AOC & Joey B. (with apologies to Dudley Randall)

The present rift between establishment Democrats represented by Joe Biden on the one hand and progressive insurgents led by Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (A.O.C.) on the other, focuses on the Green New Deal. The debate seems to reprise a similar divide in the Black community between W.E.B. Dubois and Booker T. Washington. Their issue at the turn of the 20th century was education and whether African Americans were better served by a vocational curriculum or by the liberal arts. Dubois favored the latter approach, Washington, the former. In 1969 Dudley Randall wrote a famous poem encapsulating the controversy between cautious conservatives and more revolutionary leaders. It was entitled “W.E.B. and Booker T.” Here, I borrow heavily from Mr. Randall to similarly encapsulate the current debate between the Biden and AOC forces.

 “It seems to me,” said Joey B.
“It shows a mighty lot of cheek
“For someone young like you to speak                          
“Of Green New Deals and rising wage
“When all big donors shout with rage
“At Marxist thoughts of equal share
“Of voting rights and Medicare.
“That’s not the way to win the vote
“We’re better served to go by rote.
“And simply do what we’ve done before.”
 
 
“I don’t agree,” said A.O.C.
“We need new vision, words and plan
“Remember our loss when Hillary ran
“Saying words like yours so ‘tried and true.’
“She lost to Donald and so would you.
“And besides, Mother Earth has raised her voice
“To tell us all we have no choice.
“Time’s running short the experts say.
“My Green New Deal will save the day.”
 
“It seems to me,” said Joey B.
“That folks like you have missed the point
“Who tell us ‘Times are out of joint’
“And spend vain days and sleepless
“In uproar over workers’ rights
“Let’s keep mouths shut, and do not grouse,
“Be content to know you’ve won the House.”
 
 
“I don’t agree,” said A.O.C.
“For what can winning votes avail
“If all earth’s systems drown and fail?
“Unless we join to change our way,
“Your grandkids and mine will surely pay
“For the near-sight vision of pols like you.
“But as for me I’ll choose the New.
“I’ll take my chances that people know
“The Green New Deal’s is the way to go
 
“It seems to me,” said Joey B. –
“I don’t agree,” said AOC.

On the Brink of Apocalypse: Lock Him Up (and Obama & Hillary too)

Readings for 1st Sunday ofAdvent: Jer. 33:14-16; Ps. 25:4-5, 8-9, 10, 14; 1 Thes. 3: 12-4:2; Lk. 21:25-28, 34-35 

We’re standing on the brink of Apocalypse. I don’t mean the end of the world. I’m talking about the end of empire.

That’s the point I tried to make here two weeks ago, when our Sunday liturgies began featuring apocalyptic readings from both the Jewish and Christian Testaments. That’s what the biblical literary form “Apocalypse” is about– not the end of the world, but the end of empire.

Apocalypse is resistance literature, written in code during times of extreme persecution by powerful imperial forces like Greece and Rome. The code was understandable to “insiders” familiar with Jewish scripture. It was impenetrable to “outsiders” like the persecutors of the authors’ people.

In our own case, all the provocations of apocalyptic rebellion are there. Our country is following faithfully in the footsteps of the biblical empires against which apocalypse was written: Egypt, Assyria, the Medes and Persians, Babylon, Greece, and Rome.

To say it unambiguously: Our government is headed by gangsters pure and simple. It’s as if Antiochus IV Epiphanes, Nero, Caligula, Domitian –or Al Capone – were in charge. All of them (Trump, Obama, the Clintons, and the Bushes) should be in jail. In fact, as Chomsky has pointed out every single post-WWII U.S. president from Truman and Eisenhower to Carter, Reagan, the Bushes, Clinton, Obama, and Donald Trump has been guilty of crimes that contradict the Nuremberg Principles. The only policy difference between Donald Trump and his immediate predecessors is that he’s blatantly shameless in owning his criminalities.

