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!

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.

Beware: Conspiracy Theorists May Be Prophetically Correct

Readings for the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time: Jeremiah 20: 7-9; Psalm 63: 2-9; Romans 12: 1-2; Matthew 16:21-27

This Sunday’s readings are about truth, the world’s rejection of the same, and about the truth-teller’s willingness to take the consequences – even if they entail loss of one’s life.

The readings are extremely relevant to our moment in history. There, the current occupant of the White House has from day one (and before) challenged conventional ideas about truth itself. His administration popularized the phrases “fake news” and “alternative facts.” The Washington Post alleges that in less than one year, the chief executive told more than 2000 lies.

In the meantime, sources like QAnon have spread right-wing conspiracy theories that have many scratching their heads about what to believe. For instance, are Q’s assertions true that:

  • Antifa is a sworn enemy of Black Lives Matter (BLM)?
  • BLM itself is funded and controlled by George Soros and left-wing think tanks?
  • President Obama is really a Muslim?
  • Kamala Harris is ineligible to be POTUS?
  • Sandy Hook was a false flag event staged to justify disarming U.S. citizens?
  • Prominent Democrats have run a child-trafficking ring out of a D.C. pizzeria (“Pizzagate”)?
  • The entire world is run by a Satan-worshipping child sex-trafficking organization?

In the context of COVID-19, beliefs are widespread that:

  • COVID-19 is a fake “pLandemic” orchestrated by a “deep state” to eliminate democracy and reset the economy even more in favor of the rich.
  • Dr. Anthony Fauci is a key player in starting the pLandemic – to make billions for himself.
  • But the ultimate goal is to set up a New World Order under a single government.
  • Face masks and social distancing are means to deprive unsuspecting citizens of their civil liberties.

Debate Among OpEd Editors

With all of that in mind, a lively debate has erupted for the past couple of weeks among OpEdNews senior editors. It was sparked by an editorial penned by the website’s editor-in-chief (EIC), Rob Kall. Rob has taken a courageously firm editorial stance against articles that reflect the right-wing talking points of view just listed. According to Rob, they’re all “bad guy” theories. Moreover, the uncritical use of right-wing talking points and language (e.g. “deep state,” “pLandemic,” and “New World Order”) only serve to boost and promote right wing messaging. The EIC wrote, “When you use the language of the enemy, you help the enemy . . . So, stop using their language.”

For me, Rob’s stance makes a lot of sense. But I can also see how others (excluding the senior editors) might label it just another example of “cancel culture?” Are we to cancel well-written and well-documented articles because of their conspiratorial language?

More importantly (at least in the context of this Sunday homily) can we get away with classifying those we disagree with as “bad guys” or as “the enemy?”

[Believe me, I ask that question with some trepidation. I’m uncomfortable with the theories listed above. Many of them (not all – see below) seem outrageous. Most often, I think of Donald Trump and his cohorts as “the enemy” – as “bad guys.”]

Today’s Readings

However, such reflections bring me back to this Sunday’s readings and their faith underpinnings. All of the readings underwrite truth alternatives severely in conflict with unquestioned cultural convictions. They point to the embrace of those who hold “unacceptable” opinions.

And it’s not just the Judeo-Christian tradition I’m talking about. Instead, I’m referencing all the non-dual spiritualities that find home in all the world’s Great Religions. In their mystical forms, they all agree that there’s no distinction between us and those we’re tempted to “other” as bad guys and enemies. Despite our understandable antipathies, none of them is cancelable any more than we would like to be.

Even more familiarly, Jesus the Christ recommended loving “your neighbor as yourself” (i.e. because she or he is yourself). That’s because (as Marianne Williamson puts it) “There is really only one of us here.” Ken Wilber comes close to saying the same thing when he observes (uncomfortably for me!) that given their level of consciousness, everyone is right — at least partially. And then there’s Deepak Chopra who says everyone’s doing the best they can.

Again, with all of that in mind imagine, for instance, how Donald Trump or QAnon partisans would relate to today’s readings. Please check out the originals for yourself here to see what I mean. My “translations” run as follows:

Jeremiah 20: 7-9: Life is deceptive. When I explain how, everyone laughs and makes fun of me. Yet, despite my resolutions to stop talking, I cannot remain silent about the violence and outrages that no one else seems to see. My compulsion to tell the truth is like an out-of-control fire burning inside me.

Psalm 63: 2-9: In fact, truth-seeking is synonymous with my thirst for Life Itself. It’s like rain falling on parched soil. It involves an encounter with the Force that some call “God.” That meeting is what life itself is about. Hence despite rejection by the world, speaking truth is more satisfying than a rich banquet. It’s like water for my scorched soul.  

Romans 12: 1-2: So, sisters and brothers, be willing to endure rejection for your stubborn non-conformity – for your commitment to the true, the good, and the beautiful – for your enlightenment. No other way of life is worth living.

Matthew 16:21-27: Commitment to truth always brings some type of martyrdom. Jesus saw that clearly. However, he refused to be dissuaded from following his prophetic script – even by his closest friend. “STFU,” he told Peter in no uncertain terms. “You too,” he said, “and anyone wishing to follow me must be willing to endure even capital punishment. Yes, opposing the lies of church and state is more important than life itself.” 

The Unresolved OpEd Debate

So, if life is so mysterious and even deceptive, if our faith demands nonconformity and taking the heat for unpopular opposition to church and state, if transcendent truth really lies 180 degrees opposite of routinely accepted cultural bromides, what are we to do about “bad guys,” “enemies,” and their apparently wild conspiracy theories?

First of all, we must recognize that bad guys indeed exist. There are criminals in the world and the worst of them reside not behind bars, but behind desks in D.C., in state capitals, and on Wall Street. It may even be that CIA or NSA operatives are behind the more outlandish conspiracy theories in question.  Clearly, many of these perps belong in jail. And most of us look forward to the day of their incarceration.

Secondly, however, we must recognize that the bad guys are emphatically not the people writing for OpEdNews. In Ken Wilber’s terms, those persuaded by the earlier-referenced theories might simply be coming from mindsets Wilber calls “egocentric” or “ethnocentric.” These are not negative terms; all of us, even if we’ve transitioned to “world-centric” or even “cosmic-centric” levels, have passed through those stages (no one can avoid them). In other words, following the thread I’m trying to develop here, and given their stage of evolutionary development, these people are right and are doing the best they can.   

Thirdly (and most uncomfortably for me), it may be that the so-called “conspiracy theorists” are objectively correct or at least partially so. Here I’m thinking specifically about a video interview of Sasha Stone I posted on OEN a few weeks ago. There Stone (who sometimes appears angry and even unhinged) does endorse that claim that the world is run by a cabal of pedophiles and Satan worshippers. More importantly however, he’s endorsed in that position by Robert David Steele, an ex-CIA officer, who seems perfectly sane, objective, and entirely rational. Steele claims that 22,000 children are kidnapped and “disappear” every year into an underworld of pedophilia and Satan worship. That conclusion is supported by an entire panel of sober scholars and jurists belonging to Stone’s International Tribunal for Natural Justice.

What is one to think about all that – especially given what’s been revealed in the Jeffrey Epstein/Ghislaine Maxwell saga? Is that merely the tip of an iceberg?

