Jimmy Lai vs. Julian Assange: Prophets without Honor (A July 4th Sunday Reflection)

Readings for the 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Ezekiel 2: 2-5; Psalm 123: 1-4; 2nd Corinthians 12: 7-10; Luke 4: 18; Mark 6: 1-6

I can’t believe that we’re still expected to believe that the United States and Great Britain are concerned about human rights or press freedom or that either has any leg to stand on in such posturing.

I mean, how can any of us still believe after the lies about Iraq, Abu Ghraib, the refusal to punish Saudi Arabia for the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the imprisonment of Julian Assange, the demonization of Wikileaks, and the cooperation of the mainstream media (MSM) with all of it.

You’re telling me that either London or Washington has the right to pronounce on press freedom? On human rights? Please!

Demonization of China

Nonetheless, they’re at it again in relation to China and the desperate campaign of both Great Britain and America to demonize Beijing and its implied invocation of an Asian version of The Monroe Doctrine in relation to Hong Kong [which, by the way, (unlike the U.S. relationship to Nicaragua, Honduras, Cuba, or Venezuela) is actually part of China.]

More specifically, we’re supposed to join the MSM and “our” government as well as England’s in worrying about the recent shutdown of the Apple Daily newspaper in Hong Kong – a publication that sounds a lot like The National Inquirer.

Judge for yourself. A recent cover story in The Guardian describes the paper as a tabloid-style publication that has “a chequered history including cheque-book journalism, muckraking and sometimes unethical reporting alongside fearless investigation into government corruption and police brutality.”

What? Chequered history? Paying sources for information (probably with money from the CIA or the National Endowment for Democracy) and unethical reporting?

Oh, and the paper is owned by billionaire Jimmy Lai who has been imprisoned (according to The Guardian) “on protest-related convictions and national security charges.”

So, now it’s “Hands across the Planet” for poor Jimmy and his yellow journalism.

Meanwhile Julian Assange wastes away precisely in a British prison for publishing government secrets exactly about U.S. war crimes in Wikileaks – a source that publishes the Washington’s own unquestionably true confessions of the criminal acts it desperately wants kept secret from the rest of us.

So let me get this straight: Jimmy Lai’s a hero. And we’re all supposed to get misty-eyed about the Hong Inquirer’s brave reporters. But Julian Assange is a criminal. And Wikileaks doesn’t even qualify as journalism.

And, by the way, we’re supposed to forget that there was absolutely no press freedom all those years the Brits controlled Hong Kong.

Does anyone else sense the irony?

Today’s Readings

Such considerations are especially relevant this July 4th as we celebrate our supposed “freedoms” and the tarnished ideals of the United States. Significantly, this month marks as well the 100th anniversary of the founding of China’s Communist Party (CCP) whose good example (in drastically reducing world poverty and extending foreign aid) our country so fears.  

Besides being July 4th, today also happens to be Sunday, time for a weekly “Homily for Progressives” where the theme of the day is prophecy in the sense of social criticism in the name of all that’s holy.

The first reading from the prophet Ezekiel implicitly reminds us that there were two kinds of prophets among the ancient Hebrews. Both are still with us today.

One type was a “court prophet” telling the king and power structure what they wanted to hear – justifying their oppression of the poor. (On this Independence Day you’ll hear a lot of their drivel as they praise “America” as though it were not – as Martin King put it – “the world’s greatest purveyor of violence.”) Think about The Apple Daily, Jimmy Lai and our MSM as court prophets.

The other type of prophet spoke for the Truth that was commonly referred to as “God.” The words of such men and women were routinely dismissed by the powers that happened to be. Some prophets (as is the case with Jesus in today’s final reading) were even rejected by the very oppressed people they were trying to champion. Their words were thought too dangerous and, in some cases, too good to be true. Think about Julian Assange as a prophet in the mold of Ezekiel or the Nazareth construction worker many of us claim to follow.

In any case, here are my “translations” of today’s selections. You should really check them out here to see if I got them right. As you read, think of Julian Assange.

Ezekiel 2: 2-5

I was startled
When God’s Spirit
Demanded that
I criticize my own people
As ungodly and stubborn
Telling me 
To make them uncomfortably
Aware
That a fearless prophet
Was at work
Among them.

Psalm 123: 1-4

Great and holy Parent
We invoke your compassion
On your prophetic
Servants and handmaids
So eager to serve you
Despite contemptuous mistreatment
At the hands 
Of our so-called “leaders”
With their pride and arrogance
Directed 
Against your beloved poor.

2 Corinthians 12: 7-10

Neither do prophets 
Have to be perfect.
Even Paul of Tarsus
Despite his many gifts
Suffered under
“An angel of Satan”
And “a thorn in the flesh"
To keep him humble
Lest he take credit
For the work
Of the Holy Spirit
Within him.

Mark 6: 1-6

But like Ezekiel
Jesus was rejected 
By his own townsfolk
Who complained that
He had gotten “above his raisin’s”
They didn’t even
Call him by  
His father’s name
(Implying he was a bastard)
While dismissing
His brothers and sisters
As quite unremarkable.
There’d be
No mighty deeds
For such whiners.
Only cures for
A few ailing beggars.

Conclusion

In a recent New York Times editorial, another court prophet, Yi-Zheng Lian, the former chief editor of The Hong Kong Economic Journal, joined the chorus of warnings about China’s grave threat to the West.

To an audience acquainted with the revelations of Edward Snowden Lian decried China’s surveillance system. To those whose country has bombed and killed Muslims by the scores and thousands every day over the last 20 years, he complained about treatment of Uyghurs in Xinjiang. To Americans who have lived through a Trump presidency, he criticized Chinese governance by lies. (His example? President Xi Jinping actually claimed that China seeks an international image that is “trustworthy,” “respectable” and “lovable.”) The horror of it all!   

Nonetheless, Lian also pointed out the fact that the Chinese Communist Party retains high popularity among a vast majority of its people. In fact, the party has grown by 20% annually since its foundation 100 years ago. There are no refugees from China. Travelers and students come and go at will and usually return home.