Here’s what Chomsky has said:

To clarify Chomsky’s point, here’s a short list of our current president’s most recent atrocities. He has the country:

  • Fighting perpetual and internationally illegal wars against at least five sovereign nations. Count them: Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Somalia, Yemen . . . without any sign of ending. (The genocidal war in Yemen has caused a cholera epidemic and will soon have 14 million people starving to death. Can anyone tell me why we’re in Yemen??)
  • Refusing to recognize the validity of a CIA report identifying Mohammed bin Salman as the Mafia Don who ordered the beheading and dismembering of a correspondent for a major U.S. newspaper.
  • Similarly soft-pedaling the climate-change findings of the government’s own scientific panel predicting the devastating effects of climate change for our economy, country, and species including, of course, our children and grandchildren.
  • Spending billions modernizing a nuclear weapons arsenal, while our cities’ bridges, roads, and other infrastructure disintegrate before our eyes.
  • Insisting on wasting billions building a wall along our southern border instead of sea-walls, dykes and levies along our country’s coasts.
  • Following Obama and Hillary Clinton by backing a narco-government in Honduras that has become a street gang making huge profits from the addictions of U.S. citizens while directly producing the immigrants and refugees Trump identifies as our enemies.
  • Using chemical weapons against the resulting caravan of women and children seeking refuge at our southern border and justifying it in a way that would be trumpeted as a casus belli were the perpetrator’s name Bashar al-Assad instead of Donald J. Trump.  

All of that is relevant to today’s liturgical reading, because (as I’ve said) this is the third week in a row that the lectionary has given us readings from apocalyptic literature.

As I indicated, apocalypse differs from ordinary prophecy in that it addresses periods of deep crisis, when the whole world appears to be falling apart. Neither prophets nor apocalyptics were fortunetellers. Instead, they were their days’ social critics. They warned of the disastrous consequences that inevitably follow from national policies that deviate from God’s will – i.e. from policies that harm God’s favorites: widows, orphans, immigrants, the poor – and (we might add) the planet itself.

When Luke was writing his gospel around the year 85 of the Common Era, Jerusalem had been completely destroyed by the Romans in the Jewish War (64-70 CE). The Romans had brutally razed the city and the temple that had been rebuilt after the Babylonian Exile. For Jews that was something like the Death of God, for the Holy City and its Temple were considered God’s dwelling place. The event was apocalyptic.

In today’s gospel, Luke has Jesus predicting that destruction using specifically apocalyptic language. Luke’s Jesus says “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.

What can such apocalyptic message mean in our own day faced as we are with a false crisis stemming from U.S. policies in Central America in general and in Honduras in particular that identify the poorest people in the world as the causes of our problems instead of climate chaos and narco-kleptocrats?

Yes, the immigrant crisis is a mere distraction – a completely human and remediable fabrication caused by U.S. policy. Meanwhile, the real threat to our planet is the threat of nuclear war and the environmental cliff that our “leaders” refuse to address. And who’s responsible for that crisis?

Prominent religious leaders would have us believe it’s God. He (sic) is punishing us for opening borders to the poor, for Roe v. Wade, for legalizing same sex marriages, or for allowing women access to contraception. Let’s face it: that’s nonsense. It turns Jesus’ embodiment of the God of love on its head. It turns God into a pathological killer – a cruel punishing father like too many of our own dads.

The real culprit preventing us from addressing climate change is our government. Our elected politicians are truly in the pockets of Big Oil, the Banksters, narco-criminals and other fiscal behemoths whose eyes are fixed firmly on short-term gains, even if it means their own children and grandchildren will experience environmental apocalypse.

What I’m saying is that this government has no validity. How dare a small group of climate-change Philistines take it upon themselves to decide the fate of the entire planet in the face of overwhelming evidence contradicting their stupidity?

It all has me wondering when our fellow peasants who don’t share Jesus’ commitment to non-violence will get out their pitchforks and storm the White House and other seats of government.