Conclusion

Given the thrust of today’s readings (and even discounting them if you prefer) it could very well be possible that the conspiracy theorists now under threat of cancellation from OEN pages might be right – or at least partially so. With the readings’ recommendations of nonconformity and prophetic resistance ringing in my ears, here’s where I see that they might well be on the right path:

  • By his outrageous lies, Donald Trump has clearly pulled the curtain back from our culture’s ethnocentric prevarications. As the very incarnation of egocentrism, he has rendered untenable all claims to American exceptionalism. In that sense, he himself is a great (though completely unconscious) prophet.
  • Secretary of State and former CIA director, Mike Pompeo, has been even more explicit in his admissions about our government’s systemic lies. Pompeo’s predecessor under President Reagan, William Casey was more honest still. He said, “We’ll know our disinformation program is complete when everything the American public believes is false.” (Think about that! How can we trust anything our government says?)
  • Trump, Pompeo, Casey and the revision of American history stimulated by their policies have shown that all of us have been duped about our country’s foundations and “noble traditions.” Most of it is fake.
  • Consequently, everyone should presume without contrary smoking gun evidence that our politicians (and mass media, church leaders, scientists and educators) are lying, though often unconsciously.
  • NOTHING is immune from such well-founded skepticism – including COVID-19, mask wearing, and social distancing.
  • Moreover, the Epstein/Maxwell saga coupled with the worldwide pedophilia scandal within the Roman Catholic Church and the massive profits gained from child pornography have all revealed the centrality of child sexual abuse that few previously suspected. (As Robert David Steele puts it: the five pillars of U.S. policy are guns, gold, cash, drugs, and child trafficking.)
  • Those same revelations have demonstrated that our country’s ruling class (and the world’s!) are corrupt to the bone. NOTHING – no crime, no degeneracy – is beyond them. The swamp is deep and fetid.
  • Joe Biden and the Democrats will be no better than Mr. Trump in draining that swamp. They have no interest in doing so.

Of course, I could go on with my list. However, the point is that there is more overlap than one might think between the convictions of those on the right and progressive readers and contributors to OEN. As uncomfortable as it might be, leftists must not cancel, but rather dialog with “the enemy” and seriously investigate their claims.

We Should Have Listened to Marianne Williamson

Readings for Third Sunday of Easter: ACTS 2:14, 22-32; PSALMS 16:1-11; 1PETER 1:17-21; LUKE 24:13-35

Today’s Gospel story is about dashed hopes redeemed by acceptance of Jesus’ Spirit of love encapsulated in the simple act of breaking bread with strangers. It’s about the replacement of discouragement and fear with hope and the prospect of entirely unforeseen, even miraculous possibilities.

Given our present context of pandemic, quarantine and presidential campaigns, I can’t read it without thinking of the dashed hopes of progressives. I can’t help thinking about the defeat of the self-styled revolutionary, Bernie Sanders and the presumed nomination of the de facto restorationist, Joe Biden.

For progressives, it all seems disastrous and beyond redemption. Where’s the hope? However, the example of former candidate, Marianne Williamson who synthesizes her Jewish tradition with that of Christians, offers reason for hope. It’s just too bad that we didn’t listen to her sooner.

Before I get to that though, think first about our context.

Our Lost Campaign

Begin by considering the irony of the present moment. Here we are stuck with, Joe Biden, the weakest entry in the original candidate field. Meanwhile, the strongest candidate – the one absolutely demanded by our extraordinary times – has slipped into political oblivion. I’m talking about Marianne Williamson.  

Recall that at the beginning, more than 20 candidates announced themselves as contestants for the Democratic nomination. As far as the mainstream media (MSM) was concerned, Joe Biden was the odds-on favorite. Marianne Williamson, a spiritual teacher by vocation, was dismissed out of hand.

The irony is that now that the smoke has cleared, Joe Biden has indeed prevailed. And Marianne Williamson is looking better all the time.

Biden prevailed despite his pedestrian debate performances. All of them were entirely unnoteworthy except for his appearing generally confused, inarticulate, and (as ever) prone to embarrassing gaffes.  

More specifically, doddering Uncle Joe showed himself to be a staunch upholder of a moribund status quo that the Coronavirus crisis has revealed to be crumbling all around. Clearly in cognitive decline, and even as the United States registers more COVID-19 deaths than any country in the world, the man can’t even acknowledge what’s apparent to most people everywhere. The U.S. healthcare system is a complete and utter disgrace. It must be replaced by a single payer arrangement like that afforded the citizens of all other industrialized nations. For more than 50 years, none of them has had trouble figuring out how to pay for public healthcare. Old Mr. Biden can’t seem to wrap his mind around that simple fact. Poor man.

Marianne Williamson

Then there was Marianne Williamson. At the beginning, she was an object of media ridicule. She was portrayed as a fluffy woo-woo new ager. Her inspiration drawn from A Course in Miracles (ACIM) was laughed at by the pundits. “Miracles?” They didn’t understand that in ACIM vocabulary, the term refers to any change of perception from fear to love. And such change is exactly what’s demanded by our times – particularly, as it turns out, during this COVID-19 pandemic.  

Yes, Marianne was dismissed out of hand. However, those of us who have been following her for years and who had read her Healing the Soul of America, knew better. For us, she was a much deeper Bernie Sanders. In fact, when candidates like Mayor Pete, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, Corey Booker, Beto O’Rourke, and Tulsi Gabbard rushed to stop Sanders and endorse Biden, virtually alone among former candidates, Marianne stuck with Bernie.

She advocated all of his programs, but her rationale for doing so was much deeper. It was grounded in what she called a “politics of love.” It recognized clearly that our country’s fundamental malady is spiritual rather than economic. Hers was the very message Americans need to hear at this watershed moment. Fear is the world’s way; love is the Spirit of Life. A politics based on love is not only possible, we must realize, but required.

And over the years, Marianne has proven herself more eloquent in delivering that message than any of her candidate peers. She is far more articulate and inspiring than any of them – any of them! If she were in Silent Joe’s place, she’d be on TV every day encouraging all of us in this season of distress and explaining how to deal with it internally and externally. And she’d crush Lyin’ Donald Trump’s tedious pressers by contrast.

But even more valuable at this time of COVID-19, Ms. Williamson would lay out her inspiring policy rationale. It is first of all, that we can’t believe any of our politicians who mouth the neoliberal “Washington Consensus” with its trickle-down rationale and its idea of American exceptionalism. Even more generally, she’d insist that the wisdom of the world is 180 degrees opposite that of the underlying wisdom of Life Itself, whether we refer to it like that or call it Mother Earth, Nature with a capital ‘N,’ the Ground of Being, or for that matter, “God.”

Yes, she says, America has been great. And that greatness must be restored. However, it is found not in some top-down arrangement, where leadership comes from billionaires, bankers, hedge funders, giant corporations, or politicians. Instead, the greatness of the United States is found in its founding fathers and mothers, in abolitionists, women suffragists, labor unions, the New Deal, the Civil Rights Movement, and the Green New Deal. Such understanding means that we must look for bottom-up leadership and policies rather than the stale top-down proposals emanating from D.C. and the likes of Biden and Trump.

In the current crisis, she’d say, American greatness is found in the immigrants (many of them undocumented) whom we’ve come to depend on to harvest our food, serve us in grocery stores, deliver our packages, and sweep floors and clean toilets in our hospitals. Ironically, the very ones vilified by President Trump are our economy’s real essential workers – more so than any of our politicians. Those workers are heroes and we all owe them a huge debt. They should be bailed out first. In fact, if bailouts are in question, the order of rescue should be (1) ordinary people, (2) mom and pop businesses, and (3) banks and corporations – not the reverse.

Today’s Readings

To get all of this in faith perspective, please read today’s liturgical selections for yourself here. See if you can discern the connection with what I’ve been saying. My own “translations” runs as follows:

ACTS 2:14, 22-32: The Earliest Christian Faith Addressed by Jews to Jews: Jesus was a wonderworker who fulfilled the “prophetic script” of being rejected and assassinated by his own people. But as with past prophets (as described by David) his soul has proven to be immortal. He lives! His Spirit cannot die.  

PSALMS 16:1-11: Jesus’ Spirit Shows Us the Path to Life: We take refuge in that Spirit which his followers have inherited. When we’re disturbed it tells us what to do. It makes us happy, joyful, and confident even in the face of death.