For Lian, the bottom line is that China is showing no evident signs of decline. This means that it will remain a formidable force continuing to threaten the United States and Western allies for years to come. This will be true, he said, not just militarily and ideologically, but also technologically and economically.

So, the West, Lian concludes, had better get used to the CCP’s threatening presence “at its front door.”

Of course, all this talk of threat and menace from a country that (unlike the United States and Great Britain) has bombed no one in the last 40 years – all this imperial identification of a country more than 7000 miles away as at “our front door” is nonsense.

So is any continued posturing about “our” championing of human rights and press freedom. July 4th in the context of faith reflection is a good time for reminders of such home truths.  

Mad as Hell!

Don’t get too excited about Joe Biden and his pretense at boldness in the model of FDR.

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FDR? Don’t make me laugh. Biden doesn’t even measure up to Eisenhower’s liberalism!

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The man and his party have already surrendered to the fascist Republicans who are busy passing new Jim Crow laws to insure their continued minority rule. The Democrats could prevent that by passing the “For the People” Act (HR1). But that would insure continued Democratic rule. It would also require suspension of the Senate filibuster. Uncle Joe and the Dems tremble at the very thought.

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Unlike the Republicans, the Democrats just won’t play hard ball. Remember how the fascists refused to even consider Obama’s SCOTUS appointment, Merrick Garland? With the presidential election 11 months off, they said they wanted “the American People” to have a voice in the matter. Then the fascists turned around and rushed through the appointment of a right-wing fanatic Amy Coney Barrett – less than two weeks before the 2020 election!

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That and the appointments of sexual predators, Thomas and Kavanaugh, have rendered the SCOTUS absolutely corrupt. None of us should recognize the validity of its decisions.  

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Yes, Trump is gone for the moment. But enjoy the respite while you can. He’ll soon be back in one form or another – very likely worse than in his last incarnation. And the reason he’ll be back is because the Democrats are gutless wonders who don’t represent any of us. They represent only their rich donors.

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Think about it: “The American People” overwhelmingly support Medicare for all, $15 an hour minimum wage, free college, tuition debt forgiveness, gun control, and higher corporate taxes. But can we expect “our” elected officials to follow suit? Of course not! They don’t care what we want — only what their donors demand.

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Face it: we’re living in a failed state. Gridlock remains the order of the day. Nothing substantial is done for any of us ordinary people.

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Compare “our” government’s gridlock with China’s efficiency – which enjoys (according to U.S polls) the approval of 90% of its population. That sounds like democracy to me.

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Do you know how China solved its drunk driving problem? It decreed that a first offense would result in 2 weeks in jail. A second conviction leads to the permanent confiscation of one’s driver’s license! Problem solved.

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Last week, there was an extremely rare school shooting in Russia. Immediately, President Putin introduced new restrictions on gun ownership. Our country has mass shootings every week. How do our legislators respond? “Thoughts and prayers.”

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Biden’s foreign policy is virtually the same as Trump’s. Old Joe’s man, Tony Blinken says he’s worried about China, the Uyghurs, and the world’s “rules-based order.” But he won’t condemn Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestine, will he? He won’t even cut off funding of Saudi Arabia’s crown prince or call him the “killer” he is. Oh yes, “Putin’s a killer,” but not the man who had a Washington Post journalist murdered and dismembered.

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What rules-based order?

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And what about Cuba? And the Iran deal and old Joe’s continuance of the Donald’s crippling sanctions there? And Venezuela?

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And the Pro Act? There’ll be no protection of workers under the Biden Administration. Why? See my note above on filibuster.

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I hate to break the news, but it’s all smoke, mirrors, posturing and hypocrisy.

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We’re living in a failed state. Yes, Trump will be back.

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God help us!

The Biblical Roots of Our Pandemic Response: The Chinese Alternative

Over the past week, three approaches to the widespread availability of anti-Covid-19 vaccinations have crossed my desk. One was the comical music video (above) celebrating a supposed post-vaccine normalcy including a return to restaurants, movies, gatherings with family members, friends, grandchildren and mask-less interaction with the world at large. I couldn’t help smiling and laughing at my own relieved celebration of freedom’s prospect after more than a year of quarantine restrictions.

The second approach however was more sobering. It was an essay by Ernesto Burgio published in the Wall Street Journal’s Science and Technology International Magazine. Its basic message was “Not so fast; the human race is not nearly out of the woods.”

The third slant on the expected end of our current crisis returned me to the world of comedy and entertainment – to Bill Maher of all people and his recent riff on China’s competition with the United States (see below). He called it “We’re Not ‘Losing’ to China – We Lost.” Without saying so, Maher’s thesis implied that China’s system of governance holds much more promise of dealing with Burgio’s dire warnings than does our own.

Finally, and speaking specifically as a theologian, the three pieces just referenced caused me to jump to a fourth level, a spiritual one. The leap had me concluding that nothing less than a China-inspired change in the West’s guiding spiritual mythology will save us from destruction.

Let me explain.

The 1st Anthropocene Pandemic

In his Wall Street Journal piece, Burgio pointed out that scientists have been predicting something like SARS-CoV2 pandemic for the last 20 years.  In fact, Covid is merely the most dramatic manifestation of a long-expected more general biological crisis resulting from a two-century long “War on Nature” – from what Pope Francis has called a systemic attack on humankind’s “Common Home.”

In recent memory, pandemic precursors have already surfaced as outbreaks of:

  • Ebola
  • Nipah
  • Hendra
  • Marburg
  • Flu-Orthomyxoviruses
  • Bat-Coronaviruses
  • SARS 1
  • H1N1
  • HIV AIDS

Covid-19 and those predecessors along with the pandemics to follow are the consequence of climate change, deforestation, and the creation of mega-cities that pack humans together in circumstances redolent of our related mistreatment livestock on factory farms.  The upshots of it all were prepared by related culturally induced comorbidities such as obesity and diabetes exacerbated by unhealthy diets dominated by sugars, salt, oils, and chemical preservatives.

According to Burgio and in view of such systemic causal links, it is senseless to seek salvation primarily in pharmaceutical remedies (including vaccines). What’s demanded instead is systemic reform of the post-modern lifestyle including rejection of fossil fuels, adoption of environmentally friendly diets (with drastically reduced meat consumption), and careful restoration of animal habitats and ecosystems.