Remember: It was Thomas Jefferson who advised periodic revolution. He said: “What country before ever existed a century and a half without a rebellion? And what country can preserve its liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms. . . The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure.”

Ava DuVernay’s Film, “13th”: Don’t Miss It!

13th-netflix-documentary

Did you know that the U.S. Constitution still allows African Americans to be legally enslaved?

I didn’t.

That’s one of the many reasons I found 13,th, Ava DuVernay’s new and explosive Netflix documentary, so enlightening and shocking.

Following up on her civil rights drama, Selma, DuVernay’s film dissects the prison-industrial complex and shows how this profit-from-prison system results directly from a little-known clause in the 13th Amendment of the Constitution ratified in 1865. The amendment states:

“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” (Emphasis added)

Through a series of brilliantly juxtaposed interviews, bold graphics and hip-hop lyrics, the film demonstrates how the 14 words highlighted above led to a chain of events that provided former slave owners with the legal justification they required to retain the tremendously profitable free labor slaves provided the ante bellum South. The events in question:

  • Saw former African chattel convicted of “crimes” such a loitering and vagrancy.
  • Led to their imprisonment and return to chain-gang servitude.
  • Expanded such practice through the passage of modern crime bills that now serve a highly privatized prison-industrial system that massively re-criminalizes and disproportionately incarcerates black and brown-skinned Americans.
  • Reactivated the exception clause of the 13th Amendment to provide free labor for Walmart, Victoria’s Secret, and many other firms.

However, 13th goes much further than exposing past and present forms of legal slavery. It also traces the shocking expansion of the U.S. prison population itself. Forty-five years ago, there were about 200,000 inmates in U.S. prisons. Today inmates number more than 2 million. Although the U.S. has just 5% of the world’s population, it has about 25% of the world’s prisoners.  One in three behind bars is black.

Going even further, 13th connects the general criminalization of African Americans with political strategies that disenfranchise people of color. The connection highlights Nixon’s Southern Strategy, the militarization of police forces, and voter-suppression measures in general.

In Kentucky those strategies end up robbing 22% of African Americans of their right to vote. That’s because law in this state insists on depriving convicted felons of voting rights even after they have paid their “debts to society.”

All of this serves the purposes of right wing racists who admit in the words of conservative ideologue, Paul Weyrich, that they don’t want everyone to vote. High voter turnout, Weyrich has argued, works against the G.O.P.’s chances of winning. So besides disenfranchising former felons, Republicans implement voter I.D. laws, under-supply voting machines to African American communities, and otherwise make it difficult for people of color to vote.

However, Republicans are not the only ones indicted in 13th. The documentary also identifies Bill and Hillary Clinton’s 1990s Crime Bill as responsible for the explosion of prison populations.

Most chillingly, though, 13th fingers the rhetoric of Donald Trump repeatedly presented as referencing “the good old days” when protestors against the measures criticized in the film would be “punched in the face,” and “carried out on stretchers.”

I highly recommend 13th to counter such uninformed nostalgia for the segregated past. I also hope DuVernay’s work will be duly recognized this year at the Academy Awards. (She’s on the short list for best-documentary nomination.)

Maybe We Should Embrace President Trump: Is He Our Only Hope?

trump-shit

Since last weekend and F.B.I. director, James Comey’s decision to intervene in the presidential election, I’ve been depressed. It struck me as yet another coup by the powerful to nullify democracy. It’s like the Supreme Court’s selection of George W. Bush back in 2000. This time the F.B.I. is the intervening agency. Its maneuver, like what happened 16 years ago, embodies the corruption of a system that needs to come down.

After all, American Imperialism is responsible for most of the world’s problems: unending wars, oppression of poor people everywhere, planetary destruction by way of human-induced global warming, and reversion to pre-Magna Carta torture and imprisonment without charge or trial. The U.S. system has the world controlled by a relative handful of the obscenely rich capitalists whose economic theories and practice provide no hope of alleviating the poverty afflicting most of the planet.

All of that demands that in the name of humanity, in the name of Mother Earth, the system just described must be destroyed.