1PETER 1:17-21: Follow That Path: Yes, they spilled Jesus’ blood like a lamb led to slaughter. But that wasn’t the end of him. His Holy Spirit remains (as it always has) to save us from a meaningless life devoted to the mere accumulation of gold and silver.

LUKE 24:13-35: The Miraculous Walk: That firstEaster morning two of Jesus’ disciples were walking to a town seven miles from Jerusalem. Sadly, they could talk of nothing other than the tragic events of the previous weekend. Jesus joined them unrecognized. With a jester’s smile, he asked about himself and his story. The two earnestly recounted the tale of their dashed hopes concerning a wonder worker from Nazareth assassinated by the religious establishment – and the women’s crazy account of a miraculously empty tomb, angels and new life. “There’s nothing odd about that,” Jesus explained still smiling. It’s the “prophetic script.” It’s what has always happened among our people. Still not recognizing Jesus, the two begged him to have supper and stay the night with them. During the meal, Jesus broke bread as he had at his Last Supper. And in that action, the two disciples recognized Jesus. Suddenly, he disappeared. The disciples practically ran back to Jerusalem to report what they saw as the result of breaking bread with a stranger who turned out to be the (risen) Christ. The world has never been the same since.

Conclusion

Yes, instead of Marianne Williamson, we’re stuck with sleepy Joe Biden. And, if you’re like me, you’re discouraged by this awful turn of events. Together we’re like those two disciples that first Easter Sunday walking down the road to Emmaus. And so far, this homily has been like the conversation of those two before Jesus joined them to put everything in perspective. It’s been about what might have been. All seems lost.

But the Christ-consciousness championed by Marianne (and Jesus himself) asks us to bring our darkness into the light of resurrection belief (however we understand it). That consciousness makes it clear that miracles are possible. In ACIM’s sense of fundamental changes in perception from fear to love, they happen all the time.

And at the moment, with the entire world shut down (who would have thought that possible?) we stand before what Arundhati Roy calls a “portal.” The doorway leads from our old world to a new one of the type described for us not only by Marianne Williamson, but by Jesus himself and all the great avatars of human history.

While Joe Biden calls us to turn back, Marianne Williamson joins Jesus in urging us forward into an awaiting new world. There the first are last and the last are first. It’s a planet with room for everyone.

We now know Marianne Williamson won’t be the one to lead us through the beckoning portal. It’s up to us all to rise to the occasion and resurrect everything to a new way of life.  Yes, it’s up to us.

Somehow, we must play the risen Christ.

What If Mumia Abu-Jamal Were President: Communism in the Bible

Readings for 2nd Sunday of Easter: ACTS 2: 42-47; PSALMS 118: 2-4, 13-15, 22-24; 1st PETER: 1: 3-9; JOHN 20: 19-31

Last week, on Easter Sunday, I presented Jose Mujica as a model president. Mujica, I pointed out, was the president of Uruguay from 2010 to 2015. He had been a Marxist Tupamaros (Robinhood) guerrilla since his student days. He was arrested, imprisoned and tortured for 12 years – 3 of them spent in solitary confinement at the bottom of a well. As president, he introduced profound changes in Uruguayan politics. As I noted, he took steps towards the legalization of all drugs in an effort to defeat the country’s drug gangs.

But perhaps Mujica’s most impactful step came in the example he offered national chief executives everywhere in his rejection of the typical presidential lifestyle. He gave away 90% of his yearly salary to the poor and dedicated that money to providing housing for the country’s homeless. He sold the presidential limousine in favor of retaining his old Volkswagen beetle. He continued living with his wife in his run-down peasant farmhouse.

In my frustration over this year’s Hobson’s choice between Trump and Biden, I couldn’t help thinking: what if we chose a U.S. president who did something like that? What if, instead of looking for leadership to billionaires like Trump or lifelong politicians like Biden, we elected someone like Jose Mujica – a peasant, a worker, a radical thinker? How would that change American politics? How would that change the world?

What if we elected someone like Mumia Abu-Jamal? Abu-Jamal, of course, is the Marxist Black Panther journalist who had spent years as a political prisoner on death row. Allegedly he killed a Philadelphia police officer in 1981 – a charge he has always vehemently denied. In any case, he regularly publishes insightful, edgy comment from prison and is often interviewed on NPR and programs like “Democracy Now.” What if Mumia were our president?    

I raise those questions because they’re suggested by the readings for this second Sunday of Easter. They expose us to the shocking fact that resurrection for the first Christians turned everything completely upside-down. They actually embraced communism and recognized as their leader a worker, a victim of capital punishment from death row. Yes, they embraced the communist ideal that inspired both Mujica and Mumia Abu-Jamal.

Today’s Readings

The readings are brilliant and timely in that they not only give us an insight into the primitive Christian community. They also urge us to turn our politics upside-down. They do so first by offering an abstract description of the original Christian community, and then by fleshing out that description with narrative about a key encounter of a skeptic with the risen Christ who embodies the basis of the communist vision – identification with society’s victims and despised.

Here are my “translations” of those readings. You can find the originals here to see if I’ve got them right:  

ACTS 2: 42-47: The first Christians were communists. Following the teachings of Jesus, they prayerfully shared meals each day and all their possessions – from each according to ability to each according to need. Their example was so awe-inspiring that everyone loved them, and their numbers grew rapidly.

PSALMS 118: 2-4, 13-15, 22-24: Christian communalism was a dim reflection of the benevolence of Life Itself as demonstrated in nature and throughout human history. No one truly owns anything; it’s all GIFT. Though unrecognized by the world, renouncing private property is the rejected cornerstone of human community – the key to surmounting every human problem. Accepting this truth, even in the worst of times, those committed to justice manifest super-human strength, courage, and joy.

FIRST PETER: 1: 3-9: It’s as if they were all born again into a new creation filled with hope that is stronger than death itself. Talk about inheritance! Communal sharing has made us richer than kings and their vast storehouses of gold. We’ve experienced the very goal of history – even though the world’s opposition to our sharing obscures the fact that we are on the right path – the one blazed by Jesus himself (and the other great divine incarnations). There is no other portal to human happiness.  

JOHN 20: 19-31: Fear of the world, its violence and opposition to Jesus’ communalism has intimidated us into denying his way. Yes, we’re all denialists like the one they called “The Twin” (Didymus). He is our double in rejecting in absentia Jesus’ Holy Spirit of peace and forgiveness, of sharing and community that make peace possible. Correcting false perception means recognizing Christ himself in those the world has wounded and assassinated for daring to follow him.

Christian Communism

Please do read for yourselves today’s first reading, ACTS: 2: 42-47. It’s significant that on this week after Easter, the passage immediately directs us not to “spiritual” concern with heaven and the afterlife, but to material property, land and the primacy of the marginalized in organizing community life. Here’s a fuller description of the way the early Christians lived. You’ll find it in ACTS, Chapter 4:

“Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.” (Acts 4:32-35).

Note that the description immediately connects the interior lives of believers (heart and soul unity) with communizing the group’s possessions. They sold their land and houses, pooled the resulting resources and redistributed wealth on the basis of need. All of this was an expression, the passage says, of early Christian belief in the new way of life expressed in the term “resurrection.” Communism was the logical, practical expression of following Jesus’ teaching. Doing so brought the community grace, i.e. favor with God and with those outside their community.

How different that understanding is from what, in effect, we’ve been taught since infancy about capitalism as somehow God’s way. It’s as if the above passage read:

“Now the whole group of those who believed entered into competition with one another. They fiercely guarded their possessions and considered private property as sacred. With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the dog-eat-dog world Jesus described as God’s Kingdom. So, they all viewed the “needy” as lazy and unproductive. They evicted them when they defaulted on rent and then tore down their hovels to enrich themselves and develop gentrified neighborhoods. In this way, Jesus’ early followers became rich and prosperous, while the poor got their just deserts – poverty and misery.” 

