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

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

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

White People’s Inter-capitalist War

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gangsters of Capitalism

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mafiosi in Ukraine

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

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

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

But Zelenskyy? And Biden ?

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

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

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

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

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

Say what?

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Sunday Homily) Matthew’s God as Mafia Don: The Religion That’s Killing Us

Mafia Don

Readings for 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time: SIR 27: 30-28:7; PS 102: 1-4, 9-12; ROM 14: 7-9; JN 13:34; MT 18: 21-35

Today’s gospel is a confusing one. For me, it’s troubling. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that it illustrates what’s wrong with religion.

What’s wrong is that too often religion is made to justify violence, guilt, fear and economic exploitation. Its God is like a Mafia Don who intimidates, punishes, tortures, and never forgives. For the sake of money (!), He even engages in child trafficking and leg-breaking extortion.

That’s ironic, isn’t it? I mean, the gospel reading begins with Jesus’ comforting and challenging logion about forgiveness. How often should we forgive, he is asked? Jesus’ answer: “Always! In fact, you can’t put a number on it. But, if you insist, how about 490 times – 70 X 7?”

Jesus would surely say something like that. Seven times is not enough. Seventy times seven is more like it. That formula probably represents an authentic saying of the Master whose followers eventually saw as divine. His teaching: always forgive; that’s God’s way.

But then comes the confusing illustration that seems to contradict those comforting and challenging words. Matthew presents Jesus as identifying the God whom the Master embodied with a cruel king. The ruler’s actions contradict not only Jesus’ teaching about forgiveness, but everything the rest of today’s liturgy of the word says about Jesus’ compassionate God.

Think about it. In the first reading, Sirach says that anger and vengeance are hateful. Don’t cherish wrath or refuse mercy, we are told. Instead overlook the faults of others and heal, rather than punish.

In that respect be like God, the Responsorial Psalm tells us. God is always kind, merciful, slow to anger, and rich in compassion. The Divine One heals rather than punishes. In fact, in God’s eyes, we are for all practical purposes guiltless. He doesn’t even see our sins. As the psalmist puts it, the gap between us and guilt is infinite – as wide as that between east and west. That’s the way we should see each other too – entirely guiltless.

The alleluia verse continues in the same vein. It reminds us of Jesus’s words: “Love one another as I have loved you.” That means, as Paul says in the reading from Romans, living and dying as Jesus did – with a prayer of forgiveness for his executioners on his lips: “Father forgive them. They don’t know what they’re doing.” Jesus pardoned even his assassins and executioners.

But then comes that troubling illustration. Matthew presents Jesus as identifying his Father with a money lender – with a king whose first impulse towards his debtor is to sell him and his entire family – including his children – into slavery. That’s human trafficking. That’s trafficking in children.

Put otherwise, for the sake of recovering his money (!), no cruelty seems excessive. That’s evidently why the money lender employs torturers on retainer. Their job, as we see in the parable’s conclusion, is to squeeze blood from a turnip. If a debtor can’t pay with money, he’ll pay with pain. Here torture’s purpose is to intimidate – to send a message to others who might be tempted renege on their debts. Does that remind you of Mafia leg-breakers?

Nonetheless, at the end of the parable, Matthew has Jesus saying: “So will my heavenly Father do to you unless each of you forgives your brothers from your heart.” Contradictions, anyone? Silliness? Intimidation?

Yes!

In fact, Jesus could never have spoken these words because, as I said, they run counter to the instructions that precede them. They also contradict the descriptions of God exemplified in biblical teachings as found in today’s reading from Sirach, Psalms, Romans, and the Gospel of John.

Not only that. Jesus’ audience was filled with debtors whose lives were imiserated by Shylocks like the king in this morning’s story. They would never have listened to a teacher who identified God with such oppressors.

So what’s up with Matthew? Why does he insist on a punishing God who seems to support economic exploitation and Mafia ethics?

Fact is: right from the beginning it was difficult for Jesus’ followers (especially those like Matthew who never met him) to leave behind their religion’s overwhelming concept of a violent, punishing God. Moreover, despite Jesus’ teaching about the entirely new order represented by God’s Kingdom, they found it nearly impossible to distance themselves from the contradictory normality of economic exploitation, human trafficking, slavery, torture, war and violence.

So early on, all those elements crept back into Christianity – again, despite Jesus’ teaching and example. And those elements covered with a veneer of faith are precisely what is killing us today. Or, as Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer has put it: that’s why Religion is Killing Us:Violence in the Bible and Quran.

Christians have no trouble seeing that with Islam. But as Nelson-Pallmeyer has explained, it’s just as true of Christianity.

So, as I just said, Christianity like that presented in today’s gospel has been made to support everything Jesus stood against.

In the face of such contradictions, what are believers to do? My answer:

  • Be discerning.
  • Realize that Christianity is just as threatening to the world as we imagine religions like Islam to be.
  • Accordingly, embrace atheism before violent, exploitative images of God like the Mafia Don Matthew presents.
  • At the same time, embrace Jesus’ forgiving Father.
  • After the usual sermon today, question your priest or minister about the king in this morning’s gospel.
  • Most importantly, strive to act like that God as embodied in Jesus practice on the cross.

Seventy times seven is only the beginning!