But how would such destruction occur? It all seems so entrenched and is controlled by overwhelming military and law enforcement powers – not to mention a network of propaganda and miseducation that keeps citizens asleep and rebellion at bay.

It’s like the Soviet Union before 1989. Ours is a weary, completely dysfunctional Old Order supported by politicians such as Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan, Jeb Bush, and yes, by Hillary Clinton and her husband. All of them (and especially the Clintons in today’s electoral context) represent the very embodiment of the ancien regime. They all endorse unending war, restrictions on human rights at home and abroad, constant surveillance of our communications and persons, low wages and cut-backs on the government services previously funded by taxing the rich. None of our politicians is willing to address criminal wealth disparities, climate change, the threat of nuclear war, falling living standards prohibitive health care costs or student debt.

In such dire straits, and as Michael Moore has suggested, most of us intuitively see that the system just described needs to be blown up. It needs someone to throw a Molotov Cocktail at the whole thing. But who?

Enter Donald Trump! Enter the U.S. electorate!

Voting for Trump represents the bomb the desperate subconsciously require to destroy arrangements that no longer serve. It’s like the Brits and Brexit. There ordinary people refused to be led by the “experts.” They knew the system had to be destroyed. So they gave the middle finger to their “betters.”

Yes, Trump’s an absolute lout, and a know-nothing. He’s a climate-change denying sexist and racist xenophobe. But as such he makes clear to the entire world what “America” has become – what it in fact is – a country controlled by the greedy, uneducated, anti-scientific, religiously fundamentalist, racist, sexist, domineering, undemocratic, and xenophobic. With his election, it will no longer be possible to pretend otherwise.

In other words, Donald Trump represents what’s needed to spark and catalyze the revolution against everything he and our country have come to embody. His election may be what’s required to destroy the system as we know it and to catalyze the revolution roiling just below the surface of contemporary American life.

So following his election just watch the agents of revolution come together.  I’m talking about:

  • The civilized world
  • Women tired of being objectified and harassed and underpaid
  • Environmentalists
  • Black Lives Matter activists
  • Fight for Fifteen” workers
  • The New American Indian Movement resisting installations like the Dakota Access Pipeline
  • Prison strikers
  • Immigrants
  • Indebted students
  • Other people energized by Bernie Sanders
  • Muslims at home and abroad
  • Religious leaders like Pope Francis
  • And Mother Earth Herself

But, be forewarned: there will be a rough ride ahead of us. Should Trump win, we will experience all the troubles connected with a genuine revolution.

God help us!

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

cornel-west-endorsement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last Night’s Debate: Now That Was Really Depressing!

debate-posture

I was afraid this would happen. Donald Trump actually out-performed Hillary last night. Admittedly, given the sex-tape disaster that had broken two days earlier, the man had nowhere to go but up. But in our media-driven horse-race approach to politics, where issues are ignored, memories and shockingly short and facts don’t matter, he probably did much last night to pick himself up off the floor.

Meanwhile, Hillary was left simply flailing. She seemed nonplussed throughout the whole affair having foolishly chosen (as she put it) to “go high” rather than deliver a knockout blow to an opponent who entered the debate reeling, bloody and battered. She couldn’t put him away.

Trump’s performance truly surprised me. Although he’s clearly an ethical moron, he has proven to be a brilliant debater. As in his spheres of business and taxes, he apparently knows how to manipulate broken systems and their rules. And these debate clown-shows play to that strength. They present him with (1) parameters entirely controlled by the parties of the debate’s participants, (2) an opponent who largely agrees with him on the most important issues, (3) opposing (third party) viewpoints systematically excluded, (4) weak-kneed “celebrity” newscasters who concerned about their own images are easily bullied, and (5) just two minutes to answer each question.

In other words, the whole thing is rigged. And, if nothing else, Donald Trump is a master at gaming rigged systems. By comparison, and despite all her vaunted experience, Hillary Clinton comes off as a rank amateur.