I’m not exaggerating. That emphasis on private property, on the law of the jungle, and justifying a resulting gap between rich and poor is embraced by many Christians as if the godly life Jesus endorsed could be described exactly as above.

Jesus’ Place in Communism

Now switch your attention to the Gospel reading for today. It brings us inside the first Christian house church whose communism was described abstractly in the reading from the Acts of the Apostles. It shows Jesus’ closest followers affirming the enduring relevance of their hero as a leader remarkably like Mumia Abu-Jamal. He’s dark-skinned and condemned under false charges by the state. He not only comes from death row; he was actually a victim of torture and capital punishment. And yet, he somehow lives and continues to teach his way to community happiness!

Recall the scene. Jesus’ closest friends are in hiding, imprisoned by fear of the Romans who had just executed their great teacher and of their traitorous fellow countrymen – the Temple priests and scribal establishment – who cooperated with the foreign occupiers.

So, the doors are locked and bolted. Jesus’ inner circle feels threatened, lost and betrayed by their own naivete in following a quixotic revolutionary who had filled them with such hope for the arrival of the Kingdom of God.

Inevitably, however, conversation must have turned to Jesus, his teachings and to rehearsal of the tragic events of the Passover weekend just completed. And those memories evoke Jesus’ presence, even for the iconic skeptic, Thomas called Twin (Didymus) and “Doubting.”

Thomas is really our Twin in his reluctance to believe that salvation can come from an executed criminal – or, perhaps more accurately, that life is stronger than death. And yet, like Karl Marx, he discovers that the deliverance of the human race comes from below, from a despised member of the working class, not from above and the royal or priestly classes so admired by the mainstream.

Conclusion

Thomas’ reluctant faith and that of his community as presented in today’s readings, call us to a twofold realization. The first is that our entire way of life is on the wrong track. Happiness and the good life (escape from out profound unhappiness) are not found in individual pursuit of wealth as the capitalist story of Jesus would have it.

No, it’s found in radical sharing that has us orienting community life towards the welfare of the least among us – as was the practice of the first Christian community. (That is, as I’ve shown elsewhere, mixed economies are all we have. But they should be mixed in favor of the poor in percolate-up ways rather than in favor of the rich with trickle-down policies.)

The second Thomistic (and Marxist) realization is similar. It’s that we’ve been looking for community leadership in all the wrong places. Our leaders need to come not from David’s palaces, not from Temple priests, but from the streets, from carpenters’ workshops, and even from death row.

Imagine, if we embraced the communism exemplified in today’s readings as our guiding North Star. Imagine if instead of Trump or Biden, Jose Mujica or Mumia were our president. Imagine if we could overcome the denialism of our twin, Thomas the Doubter. That’s the kind of radicality followers of Jesus are called to.

Doubling-Down on Not Voting

I recently wrote a piece here and for OpEdNews entitled “Why I Won’t Vote in November.” It evoked passionate response from readers I greatly respect. They saw it as conceding the reelection of Donald Trump. It was an exercise, I was told, in elitism. It ignored the plight of children in cages at our border as well as Trump’s mishandling of the COVID-19 crisis. It overlooked what should be the main goal of progressives – the defeat of Donald J. Trump at all costs.

My point however was that the goal of defeating Donald Trump is indeed not enough. It won’t cure what’s wrong in America. And that’s because it’s the entire system we live under that must be replaced. It’s entirely corrupted. Democracy has already been all but exterminated in our country. And I deceive myself if I think otherwise.

The whole system (from the executive office to the Congress to the Supreme Court) is anti-worker, anti-people, and pro-corporation. It must be allowed to fall and be replaced. More specifically, the nation’s voting system is corrupt beyond recall, Democratic candidates (like Biden) are perennially pathetic – only marginally different from the Republicans – and Joe Biden epitomizes the pathos and systemic failure as few have before him. 

A Corrupt Voting System

Begin with the voting system.

They don’t even want us to vote! They’re quite clear about that. And I’m not just talking about the Republicans. No one – Republican or Democrat – is  taking serious steps towards eliminating the Electoral College, instituting public funding of all campaigns, creating a voting holiday, establishing same-day voting registration, eliminating hackable voting machines, or turning over the electoral process to a bi-partisan centralized commission to eliminate gerrymandering and ensure that the same rules apply to every state. That’s how bad it is.

As a result of all that, voting has become a complete sham. It contradicts the received wisdom insisting that “every vote counts.” That’s a lie. Look at all the electoral shenanigans in Wisconsin, North Carolina, Georgia and elsewhere. The whole point is to remove partisan-threatening voters from the rosters. No wonder fewer than 60% of eligible voters participate. Consciously or unconsciously, the dropouts know the system’s rigged. They have no dog in the fight.

And let’s be clear, it’s not the “elites” that aren’t voting. It’s the poor, minorities, and working classes who long ago came to the conclusion that their votes don’t matter. To begin with, their ballots might not be counted. But even if they are, those elected won’t attend to the concerns of wage workers, the unemployed, homeless and uninsured.

Still, our overseers (and others) want to shame the rest of us into voting, even when the “lesser of two evils” brings us the same tired polices that serve no one but themselves and their rich employers. What I’m saying is that despite those efforts at shaming, I more and more see the point of working-class non-voters. And if nothing fundamental changes, I’m going to join them.

Perennially Weak Candidates

As for the position of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) that my not voting equals a vote for Donald Trump. . . How about huge VOTE that the DNC itself has cast for Trump by its absurd choice of yet another milk toast candidate – this one far weaker than their last? She couldn’t beat Trump; so, how can he? He’s weaker than Hillary, Gore, Kerry, Dukakis, or Mondale. And how did those centrists work out for us? No, it’s the Democratic Party that’s voting for Donald Trump. They love Republican policies. In fact, they’d rather have Trump than Bernie Sanders. They are champions of the status quo.

That’s shown by the fact that their “victors” like Clinton and Obama came to represent nothing more than Republican Lite. What disappointments both of them turned out to be! Big promises followed by the same neo-liberalism, the same trickle-down nonsense, the same wars, the same destruction of the planet. Despite Obama’s slogan, there was no hope, no change.

It all makes me wonder why the Democratic Party keeps giving us such uninspiring, self-defeating choices? That’s on them. It’s on them for giving us a candidate this time who, even in the midst of the present pandemic, insists that he’d veto Medicare for All – which the majority of Americans desperately need. He’s also like Trump in wanting us all to go back to work even if it means that many will die as a result – for the sake of the economy and Wall Street profits. And don’t even talk about his positions on the Green New Deal, free college tuition, forgiveness of debt, or Social Security.

The Case of Joe Biden

In fact, have you ever heard Mr. Biden offer a single defining policy initiative of any kind? Even one? I haven’t.  And that’s because (Correct me if I’m wrong) he hasn’t given us any. His only claim is that he’s not Donald Trump. That’s it.

I’m asking then: do citizens deserve blame for perceiving that the fight is fixed in favor of the donor class of both parties? Both candidates are their champions not ours. So, are we blameworthy for realizing that we’ve seen this movie before? Should we be ashamed for demanding that Biden actually earn our votes – that he take action to convince voters that he’s worth voting for as someone other than a leering old man marginally nicer than the other imbecile?

In fact, Biden’s not that much better. Like Trump he’s a pathological liar. He’s also a worse mass murderer. Remember, Biden promoted the Iraq war. (It was no mistake. Anyone paying attention could see right through his justifications and those of Colin Powell.) That war has killed more than a million Iraqis. Even Trump hasn’t gone that far.

Moreover, the immigration policy Biden cooperated with was overseen by a president who quickly became known as the “Deporter-in-Chief.” Additionally, with the cooperation of the mass media, Biden has managed to evade addressing credible charges of sexual assault.