The problem is, such radical lifestyle reforms are virtually impossible for capitalist cultures like the one found in the United States, the most powerful causal engine of environmental destruction. Especially here, where private enterprise is king, there is simply no central authority powerful or effective enough to institute the rapid comprehensive changes required to head off future pandemics, much less to save the planet. Indeed, half the American population cannot bring itself to even recognize that the pandemic is real, that human activity causes climate change, or that we’ve indeed transitioned into a new (Anthropocene) geological age.

And that brings me to Bill Maher’s observations suggesting that any hope that the human race might have lies with China.

The Chinese Promise

The title of Maher’s piece says it all: “We’re Not ‘Losing’ to China; We Lost.” That’s because (in Maher’s words) unlike us, when Chinese authorities see a problem, they fix it. For example, and specifically relevant to Covid-19, when the pandemic hit, they threw up a quarantine center with 4000 rooms in 10 days. They made robots to check children’s temperatures and got them back in school almost immediately. As a result, China has returned to something close to normal. It will be the world’s only major economy to register significant growth during this extraordinary year.

In fact, Maher’s rant echoes what Burgio himself pointed out in his essay when he said:

“. . . it is an indisputable fact that Asian countries, first of all China, but also South Korea, Japan, Cambodia, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore have been able to stop the pandemic in the bud. It is also clear, to refute those who say that only authoritarian governments have been able to stop the pandemic by limiting civil liberties in a coercive and sometimes violent way, that Cuba, Australia, New Zealand, Iceland have done the same and have had very few deaths and minimal economic costs. All these countries have implemented precise strategies to contain the chains of infection, tracking and monitoring systems, organized quarantine areas and departments specifically dedicated to medium-severe and critical cases, implementing the gold standard in the management of pandemics: focusing on and strengthening primary health care.”

So, if it wasn’t because of the “authoritarian” character of its government, how explain China’s flexibility not only in dealing with Covid-19, but with its short-order elimination of extreme poverty, its rapid development of infrastructure, and its uniquely effective “foreign aid” as demonstrated in its Belt and Road Initiative?

Answering that question brings me to the earlier-mentioned realm of theology and spirituality. The answer is that China’s “Civilization State” (and eastern culture in general) is more effectively spiritual than anything found in western “Nation States.”

Spiritual Resources

The fact is that Chinese culture deeply influenced by Marxism recognizes more clearly than do westerners the truth of Burgio’s starting point – his approving reference to Pope Francis’ recent encyclicals (Laudato Si’, and Fratelli Tutti) with their defense of the earth as humankind’s “Common Home.”

Instead, the West’s individualism and emphasis on competition prevents it from embracing anything resembling Francis’ appeal to the common good. This has been especially so since its endorsement of Margaret Thatcher’s dictum: “There’s no such thing as society. There are individual men and women and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look after themselves first.”

Regrettably, Thatcher’s point is supported by the fundamental Judeo-Christian myth of creation. As interpreted by Augustine, it spins the tale of our first parents’ “original sin” that corrupted all humans and all of creation as well.

If we’ve been told from birth that we’re all corrupt and that nature itself has been vitiated, why would we be surprised to see one another as enemies with whom cooperation (vs. competition) is impossible? Why would we be surprised that we harbor rapacious attitudes towards Mother Nature herself or that we easily excuse governmental depravity?

Obviously, China (along with most eastern cultures) does not believe any of that. As a result, in the name of the common good and with support from the vast majority of its people, it can turn on a dime when faced with problems like the Covid-19 pandemic. As Maher says, “When the Chinese see a problem, they fix it.”

By contrast, our culture with its crippling spirituality and adversarial conception of democracy finds itself gridlocked into a syndrome of discord and immobilizing cross-purposes.

Conclusion

As Burgio says, Covid-19 is not a mere bump in the road. Instead, it represents a “syndemic” – an entire set of health-related problems involving myriad interacting afflictions that cannot be cured by hospital-centric health systems whose ultimate response is technological and pharmaceutical.

Ultimately, the response must be spiritual and civilizational. We must face the fact that normalcy is gone. “Vaccine Day” happy talk won’t save us. Nor will attempts to defeat, stifle, control or replace China as the world’s emerging leader not only economically, but spiritually as well. Only fundamental change along the lines of China’s flexibility and efficiency inspired by notions of common good and common home can save us now.

Don’t Listen to Blinken: China’s System Is More Just Than Ours

Readings for the 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time: Jonah 3: 1-5, 10; Psalm 25: 4-9, I Corinthians 7: 29-31; Mark 1: 14-20.

The liturgical readings for this Sunday are about designated enemies often being readier to recognize and respond to divine wisdom than are believers who consider themselves God’s People.

Accordingly, the selections present the mind-blowing discovery of the reluctant chauvinist prophet Jonah (he of belly-of-the-whale fame) alongside the habitual people-centered attitude of the courageous universalist prophet Yeshua the Christ. Together, the readings’ call is to open ourselves to the wisdom and goodness of despised foreigners and the non-elite.

That theme (explained below) reminds me of China and its bipartisan vilification by U.S. politicians and mainstream media. Like the Ninevites in today’s first reading, China has gradually and unquestionably become the enemy du jour as described not only by outgoing Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo but by his incoming counterpart, Antony Blinken.

The Case of China

Like Jonah’s assessment of Nineveh, neither can say a good word about China, even though (according to western polls) its government enjoys something like 90% approval by the Chinese people. (Furthermore, according to Dorinda Elliot of the China Institute, rather than diminishing its popularity, the government’s success in dealing with Covid-19 has made it more popular than ever.)  

Still, on his way out the State Department door, Mr. Pompeo denounced China not only for stealing western intellectual property, but for its policies on Muslims and ethnic minorities in its western Xinjiang region. According to Pompeo, those policies constitute “crimes against humanity” and “genocide.”   