Trump has actually figured out that given the debate format, all he has to do is bob and weave, jab and jive, rope and dope. That means physically dwarfing his female opponent by strutting around the stage in barely-concealed threatening postures, complaining about the bias of is incompetent interrogators, and simply trotting out the old CIA spookstrategy: (1) admit nothing, (2) deny everything, (3) make counter accusations.

Last night it all worked like a charm.

As a result, the whole affair ended up completely mystifying. Candidates were allowed to ignore the actual questions, to answer other ones instead, and to ramble on, talk over each other, and ignore commands to stop their ranting. Most of the time, I was left scratching my head wondering, “Now what was the original question?” And then if I remembered, my follow-up was “What does this ‘answer’ have to do with that?”

Meanwhile our country’s and world’s most important issues were all but ignored. There was nothing about climate change until the last minute and a half (literally). And as usual the phrase itself and “global warming” remained unuttered. There was nothing about student loans, police murders of black people, Black Lives Matter, or voter suppression. And Clinton and Trump basically appeared to agree on “clean coal,” fracking, the need for Muslims to report on each other, privatized health care, military spending, the renewed nuclear arms race, and on how much they like each other.

As for the war in Syria, Trump made much more sense there than Hillary. He did! She’s actually willing to risk nuclear war with Russia to institute an impossible “no fly zone” there. (She practically spit out the phrase “THE RUSSIANS” while discussing the issue.) Trump, on the other hand recognizes that ISIS, not THE RUSSIANS is the real enemy in the Middle East. He advocates dialog with the Kremlin. It made me wonder, is he the peace candidate?

I was also left wondering about Hillary’s ethics compared with Trump’s.  Both of these characters are unsavory to say the least. I wonder who’s worse?

Trump’s actions border on rape. That’s serious. His offense was not “just words” – locker room banter – compared with Bill Clinton’s actions. The sex tape showed Trump bragging about unwanted kissing and groping.  Anyone else but a rich white billionaire would at the very least lose his job over an expose like that. Even Roger Ailes had to step down. (But, of course, Ailes had less money than Trump.)

But Hillary’s problem is lying and warmongering. Except for the justified furor over Trump’s sex tapes, last weekend’s publication of her long-hidden Wall Street speeches by Wikileaks might have mortally wounded her campaign. The leaks have her defending a practice of publicly advocating populist positions and then in private pushing more business-friendly policies. That’s what the Sanders wing of the Democratic Party had warned of all along. Her strategy in dealing with the revelations is to blame THE RUSSIANS – to ramp up the paranoia that melds seamlessly with her willingness to risk nuclear war.

But then, of course, Trump appears totally clueless about nuclear war himself. Isn’t he the one who asked repeatedly, “If we have nuclear weapons, why can’t we use them?”

It’s depressing. Candidates bickering over who’s more corrupt, ignoring the real issues, and despite the public’s yearning for change, both promising business as usual – or worse.

In the face of all this, I’d vote for Jill Stein and the Green Party, were it not for the issue of Supreme Court justices. Instead, I find faint hope in Bernie Sanders’ strategy of voting for Hillary this time around and then working hard for Bernie, Elizabeth Warren, Dr. Stein or whoever steps up over the next four years to help a now depressed and angry populist movement coalesce against the nonsense these two establishment candidates represent.

We also must work to return these debates to control by the League of Women Voters.

The Disappointing First Debate: The Best We Can Do Is Damage-Control

debate-photo

Like everyone else I know, I watched the first presidential debate last night. I tuned in to “Democracy Now” (DN) to witness the contest between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Afterwards I kept my dial set right there for the après debate discussion.

Then just this morning, I returned to DN to view debate highlights and the space host, Amy Goodman, gave to Jill Stein to answer the questions posed the night before by NBC News anchor, Lester Holt. Ms. Goodman had also invited Libertarian candidate, Gary Johnson, to participate in her two hour “Expanding the Debate” special. However, Mr. Johnson claimed he was otherwise occupied.