As I said, the system’s rigged. The Democratic Party is as bought-off as the Republicans. Neither the reigning system of political economy nor the Democratic Party is worth supporting. We’ve got to let them fall and be replaced. And the sooner we all realize that, the better.

Conclusion

Yes, I agree that it might make one feel heroic (in a quixotic sort of way) to pledge standing for hours in a driving rain to vote for a near corpse to save us all from Donald Trump. Still, those in soaking sneakers will surely know that their votes very literally might not count. And even if, by some miracle they do, voting for the geezer in question won’t significantly inhibit the inexorable process of climate change. Neither will it lessen the prospect of nuclear war. (After all, it was the Obama administration that decided to modernize the nuclear arsenal.) And it won’t bring us Medicare for All, forgiveness of student debt, or even guarantee the salvation of Social Security.

But you can bet it will mean millions, billions and trillions for the donor class.

Remember, our savior from Mr. Trump has promised those all-important constituents that “Nothing fundamental will change.” Take him at his word. What’s the point?

Why I Won’t Vote in November

As things stand now, I’m not going to vote in the general election in November 2020. What choice do I have?

Now that Bernie’s dropped out, It’s between two mentally impaired dirty old men – Donald Trump on the one hand, and Joe Biden on the other. Both are showing clear signs of dementia.

Trump stands accused of sexual assault by multiple women. Biden has a still unanswered but very credible similar charge outstanding. And no one in Biden’s party or in the press will even raise that accusation for discussion. (Trust me: Trump will! So, goodbye, Uncle Joe.)

And both men are serial liars. With Trump, that is a foregone conclusion. But Biden’s a liar too.

In one of his previous candidacies, his history of plagiarism made him surrender his bid. He’s lied about his education and his achievements in law school. Then there are those lies about his civil rights activism, about his history with Nelson Mandela, and about his attacks on Social Security. He just makes stuff up.

And neither one of them – neither Trump nor Biden – can put two sentences together without confirming their dementia. Every time he opens his mouth, Trump sounds like the doddering Mafia Don he is. He slurs his words, repeats himself, and can’t even remember what he just said. He hasn’t a worthwhile thought in his head. Never has.

Biden’s even worse! His sentences wander; he forgets what he’s talking about; he constantly leaves his audiences wondering, “What?” Or “That’s (to put it nicely) simply embarrassing!”

In a country of more than 350 million people, is this the best we can do? Are these our best and our brightest?

(However, I have to say that debate between these buffoons will make great television. It will be highly amusing and comical. But that’s what politics in this country has come to. It’s all Kabuki theater; it’s a cruel joke.)

That’s another reason I’ll not vote in November. The political system in general is completely broken. The politicians that are supposed to represent me have nothing to do with my concerns. They’ve completely sold out. They represent no one but their rich cronies. (Now I know how people in the Soviet Union must have felt in the late ‘80s.) The system just isn’t worth my participation.

And that goes for AOC, Ilhan Omar, the rest of the so-called “squad “(and Bernie too). In the most recent bailout, they all caved. They gave grandstanding speeches about the injustice of it all. But in the end, they voted against us, didn’t they? Their loyalties are to party and career, not to me or to you. We have NO ONE to represent us.

Democracy in this country is dead. The system is completely rigged. They don’t even want us to vote. The obstacles they’ve set in terms of the electoral college, gerrymandering, disenfranchisement, crooked voting machines, interminable lines, and Citizens United make a mockery of the entire process.

And please don’t try to shame me into voting because of the Supreme Court. That body is totally corrupt as well – completely politicized. No justice there – not even a glimmer of hope. Only clowns like the sexual predator Clarence Thomas (whom Biden ended up supporting over Anita Hill), the accused rapist Brett Kavanaugh, and a coward like John Roberts (who, remember hardly spoke a word while presiding over the recent sham impeachment hearings). The SCOTUS has no credibility at all. It’s irreformable. So, dear Ruth, you may go in peace.

The hell of it is that we don’t have any time for reform. Mother Nature won’t allow it. Climate change is breathing down our necks. What are the scientists giving us – 10 more years – or is it 8? You can now subtract 4 from that number. Neither Trump nor Biden will do what needs to be done. (Remember, Joe told his corporate friends, “Nothing fundamental will change.”)

And no one cares. I mean, with COVID-19, we can make the entire world stop. But with the far worse threat of climate change: not so much. It’s all business as usual. And it’s all nuts.

But in a way, maybe that’s the only ray of hope we have – from Mother Nature. While our system won’t object to climate destruction, maybe Our Great Mother just won’t allow this madness to go on. In any case, it’s now up to her. She will have her way.  

It’s all so discouraging on this morning after Bernie’s surrender. In the face of it all, and as things stand now, that’s why I’ll boycott this election in November.

Cuba’s Response to the Coronavirus Is Far More Enlightened Than Ours

Readings for 4th Sunday of Lent: 1 Samuel 16: 6-7, 10-13A; Psalm 23: 1-6; Ephesians 5: 8-14; John 9: 1-41

This week’s liturgy of the word centralizes the concepts of blindness and darkness on the one hand and vision and light on the other. The constellation of readings is extremely relevant to our situation during this election season and time of Coronavirus.

Taken together, they claim that in the end, the processes of the Loving Universe (aka God) differ sharply from the choices of “the world.”  While the world chooses the rich and powerful to lead, God chooses the least. What the world calls “seeing” is really blindness enshrouded in darkness.  What it calls blindness is deeply perceptive and surrounded in light.

I’ll get to those readings in a minute. But before I do, consider their relevance to our culture’s own highly cultivated blindness.

On Our Blindness

Yes: from birth we’re taught to deny what’s staring us all in the face. We’re actually trained to be blind by our parents, culture, teachers and holy men. That imposed condition is exhibited today as we confront the world’s current pandemic crisis brought on by the Coronavirus.

Think of how our politicians both Republican and Democrat want us to deny what we’ve all seen with our own eyes.

Begin with the Republicans and Mr. Trump. (This is quite amusing.) Mr. Trump actually wants us to believe that he deserves a grade of “A” for dealing with the crisis that surfaced last December and which he ridiculed, belittled, and mocked all the way up until last week. Despite that clear record, the man’s dared to say, “This is a pandemic. I felt it was a pandemic long before it was called a pandemic.”

What?

Then there was Joe Biden’s admonition last week that we all close our eyes to the achievements of the Cuban revolution. This man was shocked and appalled by Bernie Sanders recognition regarding Cuba that “. . . (I)t’s simply unfair to say everything is bad.”

“No,” Biden insisted, since Cuba is a “brutal dictatorship,” it’s somehow wrong to recognize the truth acknowledged even by the vice president’s own mentor (Barack Obama). Obama said, “The United States recognizes progress that Cuba has made as a nation, its enormous achievements in education and in health care.” Biden doesn’t want us to see any of that.

But there’s more – even apart from the arguable fact that for nearly 20 years, the most brutal human rights violations in Cuba have been carried out by the United States in its heinous hellhole known as Guantanamo Bay.

Cuba’s Enlightened Humanity

The “more” is that Cuba is exhibiting much greater humanity and skill in dealing with the Coronavirus than is the United States. That is, even in this time of pandemic, “we” not only refuse to lift sanctions on Cuba, Iran, Venezuela, and the other countries we’re punishing for crimes very similar to our own and even surpassed by “friends” such as Israel, Saudi Arabia, Brazil and the Philippines. We’re actually intensifying the sanctions in the case of Iran while it’s an epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic. Evidently, for our leaders, there’s no recognition of human solidarity that transcends political considerations. They want us to forget that we’re all in this together – to be blind.

Meanwhile, Cuba has given docking privileges to a British cruise ship (and medical treatment to its passengers and crew) after those same privileges were refused elsewhere – even by Great Britain’s former colonies. Cuban authorities gave permission, they said, out of “humanitarian concerns” and the need for “a shared effort to confront and stop the spread of the pandemic.”

