brennan/Obama would put it: as the “Exceptional Nation” we are GOOD, while our opponents are BAD.)

Does anyone else see the oily, greasy, slippery slope we’re all sliding down? Barbara Lee perceived it immediately when she warned us against becoming “the evil we deplore.” Under drone warfare policy, we’ve now become the exact evil we claim to be fighting – right down to the detail of flying airborne vehicles into buildings where the innocent will be killed along with the guilty. We’ve manifested unmistakably for the entire world to see the very evil of which bin Laden accused us. That was his intention in the first place.

As another Great Man once said, “Mission accomplished.”