In his testimony before the U.S. Senate, Antony Blinken fully agreed with Pompeo’s assessment. Both painted China as an enemy rather than a hugely successful competitor with whom our country might well cooperate and from whom we might learn. Relative to crimes against humanity, both Pompeo and Blinken ignore the facts that their own country’s policies:

  • Continue to kill Muslims every day in Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Yemen, and Somalia
  • Imprison and torture them in Guantanamo and other black sites
  • Have done so for nearly 20 years
  • While maintaining concentration camps and baby jails for immigrants and asylum seekers on its southern border.

Despite all of that, Mr. Blinken had the temerity to criticize China’s use of reeducation camps as its particular method of dealing with Muslim terrorist threats rather than “our” method of endless wars, bombings and drone strikes. (In Iraq’s illegal war, such have taken the lives of more than 1 million people — with no official mention of genocide or crimes against humanity.)

Moreover, Pompeo’s and Blinken’s denunciations ignore the facts that China’s system of political economy has (in Jonah’s terms) “repented.” It has self-consciously departed from the inefficient and destructive ways of capitalism-as-we-know-it. Yes, China’s way involves a large free-market sector. But a huge part of its economy is under direct government control. The results of that combination have been astoundingly successful.

Moreover, according to economist Richard Wolff, accusations against China’s alleged stealing of intellectual property are nonsensical. According to Wolff, the transfer of intellectual property was part and parcel of the bargain long since struck between U.S. companies and the Chinese government when those companies were given access to Chinese labor and the country’s markets. On China’s part, the understanding was: we give you access to our market and cheap labor; you share profits with us and give us the right to reverse engineer your technology. It was an at least implied quid pro quo agreement that everyone understood.

The result was the Chinese Way that enjoys huge success not only internationally, but domestically. According to Bloomberg News, the Chinese economy is set to grow by 2.5 percent this fiscal year, despite the ravages of Covid-19.

In other words, Chinese “repentance,” its unprecedentedly rapid response (in just over 40 years) to the needs of its people, has saved it from the destruction our version of capitalism has arguably made inevitable for us. Like the prophet, Jonah, our politicians and business elite don’t want to hear any of that.

Today’s Readings

As I’ve been saying here, all of this is closely connected with today’s readings. In the first selection, the Spirit of Life sends Jonah to learn from Nineveh, Israel’s archenemy. He’s completely surprised to discover that the Ninevites, like China, are more responsive to the way of Yahweh than Jonah’s own people.

Similarly, in today’s Gospel selection, Jesus departs entirely from conventional wisdom. He selects illiterate workmen (rather than temple priests or members of his country’s elite) as recruiters for his Kingdom of God Movement bent on creating a world governed by divine principle rather than Caesar’s brute force.

Here’s the way I translate today’s readings about the superior ways of those (like China) whom we routinely despise as foreign and inferior. You can find their original forms here to see if I’ve got them right.    

 Jonah 3: 1-5, 10
 The reluctant prophet Jonah
 Braved Nineveh’s
 Hostile urban jungle
 To announce Yahweh’s
 Urgent call
 For Israel’s Great Enemy
 To change its entire
 Unjust system.
 To the patriotic prophet’s
 Great chagrin
 The enemy listened
 Changed completely
 And transformed
 Its destructive way
 In just 40 days!

 Psalm 25: 4-9
 So, Great Mother-Father
 Teach us the way
 Of the Ninevites.
 For the enemy’s
 Path of justice
 Humility, love
 Kindness, good
 Truth and compassion
 Is your way too.

 I Corinthians 7: 29-31
 Our time for such willing
 Social transformation
 Is quickly running out.
 Choosing it
 Is more important
 Than sex,
 Our little trials
 And triumphs
 Our trinkets
 And work.
 But actually,
 Our Great Father-Mother’s
 Drastically New World
 Is inevitable.

 Mark 1: 14-20
 Yeshua recognized
 That inevitability
 After conservative forces
 Arrested his mentor,
 The Great prophet,
 John the Baptist.
 Ordinary workers
 With simple names like
 Simon, Andrew,
 James and John
 Saw it too.
 So, they left everything:
 Work and companions
 Father and mother,
 Wives and lovers
 To join Yeshua’s
 Working class movement
 For the sake of
 Good News
 To laborers like themselves
 About the Great Mother-Father’s
 In-breaking New Order. 

Conclusion

Like Yahweh in the days of Jonah and Jesus centuries later, the Spirit of Life today is calling us in so many ways to repent and imitate the equivalents of Jonah’s Ninevites. Like Paul in Corinth, the Great Mother-Father tells us that the time is short. Climate chaos itself underlines that urgent message. Our task is more important than anything our culture presents as essential.

China’s example of repentance, its departure from capitalism-as-we-know-it, its construction of an economy based above all on meeting the needs of its huge population represents a path forward – if not for imitation, for inspiration and instruction.

It tells us that we must reorient away from profits and wealth for the few towards the creation of a society with room for everyone and abundance for all – just what the working man, Yeshua, demonstrated in his choice of working-class people to introduce the Kingdom’s new heaven and new earth.   

We’re called today to listen to the prophets of such unconventional wisdom rather than to Pompeo and Blinken’s misdirection.

Why the U.S. Will Never Compete Successfully with China

Readings for the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time : Proverbs 31: 10-13, 19-20, 30-31; Psalms 128: 1-5; 1st Thessalonians 5: 1-6; Matthew 25: 14-30

Don’t get me wrong. I’m happy that Joe Biden won the presidency and that the reign of Donald Trump is more or less behind us. However, a Biden presidency is not going to cure what’s wrong with the U.S. economy.

That simple truth was underlined for me by Paul Jay’s interview of the brilliant economist and former Wall Street analyst, Michael Hudson who has written the insightful . . . And Forgive Them Their Debts about debt elimination and the biblical Jubilee Year.

Hudson and Jay discussed the de-industrialization of the United States whose economy has become dependent not on producing goods and services, but on the financial sector – on investments, banking, debt, stocks and bonds.

Industrialization vs. Financialization

Meanwhile, China, our country’s chief competitor, has a far healthier economic system that actually provides manufacturing jobs and a rising standard of living for its people. In our globalized economy, that’s possible, because industries are drawn to China by wages that are much lower than in the U.S.