But Cuba’s response to the Coronavirus goes far beyond a one-off act of compassion. The country’s entire healthcare system is better equipped than ours for dealing with recurring epidemics like COVID-19, SARS, MERS, Ebola, Zika, and flu. And it’s not just a question of a Caribbean version of Medicare for All.

No, Cuba has a whole army of doctors to care not only for its own people, but also stands ready to respond to crises outside its borders. And it has done so repeatedly – even during the COVID-19 pandemic. The country also offers free medical education to students from the United States, provided they pledge themselves to serve their local communities on their return home. Moreover, every barrio in the country has a doctor known by name, because she makes house calls!

Add to this Cuba’s highly developed system of urban and community gardens, its use of animal-intensive rather than carbon-intensive plowing, and its generally low-carbon economy, and you’ll see why it’s better equipped than we are to deal with food shortages caused by a breakdown of the commercial supply chain during emergencies like the one we’re now experiencing.

Then there’s the Cuban education system vilified here as propagandistic – as though ours were not. Besides the exemplary literacy program implemented at their revolution’s outset, Cubans study colonialism, imperialism, and the way capitalism works to cause, profit from and exacerbate inevitable human disasters like pandemics, hurricanes, world hunger, and climate change. The 60-year blockade and quarantine imposed on the island along with the presence of the Guantanamo Bay prison camp provide teachers with close-to-home illustrations of capitalism’s brutality. Meanwhile, our version of schooling (even at doctoral levels) never touches such matters. So, whose system is propagandistic?

The bottom line here is that far from being a brutal dictatorship, Cuba presents us with a model of response not only to COVID-19, but to healthcare in general, climate change, and education. It’s just that we’ve been made so blind by our political “leaders,” teachers, and priests that we cannot see it.   

Today’s Readings

With all of that in mind, consider today’s liturgical readings and what they have to say about seeing, insight, and light on the one hand blindness, superficiality and darkness on the other. Again, the selections could hardly be more relevant in this election season and time of COVID-19. Here are my “translations” of the texts. Once again, I urge you to read them for yourself here.

1 Samuel 16: 1B, 6-7, 10-13A

The Spirit of Life chooses national leadership from the least in the working class: The prophet Samuel was a great seer gifted with divine insight. Sent to the home of Jesse in Bethlehem, he sought Israel’s new King not from among the wealthy, but from a herdsman’s seven sons. However, his sharp prophetic perception found none of them worthy. “Have you no other son?” the prophet asked. “Well,” Jesse said, “David, my youngest is out in the field tending the sheep. But surely, he can’t be . . .” “Bring him to me,” the prophet growled. So, the youngest entered, red-faced and handsome. Seeing with God’s eyes, Samuel proclaimed, “This indeed is God’s chosen.” He then anointed David’s head with oil. And God’s Spirit rushed in upon the unsuspecting youth.   

Psalm 23: 1-6

We can trust such choices by the Great Spirit: This is true because ultimately the Holy Spirit is humanity’s shepherd; there is nothing, then, to fear. She has created for us peaceful pastures near gentle refreshing waters. She is our guide and encouragement even in moments of darkness when we are overwhelmed by threatening circumstances. Her spirit nourishes us and protects us from all enemies and has done so throughout our entire lives. Who could ask for more?

Ephesians 5: 8-14

Trusting the insights of seers like Jesus confers salvific vision: Thanks to the enlightened Jesus (and other seers), our once darkened lives are now filled with light, goodness, justice and truth. We can finally see! In fact, we can become light itself. So, when shameful evil comes into our presence, it is exposed as such; it is transformed into light and quite disappears. Seeing with enlightened eyes is like awaking from a deep sleep or even rising from the dead.  

John 9: 1-41

An illustration of how Jesus, his example and teaching can cure our blindness: As Light of the World, Jesus demonstrated the very meaning of enlightenment, when he met a beggar who was blind from birth (a metaphor for each of us). Living in blind darkness, Jesus said, is not the result of sin, but is part and parcel of the human condition. Escaping such shared handicap means overcoming the “wisdom” of the crowd, parental formation and religion itself. It means making choices based on personal experience of divine insight and then following Jesus (or some other enlightened avatar).

Conclusion

Wow! What clear direction at this crucial time! Seeing with God’s eyes reveals a world 180 degrees opposite the one endorsed by our culture, politicians, and even most church leaders. One hundred-eighty degrees!! If they say white, think black. If they say true, think lie. If they say peace, think war. We will not go far wrong adopting the working principle that our leaders lie whenever they move their lips. And that’s the truth.

Specifically, at this time of national choice and raging pandemic, the readings suggest that all of us are blind and zombie-like; we’re the walking dead. We can’t see what’s staring us in the face.

  • Contradicting today’s first reading, we reject worker-friendly leadership in favor of billionaires and corporate lackeys.
  • Blind as we are, we’re easily convinced by serial liars like Trump and Biden that up is down and that greed is good.
  • We actually still believe that even after Vietnam, Iraq, Fallujah, Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, Yemen, prison camps and baby jails on our southern border – after alliances with the likes of Bolsonaro, Duterte, MBS, Netanyahu . . . — we can still lecture the world about our need to combat “brutal dictatorships.”
  • We still believe that our election system – even after retention of the Electoral College, Citizens United, gerrymandering, voter suppression, hackable voting machines, and mile-long lines on election days – is still somehow the world’s gold standard for democracy.
  •  Above all, we still impossibly believe that capitalism is at all capable of functioning effectively at times of crisis like the ones we’re facing now. (Here in mid-March, it can’t even produce Coronavirus test kits equivalent to what China’s been using since December!) Somehow the belief in capitalism’s superiority persists even when the record shows that in time of war, natural disaster, and predictable systemic failures, we always resort to socialism. In fact, the rich demand it! That’s because socialism is less rigid and more efficient!
  • In the case of Cuba, we can’t even recognize that a poor socialist country, oppressed and impoverished by 60 years of U.S. quarantine and blockade has shown itself more flexible, generous and humane than its uber-rich capitalist neighbor to the north.

Could we be more blind?  

Sanders’ Real Plan: As Much Market as Possible/As Much Planning as Necessary

Last Tuesday (March 10th), opinion columnist, Thomas Friedman published and OpEd In the New York Times. It was entitled “Joe Biden, Not Bernie Sanders Is the True Scandinavian.”

There, Friedman argued that despite Mr. Sanders’ frequent references to Denmark as the standard for “democratic socialism,” the country is actually a hotbed of free market capitalism. Hence, Biden’s more balanced views on trade, corporations and unions make him more “Scandinavian” than his rival. Hence too, Biden’s free market capitalism is vastly preferable to Sanders’ socialism with its proposal of a totally planned economy.

To prove his point, Friedman’s crucial focus was not so much on Denmark as on three well-worn rhetorical questions addressed to the senator from Vermont:

  1. Does money grow on trees or does it come from heroic capitalist risk-takers who deserve their profits because of the jobs they provide? And shouldn’t they be rewarded accordingly?
  2. Aren’t at least some capitalist entrepreneurs admirable, or are they all examples, as Sanders would have it, of “corporate greed and corruption?”  
  3. What’s better at producing jobs and prosperity, a free enterprise economy or one based on central planning? (It was here that the question of Denmark came sharply to the fore.)

All three questions were entirely disingenuous and misleading. Let me explain.

In Praise of Risk Takers

To begin with (and to answer Friedman’s first question) money obviously doesn’t grow on trees and capitalist risk-takers do, of course, play an important role in the provision of jobs and prosperity. And risk deserves corresponding reward. All true.

However, what Friedman neglects to mention is that capitalists aren’t alone in highly productive risk-taking. No, far from being passive beneficiaries of entrepreneurial courage and largesse, workers and the risks they take clearly confer huge benefits on their employers. Hence, if their employers’ gambles deserve reward, so do their own.