Despite polls that show most Americans would like their participation, both Dr. Stein and Mr. Johnson had been excluded from the previous evening’s debate by the Commission on Presidential Debates entirely controlled by the Democrat and Republican parties.

This morning I was relieved to find the Washington Post supporting my own judgment. It detailed a nearly unanimous verdict that Secretary Clinton had trounced Mr. Trump even according to conservative media outlets.

For me, the debate’s most important question addressed to both candidates was “If you happen to lose the election on November 8th, will you support your opponent as President of the United States?” Of course, both candidates answered in the affirmative.

If the question were posed to me – will I support either candidate? – my answer would be negative.

As many have pointed out, Donald Trump is entirely unqualified to be POTUS. Last night he came off like some guy you’d meet in a bar –  or your nutty uncle at Thanksgiving dinner, who after one too many, rants on in broad generalizations without any rational argument or factual support. At times he seemed completely incoherent.  He definitely generated more heat than light.

Meanwhile, Ms. Clinton had the opposite problem.  Yes, she was coherent. And yes, she had done her homework.

But she promises nothing more than continuation of the status quo. That in turn means perpetual war, more bombing, drone attacks, and regime change fueled by nostalgia for the 1990 Clinton years where “My husband did a pretty good job.”

That’s a reference to the same Bill Clinton who betrayed his working class base by ramming through what Mr. Trump correctly called the “worst trade deal in history” – the North American Free Trade Agreement. It’s the same president who sponsored the Omnibus Crime Bill that filled U.S. prisons with (largely black and Hispanic) perpetrators of victimless crimes. Mr. Clinton’s the one who gutted “Welfare as We Know It” eliminating Aid to Families with Dependent Children and replacing it with the punitive Temporary Assistance to Needy Families. The Clintons are responsible for lowering the minimum wage in Haiti from 60 cents an hour to 40 cents.

What I’m saying is that Mrs. Clinton represents a depressing continuation of the status quo that millennials and other progressives have largely repudiated.

Forgotten in all of this is the fact that the alternative to business as usual was stymied by Hillary and her minion, Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Under Shultz, the Democratic National Committee worked in concert with the Clinton campaign to discredit Bernie Sanders and, it seems, to prevent accurate vote tallies. In other words, Hillary is very likely where she is because of election fraud – one of the causes of voter apathy in relation to this Democratic candidate – and to elections in general.

With all of this in mind, I’m voting for Jill Stein, just as I did in the last election.  That’s because as a citizen of Kentucky, I’m disenfranchised by our current dysfunctional electoral system. So in my irredeemably Red State, my vote carries no weight at all, except as a protest. My protest vote then will be for the Green Party candidate.

As she showed this morning on DN and in other interviews I’ve seen, Dr. Stein is on top of issues and offers a truly progressive agenda largely ignored last night. That agenda includes:

  • A Green New Deal that amounts to a huge jobs program that will turn the tide on climate change.
  • For debt-ridden students (43 million of them), a bail-out analogous to the Bush-Obama 2008 $1.3 trillion Wall Street bail-out.
  • Tax increases on the 1% and on corporations to fund such programs.
  • The end of foreign policies whose guiding principle entails global dominance, imperialism, and regime change. (That policy, in turn, generates and feeds the problem of terrorism.)
  • Corresponding and substantial cut-backs in military spending that currently consumes nearly half of the U.S. budget.
  • Community-controlled policing with Citizen Review Boards for U.S. police departments. These boards would have investigative and subpoena power and authority to fire and hire police chiefs.
  • The establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to address racism, its causes and remedies including reparations for slavery.
  • Halting the Obama $1 trillion plan to modernize the U.S. nuclear arsenal and replacing it with world-wide nuclear disarmament negotiations.
  • Dismantling nuclear power plants which with the likelihood of a 9-foot rise in sea levels by 2050 are in line to “go Fukushima” by then.