Yet, even with low wages, the Chinese working class is prospering, because of the country’s centralized economy that provides health care gratis and free education for its people along with subsidized housing, food and transportation. Besides that, the nationalized Chinese banking system (absent the profit motive) can easily remedy any debt problems by simply writing down debts should that sector develop problems.

According to Hudson and Jay, catching up with China will be impossible for the United States as long as it continues embracing the neo-liberal capitalist model. For one thing, that arrangement finds it unthinkable to engage in long-term planning; it can’t see beyond projected returns on a quarterly basis. Among other liabilities, that makes it impossible, for example to cope with climate change, that demands anticipating weather events decades from now.

In fact, to actually compete with the centrally planned elements of China’s economy, the U.S. would have to follow systemic suit. However, its program of privatization, deregulation and tax reduction has America moving in the exact opposite direction.

Again, according to Michael Hudson, course correction would include the ideologically “impossible” steps of taming of wage spirals by:

  • Taking de facto central planning away from Wall Street and returning it into the hands of elected government officials
  • Raising taxes on the 1%
  • Nationalizing the banking system
  • Enacting a green new deal to provide productive, environment-saving jobs for the unemployed and under-employed
  • Providing free tuition for all post-secondary students
  • Forgiving the $1.5 trillion that students still owe for their educations, thus freeing them to actually buy homes, automobiles and other necessities
  • Nationalizing health care thus relieving both employers and employees from the burden of meeting the costs of medical treatment and pharmaceuticals

Both Jay and Hudson agreed that without some apocalyptic catastrophe and without transcending our hamstrung two-party system, the chances of taking such measures (even if Democrats had control of both houses of Congress) are nil. Consequently, China will continue to outstrip the United States economically and socially. Simply put, its system is more flexible than the neo-liberal model.

Today’s Readings

I bring all of that up because today’s readings contrast economies (like China’s) that prioritize the needs of people with those that primarily serve the already wealthy. The first type centralizes the role of women. The second is condemned in Jesus’ famous Parable of the Talents.

Here are my “translations” of the readings. You can find the originals here.

Proverbs 31: 10-13, 19-20, 30-31

Deeply centered women are the anchors of the world – far more than the superficially beautiful and apparently charming. The value of virtuous women is beyond precious jewels. They not only benefit their own families with food and clothing; they also recognize and share what they have with the marginalized and poor. In fact, homemakers should be paid for housework and given high positions in government.

Psalms 128: 1-5

Whether they know it or not, such women and those they care for are blessed. They are following the Divine Mother’s path. The gardens they cultivate (actual and metaphorical) overflow with rich foods. Face it: they are responsible for the very continuance and prosperity of the human race. The men in their lives should honor them accordingly.

I Thessalonians 5: 1-6

Women’s pregnancy processes provide an apt image for the Divine Mother’s New World that we all anticipate. The enlightened among us (as opposed to those living in darkness) can already feel that the labor pangs are about to begin. Alert and clear-headed, the light-bearers stand ready like midwives to assist in the birthing.  

Matthew 25: 14-30

Such assistance in service of our Mother’s New Reality calls for departure from business as usual – from a system that rewards the 1% who do no actual work, but who rely on investments that end up enriching the already affluent while further impoverishing and punishing the actually poor and exploited.

Parable of the Talents

As I was saying, the readings just reviewed are about economic systems – one that treats its beneficiaries like the family they are, the other that prioritizes money and profit. The first three readings from Proverbs, Psalms and 1st Thessalonians reflect the values of a tribal culture where women’s productive capacity was still highly valued.  

On the other hand, Jesus’ Parable of the Talents centers on the male world of investment and profit-taking without real work. The story celebrates dropping out and refusing to cooperate with the dynamics of finance, interest and exploitation of the working class. Taken together, the readings put one in mind of the contrast between China’s people-oriented economy over against the U.S. profit-oriented system.

More specifically, Jesus’ parable contrasts obedient conformists with a counter-cultural rebel. The former invest in an economic system embodied in their boss – “a demanding person” the parable laments, “harvesting where he did not plant and gathering where he did not scatter.” In other words, like neo-liberal capitalism itself, the boss is a hard-ass S.O.B. who lives off the work of poor women farmers like the one celebrated in the Proverbs selection. The conformists go along with that system to which they can imagine no acceptable alternative.

Accordingly, the servant who is entrusted with five talents (more than 2 million dollars!) gains 2 million more and the one given two talents doubles his money as well. 

Meanwhile, the non-conformist hero of the parable (like China) refuses to adopt a system where, as Jesus puts it, “everyone who has is given more so that they grow rich, while the have-nots are robbed even of what they have.” Because of his decision to drop out, the rebel suffers predictable consequences. Like Jesus and his mentor, John the Baptist, the non-conformist is marginalized into an exterior darkness which the rich see as bleak and tearful (a place of “weeping and grinding of teeth”). However, Jesus promises that exile from the system of oppression represents a first step towards the inauguration of the very kingdom of God. It is filled with light and joy.

Conclusion

In voting for Joe Biden on November 3rd, so many of us did so with a heavy heart. Yes, we understandably want our world rid of Donald Trump once and for all. And thank God he’ll soon be gone — at least temporarily.

But obviously, Trump is not the problem. As this reflection has suggested, the problem is a system that prioritizes the welfare of investors like the rich man in the Parable of the Talents. And we all know that Mr. Biden and his running mate have no intention of departing from that economic arrangement.

Biden and Harris can’t even imagine a mechanism that treats everyone like family members rather than as interchangeable clients.

Yet somehow, like Paul in the reading from Thessalonians, the enlightened among us can already feel that the labor pangs of the new world Jesus envisioned. Alert and clear-headed, we must commit ourselves to pushing the system in that direction – towards something reflective of Michael Hudson’s recommendations, towards the North Star Jesus called God’s Kingdom.

Hoping against hope, pushing the Biden administration down that path represents our challenge over the next four years.

A Debate on China: Competitor, Adversary or Enemy?

