Sunday, December 29, 2013
Instead of Making Often Unkept New Year's Resolutions,
Become the Change You Desire and Live It
As we celebrate the beginning of 2014 while letting go of 2013, the thought occurred to me that we all need to look for ways to improve our lives and change our world. It's nice to make and keep new year's resolutions, but many more people have woke up to the fact that it's smarter to improve our surroundings and make the kind of contributions that build legacies than it is to merely break a bad habit. Breaking bad habits is good, but helping to build a better world is far better. To begin with, we can’t create a better world if we haven’t yet imagined it. How much better then, if we are able to touch such a world, experience it directly, we can enact in the here and now the world we actually want to live in. These kinds of organized grassroots efforts come in all shapes and sizes. At the bottom end of the scale we see Utopian flavored mass movements like “the 99%” and Occupy Wall Street movements with their stand against inequality, and for free libraries, communitarian ethic, and experiments in direct democracy. At the other extreme we see the ongoing civil war in Syria and its predecessor, the Arab Spring of 2011 which continues to this day.
“You never change things by fighting the existing reality,” Buckminster Fuller once advised. “To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” A brilliant insight, but he was only half right, because the best direct actions – and social movements – actually do both. Consider the lunch counter sit-ins of the 1960s. They were not only brave acts of resistance against the racism of the Jim Crow South, but they also beautifully and dramatically prefigured the kind of world the civil rights movement was trying to bring into being: blacks and whites sitting together as equals in public spaces. The young students didn’t ask anyone’s permission; they didn’t wait for society to evolve or for bad laws to change. In the best spirit of direct action, they walked in there and simply changed the world. At least for a few moments, in one place, they were living in an integrated South. They painted a picture of how the world could be, and the vicious response from white bystanders and police only proved how important it was to make it so.
Many people at the forefront of the nonviolent civil rights movement were moved to action by their spiritual commitments. Be it the “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you” of the Golden Rule, or Gandhi’s call to “Be the change you want to see in the world,” the ethical traditions of many religions have powerful roots in dogma that is largely the teachings of men. It is only when people of faith try to live out their deep principles and actually walk their talk in the Spirit that they they tend to come up against the power of tradition. Jesus himself (who promised that anyone who followed his teaching would always be in trouble) was one of history’s more brilliant invaders of the human conscience. He didn’t merely argue that true greatness comes from humbly serving others, he illustrated it by washing his disciples’ dirty feet. By socializing with outcasts and the poor, visiting lepers, and always raising up “the least of these,” Jesus didn’t simply prophesy a future beloved community of believers, He made it manifest. And if Jesus did it, so should we.
With the dominance of market capitalism and its apologists proclaiming an “end of ideology,” provocations that stretch our political imaginations are more vital than ever. I would go a step further, arguing that we need to bring back Utopian thinking. Utopian thinking is necessary, because it provides a compass point to determine what direction to move toward and a measuring stick to determine how far one has come. However, in an era of media saturation and distrust of the utopia-inspired disasters of the 20th century, this is increasingly hard to do via criticism alone. Using dystopia-like visions to sound the alarm – a more and more popular strategy – is just another form of criticism that leaves the status quo standing. What is needed instead are direct interventions that both embody and point toward Utopian possibilities. Contemporary social movements, it turns out, are chock full of them.
Of course, we all know that this has about as much chance of occurring as the WTO has of abolishing itself, that GE is actually going to give back the taxes it dodged, or that DuPont is finally going to do the right thing and compensate the 100,000 victims of the Bhopal chemical spill for decades of suffering. Could we possibly ever live in such a world? “Yeah”, people are saying, “why don’t we live in such a world?” And we’re more motivated to go out there to make it happen.
In 2006 members from a coalition of environmental groups posed as a government agency – the Oil Enforcement Agency – that should have existed, but didn’t. Complete with SWAT-team-like caps and badges, agents ticketed SUVs, impounded fuel-inefficient vehicles at auto shows, and generally modeled a future in which government takes climate change seriously. Clever protest campaigns can bring little shards of utopia not just into the streets but also into our elections and even legislatures. When Jello Biafra ran for mayor of San Francisco in 1979, one of the planks in his platform called for beat cops to be voted on by the neighborhoods they patrolled. Once out in the open, this and other seemingly radical ideas were revealed as the reasonable proposals they were, and thousands of San Franciscans pulled the lever for Jello.
Even legislation can be Utopian. A legislative bill called, “What Would Finland Do?” aims to introduce a bill in the New York legislature to prorate traffic fines according to the net wealth of the driver. It wouldn’t pass, but a lot of New Yorkers might think: “Why not?” and the long fight for greater economic equality might inch a tiny bit forward. (Finland, by the way, has such a law, and in 2004 the 27-year-old heir to a sausage fortune was fined $204,000 for driving 50 miles per hour in a 25 mph zone.) Whether religious or artistic, a playful thought experiment, or a serious attempt to be true to one’s values in the face of state violence, Utopian engagement allows us to experience for ourselves (and demonstrate to others), that another world is necessary, possible—and maybe even beautiful.