Absent the Electoral College nonsense, I’d hold my nose and vote for Hillary. But that would only be a “damage control” measure on my part. This time around we have no choice – just two highly defective corporate candidates. And Trump is clearly unqualified for Dog Catcher.

Between now and 2020, we have to work with Bernie Sanders, Jill Stein and others to implement a program with features like the ones just listed.

What do you think?

The November Elections, Pope Francis, and the Catholic Vote

romneyryan

On September 6th, the Washington Post published a report called “White Catholics Struggle to Get on Board the Trump Train.” The article’s assumption was that obviously Caucasian Catholics are expected to vote Republican. However, the report noted, some are having second thoughts in the light of the Trump candidacy – presumably because of his waffling on the issue of abortion.

Unexplainably, the Post article completely ignored the overall progressive thrust of Pope Francis’ teaching and the un-Republican influence it might be having on Catholic voters. Instead, it bolstered its “of course” assumption about Catholics voting Republican by puzzling over the fact that four years ago Catholics who attended Mass at least once a month favored Mitt Romney by 38 points. This year, Donald Trump’s lead among such Catholics has shrunk to 17 points..

True, the WaPo article did suggest that Pope Francis might have something to do with the trends it described. After all, Francis had explicitly intimated that Mr. Trump was unchristian for intending to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border. Followers of Jesus, Francis said, build bridges, not walls. In response Trump dismissed the pope as “very political.”

However, the Post completely ignored the issues of climate change, a world economy based on arms manufacture, capital punishment, and world-wide income disparities – Pope Francis’ signature issues that he himself highlighted in his speech last year to the U.S. Congress.

The Post carried on as if that speech and the pope’s landmark encyclical on climate change had never occurred. It was as though the Church were still mired in the reactionary era of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, when Catholics seemed obsessed with one issue alone: abortion without connecting it (as Francis has done) to problems of poverty, war, environmental destruction, and an overwhelmingly punitive “justice” system.

So how should Catholics vote who are tuned into Pope Francis’ more comprehensive moral concerns? According to the pope’s eco-encyclical, his Apostolic Exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel, and his address to the U.S. Congress, Catholics should vote:

  • Against climate change deniers and for those who share the pope’s climate concerns.
  • Against champions of dirty fossil fuels and in favor of those supporting alternative, renewable energy sources.
  • Against those who would exclude refugees from finding shelter in the United States and in favor of those advocating sanctuary.
  • Against those who favor arms sales abroad and in favor of proponents of divestment from the arms industry.
  • Against champions of capital punishment and in favor of those calling for its abolition.
  • Against those proposing tax cuts for the wealthy and in favor of increased redistributive taxes on their incomes.
  • Against those whose answers to global terrorism are war, bombing, and drone assassinations, and in favor of those who offer legal and diplomatic solutions to the problem of national security.
  • Against those who are selective in their “pro-life” advocacy, and for those who connect respect for life not just with abortion, but with providing care for unwanted children brought to term, with clean energy, environmental protection, universal health care, investment in public education, and opposition to capital punishment and war.

In the run-up to the elections, these are the issues Catholics should quiz Ms. Clinton and Mr. Trump about – as well as candidates for other public offices.

Our Dinner with Amy Goodman

Amy Goodman

A week ago today, Peggy and I had dinner with Amy Goodman, the host of “Democracy Now: the War and Peace Report” (DN).  The program airs each Monday through Friday on radio and TV stations across the country. I watch it every morning in its podcast version that can be accessed at any hour at http://www.democracynow.org/

The dinner was a Christmas present from my daughter, Maggie who (with her husband, Kerry) had given DN a substantial contribution.

[The gift came with a black Democracy Now tee shirt (which I wore to our dinner) and two coffee cups showing the program’s logo. The meal portion of the gift was for me and a companion of my choice. Naturally, it was Peggy. Still another of the gift’s components was attendance at one of the show’s morning productions (which we’ll take advantage of sometime in the future).]