By this I mean not only the obvious – viz. that capitalist enterprises would never succeed without workers. I mean as well that the capitalist system actually forces employees to be more adventuresome risk-takers than their employers. While the latter typically risk only their money, workers within the system risk their very lives and the existential welfare of their families.

Think about it. In preparing themselves to enter the world of work, college students bet four years or more of their lives as well as thousands of dollars in borrowed money on the wager that their “major” (be it Economics, Business, English, Math, Science, Pre-Med, etc.) will actually someday land them a job. That’s a gamble that benefits not only employers, but the rest of us as well.

Moreover, if they’re fortunate enough to land a job, the graduates’ work often forces them to change location to places far from their families and friends. That too involves leave-takings, courage and high-stakes risk.

And if their gamble does not pay off (unlike their employers) there’s no Chapter 11 for them to invoke. Thanks to politicians like Joe Biden, they still have to pay back those college loans, and/or live far from the support of their extended families.

It’s similar for those who do not go to college. Every day, countless numbers of them risk their very lives in jobs whose dangers are far more threatening than losing money in a failed business venture. So, if roofers fall from a great height, if fishermen are swept overboard, or if carpenters cut off a finger or hand, they often have no benefits to sustain them while recovering or to insure their eventual return to the workforce. All of that represents acceptance of risk that benefits employers.  It contributes far more to economic prosperity than dangers involved in the process of securing loans in the comfort of a banker’s office or in a simple telephone call.

So, no, Mr. Friedman, money does not grow on trees. It comes from employers risking their money. However, in at least equal measure it derives from the risks taken by their employees. The latter deserve guaranteed reward that can fittingly come from government’s repaying them with as much abundance as it currently extends to their employers.

A Corrupt System

As for Friedman’s question about greed and corruption. . .  Is Sanders correct in saying that all capitalists are somehow consumed by avarice?

Of course not. And it’s clearly deceptive to accuse Mr. Sanders of saying so. And this even though we have ample evidence that many capitalists (including our current president) are indeed wildly greedy and deeply unethical.

The truth is that many more of them are no more acquisitive and dishonest than the rest of us.

However, the capitalist system itself is indeed corrupt. That’s because it rewards immorality in the form of underpaying workers, environmental destruction, and acceptance of huge income inequalities in the face of widespread hunger and poverty.

For starters, consider how the dynamics of an unregulated wage market forces workers to accept the lowest remuneration possible. This is especially true in job categories deemed “unskilled.” Because of such classification, and absent minimum wage guarantees, capitalist theory rewards such occupations (belonging to waitpersons, cleaners, grocery clerks, vegetable pickers, etc.) with wages as close as possible to what’s absolutely necessary to keep body and soul together. (It’s why, for instance, Wal-Mart workers often end up qualifying for food stamps – a form of socialism, as Mr. Sanders rightly observes.)

Generous employers who decide to exceed the market-determined minimum will typically find themselves undersold by competitors who more obediently follow the dictates of unfettered markets. Because of wage differentials with their rivals, the generous ones will soon find themselves shuttering their enterprises and witnessing from afar the success of their more tight-fisted counterparts.

It’s similar with the environment. Competitive market forces reward producers who choose to externalize their costs. Meanwhile, market forces penalize conscientious manufacturers who for example, put scrubbers on their smokestacks or filters on corrosive effluents otherwise polluting nearby bodies of water.

This is because the use of environmentally friendly technologies cost money. They necessarily raise costs of production. They disadvantage those who implement them as they compete with their marketplace opponents who lack environmental conscience. Such destructive outcomes result not from personal greed and corruption, but from systemic failure.

And finally, in an unregulated market, the underpayment of workers along with the externalization of environmental costs (as well as colonial theft of resources) inevitably and historically results in wide income gaps that can only be described as unconscionable.

To illustrate this point, it suffices to cite a single now-familiar statistic that Mr. Sanders often does call out: three American entrepreneurs own as much wealth at the bottom half of U.S. wage earners. And this in a context where an estimated 48.8 million Americans, including 16.2 million children, live in households that lack the means to feed themselves on a regular basis.

Almost anyone with a conscience would be justified in calling such a system “greedy and corrupt.” However, the application of those epithets is justified not principally by the shortcomings of entrepreneurs, but by the capitalist system itself.  

Capitalism vs. Socialism    

And that brings us to Thomas Friedman’s final question to Bernie Sanders. Despite its acknowledged shortcomings, isn’t capitalism the best we can do? Is Sanders really claiming that planned economies are more productive than their free market alternatives?

Of course, Mr. Sanders says no such thing. This is because despite their rhetoric of “democratic socialism” and “free market economy,” the senator from Vermont no more champions an entirely planned economy than Friedman does an economy without any regulation at all.

In reality, both have no alternative but to advocate some form of mixed economy. That’s because mixed economies are the only game in town. Except for black markets (which almost everyone recognizes as criminal), no economy in the world can function without heavy regulation. And Mr. Sanders’ version of “democratic socialism” is nothing more than Rooseveltian New Dealism, which ironically was required during the 1930s to save capitalism itself.

More specifically, the New York Times columnist praises Denmark’s “broad social safety net” its “expanded welfare state, high level of taxation, as well as its spirit of cooperation between all stakeholders. All these taken together with free markets explain for him the country’s enviable living standards.

For his part, what Sanders demands repeatedly is not the dissolution of corporations, but that they play by the rules and pay their fair share of taxes.       

None of this implies however that Friedman and Sanders want the same mixed economies.

Instead, they differ in argument about whom the economies they favor should be mixed in favor of. Friedman wants an economy mixed in favor of the opulent risk-takers he lionizes along with the rest of mainstream media and education. Ignoring worker risk-taking, he evidently believes in shopworn trickle-down theory.

Nevertheless, Friedman’s economic class has shown again and again that it is not averse to socialism when the stock markets crash, when their opulent sea-side homes are destroyed by natural disasters, or when national survival demands “war socialism” complete with ration cards and patriotic slogans about sharing.

Sanders on the other hand, wants an economy mixed directly in favor of working classes and the impoverished. Rather than trickle-down, his ideal might be called percolate-up. It’s a theory that (in watered-down form) has actually worked throughout Europe in the form of post-WWII welfare states, in Denmark, and (yes!) in the United States under FDR.

Conclusion

So, what’s the formula that might deliver the world from the ills of low wages, environmental destruction, and huge income gaps between rich and poor?

In the light of the inevitability of mixed economy, any answer to that question must strike a compromise between economies mixed in favor of the rich and those mixed in favor of working classes and the poor.

The formulation of that compromise would run as follows: “As much market as possible with as much planning as necessary.”

Yes, maximize incentives that might motivate capitalists to innovate, produce, and create jobs. That’s what Thomas Friedman, Joe Biden, and Denmark’s entrepreneurial classes seek.

But also recognize and implement the interventions in the marketplace necessary to ensure the emergence of a world with room for everyone. That’s really all Bernie Sanders is after: As much market as possible, with as much planning as necessary to ensure that kind of capacious planet.

In the end, this is not a debate about who or what is more Scandinavian. It’s about recovering what experience under FDR and Europe’s welfare states have shown is entirely feasible.

“Going for Broke”: The Maximalism of Jesus, Bernie Sanders & the Green New Deal

Readings for the Second Sunday of Lent: Genesis 12: 1-4A; Psalms 33: 4-5, 18-22; 2nd Timothy 1: 8b-10; Matthew 17: 1-9

The sudden revival of Joe Biden’s candidacy on Super Tuesday represents a victory for cautious centrists in the Democratic Party. They’re afraid of Bernie Sanders and his self-proclaimed revolution on behalf of the working class, low income earners, and the environment threatened by the devastations of climate change. They fear Sanders strategy of “Going for Broke.”