As noted frequently in these pages, China has gradually become the most prominent bete noire of American empire. As such it has displaced Russia which had successfully reprised that role for at least the previous four years.

China’s new status has raised the question for many: Is it truly an adversary of the U.S. — or even an enemy? Or is China simply America’s latest very challenging competitor?

Recently, Pulitzer Prize- winning journalist, Glen Greenwald attempted to answer those questions. He moderated a highly informative 90-minute debate on China between Matt Stoller and Kishore Madhubani.

Stoller presented a bill of particulars against China. He is a fellow at the Open Markets Institute and the author of Goliath: The Hundred Year War Between Monopoly Power and Democracy.

Madhubani, on the other hand, described China in more sanguine terms. Madhubani is a Singaporean academic and former President of UN Security Council (2001-2004). He also served as Singapore’s Permanent Representative to the U.N. (1984-’89, 1998-2004). He’s the author of Has China Won? The Chinese Challenge to American Primacy.

What follows is a quick-and-easy outline of the arguments presented first by Stoller and secondly by Madhubani.  I conclude briefly with my own perspective that takes issue with both debaters. Each of them along with Glen Greenwald, erroneously accept without question the categorization of China as a violator of human rights. In reality, I argue, China is more a human rights champion than the United States itself.

I

Matt Stoller: China is Not Merely A Competitor

A.    Though not exactly an enemy or adversary, China is a threatening bad actorB.    Witness China’s Growing Economic Power Globally:
         1.     In a very short time has transitioned from a severely   underdeveloped country to the 2nd most powerful economy in the world.
         2.     It’s now the #1 trading partner of more than 100 countries.
         3.     It is a firm ally of the world’s economic elite from Wall Street to Brussels.
         4.     Its low wages and lack of worker protection have led U.S. and other international corporations to relocate American jobs to China. 
 
C.     Witness China’s Repression:
         1.     It does not share West’s values of free speech, free press,    freedom of religion, and democratic voting.
         2.     Since the 1980s China has been “hiding its power and biding its time,” but is now openly demonstrating its intention to export its oppression as shown in China’s:
            a)     Increased military spending
            b)     Building of a new centrally controlled internet architecture
            c)     Export of sophisticated surveillance systems
            d)     Undermining of international institutions such as the WHO
            e)     Retribution against those who even mention its oppression of Muslim minorities or its coverup of the Coronavirus outbreak 
            f)     Treatment of Uyghurs in concentration camps
            g)     Police violence vs. those seeking greater freedom in Hong Kong
            h)     Long-standing military threats against Taiwan
            i)     Building of artificial islands in the South China Sea beyond internationally recognized maritime borders
            j)     Installation of military weapons there
            k)     Bullying of Philippine fishing vessels
            l)     Naval forays into the Indian Ocean ostensibly to combat piracy, but really to expand its capacity for military operations
            m)     Buying up of newspapers serving the Chinese diaspora in order to eventually coerce and control its members too
 
D.    Witness the statements of Xi Jinping who has stated that:
        1.     Socialism with Chinese characteristics is “blazing a new trail” for other countries seeking to modernize, while preserving their own sovereignty.
        2.     China is seeking a future where it will “win the initiative and have the dominant position.”
 
E.     What to Do about the China Threat?
        1.     Re-appropriate the values we say we honor, viz. freedom of press, religion, speech, assembly
        2.     Break up the alliance between China and the international economic elite
        3.     Punish U.S. companies that offshore jobs
        4.     Diversify U.S. supply chains
        5.     Bring production back to the U.S. and to democratic countries
        6.      Work with China on collective problems such as climate change
        7.     Show by these reforms that our system is better than the Chinese alternative

II

Kishore Madhubani: China Is Neither Hostile nor A Bad Actor

A.    In General
      1.     Competitors are not enemies.
      2.     One should not insult competitors or even adversaries.
      3.     There is no reason to regard China as a hostile country or as a   threat to the United States.
      4.     China has 0% chance of conquering the United States which has 6000 nuclear weapons, while China has 300. The U.S. spends five times more on its military than China does.
      5.     The U.S. has 300 military bases throughout the world (some very close to China’s borders); China has no foreign bases and (unlike America) fights no wars outside its boundaries.
      6.      The post-WWII world order characterized by U.S. hegemony was highly artificial given the location and comparative size of the U.S. population.
      7.     China and India with their huge populations and ancient cultures are now assuming their normal, rightful places in the world.
      8.     Before WWII, both China and India had been prevented from adopting those positions chiefly by colonialism.
      9.      The Chinese government enjoys the support of the majority of its people. (Without that approval it would be impossible to control 1.4 billion people.)
      10.      In fact, 130 million Chinese leave China each year and then return home. There are no Chinese refugees.
 
B.    Chinese Ambitions:
      1.     Unlike the USSR under Khrushchev, China never boasts that its system will replace that of the U.S. or other countries.
      2.     Its leaders believe their system is good for China without claiming its aptitude for other contexts.
      3.     They just want China to be strong with its own population prospering in an external environment conducive to that end.
 
C.     What about Repression in Hong Kong?
      1.     It’s true that Chinese citizens do not have the same rights to free speech as Americans.
      2.     But they have more such freedom than previously.
      3.     Remember, that during 150 years of British colonialism, there was no democracy or freedom of speech in Hong Kong.
      4.     Chinese authorities are especially sensitive about Hong Kong because it’s a symbol of British oppression and of its having forced China to accept opium commerce centered there in 1842.
 
D.    What about Oppression of the Uyghurs?
      1.     Remember that the Muslim world is going through a major transformation – struggling to modernize and reinterpret relations between religion and politics.
      2.     Remember too that when the western countries came together in the UN to condemn the treatment of Muslims in China, not a single Muslim country supported the resolution, while a large number of those countries supported China.
      3.     Instead, Muslim countries agreed that the U.S. should:
          a)     Stop bombing Islamic countries (President Obama dropped 26,000 bombs on seven Muslim countries in one year).
          b)     Try to help the Chinese deradicalize and modernize the Uyghurs in China.
 