There were four of us in Thursday’s dinner party. Amy brought along her factotum, Edith Penty, whose presence was absolutely delightful. We ate at the Hangawi Korean restaurant on 32nd street between Fifth and Madison Avenue. There we shared “The Emperor’s Tasting Menu” that featured starters, appetizers, entrees and dessert –   acorn noodle salad with avocado fritters, dumplings in pine nut and pineapple sauce, tofu with sesame leaves and seaweed sauce, and dessert.

As the meal unfolded we all shared our biographies.

Amy is a New Yorker raised in Bay Shore. She is the daughter of an ophthalmologist father and a mother who taught literature and Women’s Studies. Her family is Jewish Orthodox. Her maternal grandfather was an Orthodox Rabbi.  She studied Hebrew and Torah from kindergarten through high school. Amy graduated from Radcliffe College in 1984, with a degree in anthropology.

From her stories about participation in demonstrations, vigils, and campaigns, it’s clear that Amy Goodman has always been an activist. For some years she worked in an organic bakery that eventually supplied buns for Arby’s restaurants. Journalism has always been in her family’s blood. (Her brother published a family newspaper before reaching his teenage years.) She founded Democracy Now in 1996; this is its 20th anniversary year. Throughout Amy’s account of her life, there wasn’t a trace of self-promotion. On the contrary, both Peggy and I were impressed with her interest in our stories, and with her unassuming presence.

In all the four of us spent about two hours together. And of course conversation went far beyond autobiographies. Inevitably we discussed Trump, Bernie and Hillary.

The most interesting insight came when Amy shared the fact that the Obamas and Clintons can’t stand one another. Obama made Hillary his Secretary of State following the principle: Stay close to your friends, and even closer to your enemies. One of the first questions asked in any Obama or Clinton vetting process is: “What do you think about Hillary?” “What do you think about Barrack?” Hiring decisions are made accordingly.

Towards the end of our time together, Amy left the table for a moment. Soon afterwards waiters came to our table with ice cream and small cakes and a candle. Amy had informed them that Peggy and I are celebrating our 40th wedding anniversary. That’s the kind of thoughtful person Amy Goodman is.

As we left Hangwai, a young African American man caught sight of my Democracy Now tee shirt. He said to me: “Love your tee shirt. I watch that program every day. Love that too!” I pointed ahead of us to Amy who was deep in conversation with Peggy. I said, “That’s Amy Goodman right there.” He couldn’t believe it. Soon we were all taking pictures with the celebrity. It was a moment that topped the evening off just perfectly.

If Democracy Now isn’t part of your daily news-gathering routine, it should be.  Unlike other newscasts, it centralizes stories from the grassroots. So it often interviews victims of police violence, representatives of NGOs (non-governmental organizations), political dissidents, and community organizers. Noam Chomsky, Glen Greenwald, Naomi Klein, Bill McKibben, Medea Benjamin, Cornel West, Lori Wallach, Richard Wolff, Tariq Ali, and many other thought-leaders and journalists are among the program’s frequent guests.

“Democracy Now” covers the Black Lives Matter Movement along with the Boycott, Divest, and Sanction campaign against the Israeli apartheid system – whose proponents are almost never interviewed in the mainstream media.

If you watch Democracy Now, you know details of the recent coup in Brazil, its predecessor in Honduras, and current attempts at still another in Venezuela. You know about Michael Brown, Eric Garner and Tamir Rice. But you also are familiar with police killings of Sandra Bland, Tanisha Anderson, and Miriam Cary.

None of the stories is reduced to sound bites. Interviewees like Noam Chomsky are sometimes given an entire hour (without commercial interruption) to analyze a whole host of world and national issues. An hour-long broadcast was devoted recently to Daniel Berrigan, the Jesuit peace activist who died last month.

Peggy and I are so grateful to Maggie and Kerry for making possible such a memorable evening — and of course, to Amy Goodman for spending so much time with us and for being the huge inspiration she is

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

catholicvote

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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