That strategy came in for criticism a few days ago from Paul Krugman in his New York Times op-ed called precisely that: “Bernie Sanders Is Going for Broke: Is maximalism the best political strategy?”

In the light of today’s liturgical readings for this Second Sunday of Lent, the phrase “going for broke” has special meaning. The day’s Gospel selection recounts the familiar story of Jesus’ “Transfiguration,” where on a high mountain, the Master’s appearance is transformed (enlightened) before three of his apostles as he dialogs there with Moses and Elijah. Today, I’d like to give that dramatic parable a unique spin and explain it in historical context — as liberation theologians might. I’ll retell the story in terms of Jesus establishing a go for broke strategy for himself and his followers on their paths of faith.

Before I get to that, however, consider Krugman’s rejection of that approach.

Krugman’ Rejection of Maximalism

The jumping off point for his criticism of “maximalism” was a Sanders ad centralizing Barack Obama’s praise for the Vermont senator over the years. Krugman argued that such association is disingenuous since (in Krugman’s words) Sanders’ approach is a “go for broke maximalism” as opposed to Obamism which the columnist described as accepting “incremental, half-a-loaf-is-better-than-none politics.”

Echoing traditionalist appeals for gradualism in the face of the Civil Rights and Women’s Suffragist movements (not to mention Republican talking points), Krugman alleged, that Sanders’ maximalism is unrealistic. After all, it includes “complete elimination of private health insurance and a vast expansion of government programs that would require major tax increases on the middle class as well as the wealthy.” And Sanders would do all of this, the columnist argued, on the theory that it would win over white working-class constituents and bring a surge of new voters.

Krugman concluded “unfortunately, no evidence supports this political theory.”

Apart from the fact that Sanders’ strategy actually does find historical precedent in Roosevelt’s New Deal in the 1930s (as Krugman himself argued on “Democracy Now” a week earlier), the columnist’s words ignore the fact that only a “go for broke” strategy can save the planet at this moment of climate emergency.

Simply put, the planet cannot endure another four years of Bidenesque gradualism (much less of Trumpian denial). Instead, the required strategy is what Sanders and progressive Democrats have proposed as the Green New Deal, which Biden, Krugman, and establishment incrementalists studiously ignore.

Jesus’ Embrace of Maximalism

This Sunday’s Gospel reading announces Jesus’ strategy of maximalism in the face of his people’s unprecedented crisis in the early years of the first century. (Actually, however, Jesus’ crisis is dwarfed by the one the entire human race faces today.)

Be that as it may, consider Jesus’ maximalism. Today’s reading finds the young carpenter from Nazareth on his way to Jerusalem, where he knows something extremely risky is about to happen. Yet he’s determined to be part of it. The risky action has to do with the temple and the collaboration of its leaders with the Roman Empire.

The temple has become worse than irrelevant to the situation of Jesus’ people living under Roman oppression. What happens there not only ignores Jewish political reality. The temple leadership has become the most important Jewish ally of the oppressing power. And Jesus has decided to address that intolerable situation despite inevitable risks of failure.

Everyone knows that a big demonstration against the Romans is planned in Jerusalem for the weekend of Passover. There’ll be chanting mobs. The slogans are already set. “Hosanna, hosanna, in the highest” will be one chant. Another will be “Hosanna to the Son of David!” “Hosanna” is the key word here. It means “save us!” (The Romans won’t notice that the real meaning is “Save us from the Romans.” “Restore an independent Israel – like David’s kingdom!”) It was all very political.

Jesus has heard that one of the main organizers of the demonstration is the guerrilla Zealot called Barabbas. Barabbas doesn’t call what’s planned a “demonstration.” He prefers the term “The Uprising” or “the Insurrection” (Mk. 15:6-8).

Barabbas has a following as enthusiastic as that of Jesus. After all, Barabbas is a “sicarius” – a guerrilla whose solemn mission is to assassinate Roman soldiers and their Jewish collaborators. His courage has made him a hero to the crowds. (Scripture scholar, John Dominic Crossan compares him to the Mel Gibson character in “The Patriot.”)

Jesus’ assigned part in the demonstration will be to attack the Temple and symbolically destroy it. He plans to enter the temple with his friends and disrupt business as usual. They’ll all loudly denounce the moneychangers whose business exploits the poor. They’ll turn over their tables.

As a proponent of non-violence, Jesus and his band are thinking not in Barabbas’ terms of “uprising,” but of forcing God’s hand to bring in the Lord’s “Kingdom” to replace Roman domination. Passover, the Jewish holiday of national independence could not be a more appropriate time for the planned demonstration. Jesus is thinking in terms of “Exodus,” Israel’s founding act of rebellion.

And yet, this peasant from Galilee (even like Paul Krugman and establishment Democrats) is troubled by it all. What if the plan doesn’t work and God’s Kingdom doesn’t dawn this Passover? What if the Romans succeed in doing what they’ve always done in response to uprisings and demonstrations? Pilate’s standing order to deal with lower class disturbances is simply to arrest everyone involved and crucify them all as terrorists. Why would it be different this time?

So before setting out for Jerusalem, Jesus takes his three closest friends and ascends a mountain for a long night of prayer. He’s seeking reassurance before the single most important act of his life. As usual, Peter, James and John soon fall fast asleep. True to form they are uncomprehending and dull.

However, while the lazy fall into unconsciousness, the ever alert and thoughtful Jesus has a vision. Moses appears to him, and so does Elijah. (Together they represent the entire Jewish scriptural testament – the law and the prophets.) This means that on this mountain of prayer, Jesus considers his contemplated path in the light of his people’s entire tradition.

According to the Jews’ credal summary in Deuteronomy 26, their whole national story centered on the Exodus. Fittingly then, Jesus, Moses, and Elijah “discuss” what is about to take place in Jerusalem. Or as Luke puts it, “And behold, two men were conversing with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his exodus that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem.” Jesus’ Exodus!!

It is easy to imagine Moses’ part in the conversation. That would be to remind Jesus of the chances Moses took when he led the original Exodus from Egypt. That might have failed too. Nevertheless . . .

Elijah’s part was likely to recall for Jesus the “prophet script” that all prophets must follow. That script has God’s spokespersons speaking truth to power and suffering the inevitable consequences.

Elijah reminds Jesus: So what if Barabbas and those following the path of violence are defeated again? So what if Jesus’ non-violent direct action in the temple fails to bring in the Kingdom? So what if Jesus is arrested and crucified? That’s just the cost of doing prophetic business. Despite appearances to the contrary, Jesus’ faithful God will somehow triumph in the end.

Conclusion

Is there a message for us here as Bernie Sanders (the most honest politician our country has produced in generations) calls us towards a maximalist response to a world-wide crisis so much worse than the one that faced Jesus’ people under Roman domination?

I think there is.

Today’s readings tell us that God’s People are not to be led by frightened little men who place security and their own careers above compassion for the poor, the oppressed, and Mother Nature Herself. Faith is not primarily about cooperating with denialists, settling for half-a-loaf or about gradualism advocated by the rich and their comfortable allies. The crisis facing the human race is unprecedented. It calls for maximalism far beyond what Krugman criticizes in Sanders. At the very least, it calls for a Green New Deal, which Krugman could not even bring himself to mention.

No: faith is not at all about gradualism. It’s about risk on behalf of God’s creation and the poor, who will suffer most from the ravages of climate change.

Yes, Mr. Krugman, there are people like you and Mrs. Biden who say they are concerned, but who cancel out such claims by fearful, self-defeating caution and cowardly willingness to sacrifice even the lives of their children and grandchildren for a near-term, more-of-the-same future. There, Mr. Biden has promised his corporate supporters, “Nothing fundamental will change.”

Such people cannot claim to be followers of the prophetic Jesus of Nazareth. In our present crisis, those of us who do are called to adopt nothing short of the maximalism Paul Krugman fears.