E.     What about Chinese threats to American labor?
      1.It’s true that China’s low wages, lack of labor protections, and absence of labor rights is attractive to American producers.
      2.However, it is a mistake to blame China for the loss of jobs.
      3.After all, China did not force U.S. manufacturers to move.
      4.China joined the WTO at the invitation of the United States.
      5.We must also remember that the relatively recent and sudden introduction of 200 million new workers into the system of globalized capitalism is only the latest expression of the “creative destruction” endemic to and celebrated by that system.
      6.Sweden and Germany saw the creative destruction coming. To prepare for it, they invested heavily in the retraining of their workforces to equip them for participation in the new economy. The U.S. did not.
 
F.     What the U.S. should do:
      1.Distinguish between defending America’s primacy and defending the American people; the two are quite different.
      2.Stop fighting wars in the Middle East and focus on the welfare of its own people.
      3.Remember that it is no paragon of respect for human rights. For instance, it is the 1st modern country to reintroduce torture.
      4.Keep in mind the figure “Six billion” – i.e. of the number of people who live outside both the United States & China. They’re much more sophisticated, well-informed, and nuanced in their understandings than previously. They don’t buy the American good guys/bad guys dichotomy.

III

Evaluation

My overall response to the Greenwald interview is one of deep appreciation. It brought together two very articulate, well-prepared, and authoritative proponents of comprehensive arguments most often advanced about the nature of China’s participation in the global community.

At the same time, I found myself disappointed that both Greenwald and Madhubani accepted right-wing framing of the position that China is a violator of human rights in contrast to westerners’ valuing free speech along with freedom of religion, press, assembly and the right to vote.

Certainly, there is no question about China’s repression in the areas of speech, religion, and press. But that does not deprive it of any possibility of claiming to be a champion of human rights.

The fact is that the UN Declaration of Human Rights as well as its other official statements present the world with a long list of such entitlements ranging from the ones just mentioned to the rights to jobs, food, shelter, clothing, health care, to children’s rights. 

Another fact is that no country in the world honors all human rights. Instead, all of them (according to whether they fancy themselves “capitalist” or “socialist”) prioritize human rights.

Capitalists accord first place to having commercial and legal contracts honored. They then list freedoms of speech, religion, press and the right to vote as their other preferences. However, if trade contracts are under threat, capitalists quickly dispense with all those other rights – as is demonstrated by their support of repressive regimes such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Brazil and the Philippines.

As for the rights to food, shelter, and clothing (as enshrined in the UN Declaration of Human Rights) the United States has never recognized any of them as such (having refused to sign the enacting protocols). According to all U.S. administrations such “rights” are merely “aspirations.”

Priorities in socialist countries such as China and Cuba are different. For them the rights to food, shelter, clothing, education, health care, and jobs hold primacy of place.  Freedom of press, speech, and religion, as well as voting rights are dispensable as long as those preferred rights remain under siege.

I only wish Greenwald and Madhubani had made those distinctions. It would have helped the audience understand that indeed China does not respect human rights, while the United States does.

But (even more importantly for purposes of critical thinking in this country) listeners would also have understood that China indeed respects human rights while the United States does not. 

It is therefore unseemly for westerners to beat China with the human rights club. Too bad that Greenwald and Madhubani didn’t recognize that impropriety.

Reflections on A Meeting about 5G

About a week ago, I wrote a piece about the fifth generation of cellular technology (5G). Then, as promised there, just this morning Westport’s Ys Men’s Global Issues group met to discuss the topic and the advisability of adopting 5G according to the “fast track” schedule advocated by the Trump administration and by telecom giants like Verizon and Sprint. An unprecedented number of men attended indicating the perceived importance of the issue. The resulting conversation was lively, passionate, and thought-provoking.

To begin with, there was general recognition that:

  • None of us (not even those identified as “experts”) knows from our own research a lot about 5G capability or threats.
  • We are therefore dependent on the word of scientists
  • But shouldn’t rely on biased “researchers” employed by the tech companies.
  • We don’t actually need an internet or phone service 100 times faster than the ones we now have. (More quickly downloaded movies and enhanced gambling options simply aren’t worth it.)
  • Since corporations and alliances between them and government have lied to us in the past (e.g. about asbestos, auto safety, tobacco and cigarettes, and climate change) we would do well to be skeptical about 5G’s mammoth advertising campaigns.

Nevertheless:

  • Discussants recognized a certain “technological imperative,” i.e. endorsement of the idea that if human beings can do something, they not only will, but somehow must do it.
  • Think of where we’d be, some said, if we listened to the Luddites, to those who feared introduction of electricity, or warned us about air travel causing our blood vessels to burst.
  • We may “need” 5G to protect us militarily from the Chinese or Russians who, if they develop it first, might use it against us to destroy our cities, collect our trade and military secrets, or control us in other ways.
  • Introduction of 5G promises untold numbers of jobs and profit stimulation for corporations and entrepreneurs.

In all, there seemed little concern about:

  • Health risks, which seemed to be dismissed by some as paranoid.
  • The horrendous implications of decimating or eliminating huge populations of bees.
  • Nineteen-eighty-four type surveillance and crowd control used against good citizens like us who might one day feel obliged to take to the streets to oppose minority control of our lives by our own government and by corporations – just as citizens are currently doing in so many places across the planet.
  • Along those lines, one member knowledgeable about the technical aspects of 5G, admitted that similar technology can indeed be used to disperse crowds, nearly boil the blood of protestors, and has been known to kill bee populations necessary for human food supply.

Questions to Ponder: Did Monday’s conversation reveal a deeply 20th century mode of thinking that for the sake of survival we must outgrow? That is, did it:

  • Demonstrate a 20th century conviction that imagines all international relations in terms of “us vs. them” – for example us against the Russians and Chinese – as though cooperation between nations is inherently impossible?
  • Abandon any idea that the world could be fundamentally different from what we now experience — that another world is possible?
  • Reflect a de facto willingness to commit suicide in the name of “progress” – as though we have no choice, capability, or responsibility of choosing differently?
  • Implicitly admit that perhaps such outmoded thinking condemns our children and grandchildren to a hopeless future, because old people like us (who, let’s face it, are now in control) cannot or will not think differently?
  • Trust excessively our own government, military and corporations?
  • Ignore the possibility that capitalism as we know has run its course?
  • Prove unwilling to imagine the superior efficiency of a centrally planned, but democratically controlled socio-political system organized cooperatively rather than competitively?

At the end of today’s meeting, one member acknowledged the interesting and productive nature of the conversation I’ve just capsulized. He suggested that our next meeting continue the thread. Although his proposal did not carry, all of us can be assured that we haven’t heard the last of this debate. For better or worse, we will eventually have to answer the “questions to ponder” indicated above.

Socialism’s Specter Revives in China’s Belt and Road Initiative

The Chinese are coming! The Chinese are coming! This time they’re here to spread socialism not by war and invasion, but by good example, economic development and cultural exchange. And in the process, they are eating our lunch. They are demonstrating that it is possible for poor and troubled economies to develop as quickly as China’s by following the latter’s example of mixing the best elements of capitalism and socialism to benefit working class people rather than primarily the rich and elite.  Their efforts are showing every sign of success.

Progressives should take heart. Socialism’s specter is once again on the prowl.  

Specifically, I’m referring to the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) that actually looks like a Chinese version of a new Marshall Plan for countries representing 65% of the world’s population. Many of the countries involved would otherwise be unable to afford such development.

Particulars of the BRI include Chinese export of construction materials, especially iron and steel and their use to erect a huge power grid with wind and solar focus. The materials are being used to construct highways, rail facilities and sea ports to the benefit of Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America. The BRI will also include cultural exchanges and educational assistance. It will eventually account for 40% of the world’s domestic product.

That’s the impressive swath China’s trillion-dollar infrastructure-based development strategy that has been in place for the past six years – since it was announced by the country’s president, Xi Jinping in 2013. In his words, the Belt and Road Initiative is “a bid to enhance regional connectivity and embrace a brighter future.”

However, many in the west are not buying that rosy description. To them the BRI seems like a new form of colonialism. Since much of it is based on loans, critics have even described it as a “debt trap” intended to create dependency in order to reduce participating countries to the status of vassals of an imperial Chinese state.

Ironically, such criticisms actually reflect the patterns of western colonialism and neocolonialism whose “foreign aid” has in fact intentionally continued the traditional underdevelopment of the former colonies in Latin America, Africa, and South Asia. The critique also overlooks the fact that the Chinese plan is based on Marxist principles which are inherently anti-colonial and international rather than imperial and national.

In practice, all of this has yielded a system often described as state capitalism. That is, the Chinese state (like every other economy in the world!) has a mixed economy that (as I mentioned earlier) incorporates the best elements of capitalism and socialism. This gives the Chinese a huge publicly- owned sector along with a smaller, but still large private sector strictly regulated by the state. Crucially, however, and unlike our own mixed economy, the Chinese version aims at mixing its economy not in favor of the elite, but in favor of the working classes.

This is in strict accord with Marxist theory, which recognizes that capitalism is a necessary stage in the history of economic development. It cannot be skipped, because capitalism is required for the development of productive forces that are sine qua non preconditions for the transition to full-blown socialism.

Moreover, the whole world has been watching. We’ve seen China’s implementation of a worker-friendly state-capitalist form of economy as responsible for 80% of the poverty-reduction the world has experienced over the past two or three generations. That is, China has been more successful in reducing poverty than capitalism or any country subscribing to neoliberalism’s trickle-down model. The latter, of course, favors the 1% and expects 95% of the world’s population to endure austerity measures in order to pay the social costs for capitalism’s dysfunctions. None of that is lost on denizens of poor countries.

And now through the Belt and Road Initiative, those same less developed former colonies as well as the poorer countries of the EU are given opportunity to follow China’s example economically and even politically.

Regarding politics, the Chinese example and initiative are demonstrating that a one-party state like China’s might work better at least in some contexts than what we in the west understand by “democracy.” Surprisingly, for the west (where there appears to be a tacit agreement never to allow us to hear anything positive about competing systems) the Chinese version of political organization has proven to yield governance far more meritocratic, flexible and legitimate than our own.

Its meritocracy insures that no one will rise to national leadership in China who has not come through the ranks and demonstrated outstanding leadership capabilities at each step along the way. The whole process takes about 30 years. This means that by Chinese standards, someone like George W. Bush or Barrack Obama (much less Donald Trump) would not qualify to govern even a small province in China. They simply lack the experience and resulting knowledge that in China are prerequisite for assuming greater responsibilities.

Such leadership has made the Chinese system far more flexible in terms of reform than our own. Thus, in China the revolution began with the country following the Soviet model of development. That changed with the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) which extended the revolution’s benefits to rural populations. This in turn was followed by Deng Xiaoping’s opening to the west around 1977, by entrance into the World Trade Organization years later, and now by Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative. Every one of those changes was profound and quickly made. Western capitalism has proven incapable of similar flexibility even in the face of climate chaos that threatens planetary life as we know it.

Moreover, in terms of public approval the Chinese system is proving much more legitimate than western models based on periodic elections. Increasingly, those latter models are corrupted by money. As in the United States, often inexperienced politicians (even comedians and reality show personalities) are elected by pluralities below 50%. A month or so after elections, their approval ratings can sink below 40%. This is because those elected prioritize the needs of their corporate donors rather than those of the people they’ve theoretically been elected to serve. As a result, we’ve increasingly lost faith in democracy-as-we’ve-experienced-it. In many elections, only a minority of Americans even bother to vote.

Meanwhile in China, Pew polling has nearly 80% of the population satisfied with the country’s direction. An even greater majority expects their lives to get better in the near future. Those numbers are testimony to government legitimacy far beyond what we experience in the United States.

So, while western governments and their economies lionize the past and strive to implement 18th century free-market policies, China’s Belt and Road Initiative is offering a different option.

And it’s doing so under the principles of internationalism and anti-colonialism based on sound Marxist theory. That theory has not only taken huge strides towards lessening world poverty; it has provided the world with an example of unprecedented economic dynamism. It’s no wonder that socialism these days is getting a new lease on life. It’s no wonder that its’ specter is once again haunting the world.

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.”