Sunday, December 22, 2013
The Devolving of Christmas: An American Tragedy
By now everyone has been inundated by it on the news, streamed it on the Internet either voluntarily or not, or read about it somewhere in some advertisement of one kind or another. It's that time of year again, the closing days of the holiday shopping season when people by the millions will finish spending an average of $700.00 each between now and December 31st on a bunch of cheap imported Chinese crap that nobody really needs. The worst part for American consumers is that all these inexpensive imported products from the sweat shops of the 3rd world are designed and manufactured in such a way as to make sure the items wear out sooner rather than later in the hopes that the American consumer will go out and buy a replacement, hopefully sooner rather than later. The giant US multinational corporations have figured out that if you make a product just good enough to hold out for a little while, you can still get people to buy it even though it is made as cheaply as possible. Unfortunately for these same monster corporations, the American consumer has begun to wake up and realize they have been had and that things have been this way for a long time, and they're furious about it. Their fury and rage first manifested itself in the Arab Spring of 2011, followed by rioting in Spain and England that summer, followed by the rioting in Greece that has yet to completely simmer down. This was followed here in the US in the form of the Occupy Wall Street and “the 99%” Movements of which I am proud to be a part, and both of which are still very much ongoing.
All I'm saying is that people everywhere have become more questioning, more critical or have even become opposed to capitalism due to what is increasingly being viewed as its predatory nature and its emphasis of profits over people. Many of us, including myself, are completely up in arms over the state of our country. The Christmas shopping season is just one symptom of capitalism gone overboard, with a mad dash to acquire more and more material things just for their own sake at a time when we are supposed to be quietly celebrating the birthday of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. This is indicative of a society that has lost its sense of direction and lost touch with its purpose for being. I was one of millions of people who boycotted Black Friday last month as a way to peacefully protest being forced to live in a world where the main thing that matters most seems to be how much money one can make. I've been there and done all that. I owned a computer store all through the 1990's and made a 6-figure income. I know what it's like to have all that, and do you know what I found out about wealth and riches? It's just a big trap, a never-ending treadmill of the pursuit of profits until it consumes your whole life, until in the end you realize that it was all just an illusion. Like a game of Monopoly, when the profit machine comes to an end (and sooner or later they all do) and the game is over, everything goes back in the box only to start all over again. That's all capitalism and the taking of profits is – one big Monopoly game where the person with the most money wins, and always at the expense of everybody else. Is it any wonder that capitalism and the taking of profits has ruined the spirit of Christmas, let alone the whole country?
What have we become? Like cattle and sheep headed to slaughter, we roll out at this time of the year at the bidding of shop-till-you-drop gimmicks. Meanwhile, we fight and claw for the raw deal at the various suburban box stores offering low wages and no benefits to staff. So, how much can we save? Wally World is offering 25% off, while Sneers is offering 30%. Let's run to Sneers! It's only 30 more miles down the road and we've got the gas! What about the Chinese girls slaving in non union factories at pennies a day? What do they make off the deal? Who is actually winning? Is it really the mesmerized consumers teary and googly-eyed while giggling gleefully at 30, 40, and 50% off deals? Our politicians say it's the American workers. Yes, it is our right to slave part time at minimum wages and no health benefits while we shop till we drop looking for that fantastic deal. We make this statement as employees of corporations are lining the pockets of senators, congressmen and supreme-court justices in Washington D.C. while sitting on presidential cabinets making decisions regarding our planet's future, our future, and our children's future. Meanwhile our consumerism is devouring the planet into what might soon become more lifeless than the moon or, God forbid, a Wall Street Tycoon. Yet, mesmerized by commercials with intelligence levels less than a jackass after having a lobotomy, we roll blindly into the gates of the shopping centers, the strip malls and humongous big box stores. For example, consider the following release from the Associated Press.
"A shopper in Los Angeles pepper-sprayed her competition for an Xbox and scuffles broke out elsewhere around the United States as bargain-hunters crowded malls and big-box stores in an earlier-than-usual start to the madness known as Black Friday. Toys R Us opened for the second straight year on Thanksgiving itself. And some shoppers arrived with sharp elbows. On Thanksgiving night, a Walmart in Los Angeles brought out a crate of discounted Xboxes, and as a crowd waited for the video game players to be unwrapped, a woman fired pepper spray at the other shoppers "in order to get an advantage," police said. Ten people suffered cuts and bruises in the chaos, and 10 others had minor injuries from the spray, authorities said. The woman got away in the confusion, and it was not immediately clear whether she got an Xbox. On Friday morning, police said, two women were injured and a man was charged after a fight broke out at an upstate New York Walmart. And a man was arrested in a scuffle at a jewelry counter at a Walmart in Kissimmee, Fla. In the U.S., Wal-Mart, the world's biggest retailer, has taken steps in recent years to control its Black Friday crowds following the 2008 death of one of its workers in a stampede of shoppers. This year, it staggered its door-buster deals instead of offering them all at once." (Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press)
Lennon and McCartney of the Beatles wrote in the song "Revolution", "you say you want a revolution, well you know, we'd all love to change your head." Yes, it is more than changing Wall Street. It is, ultimately, about changing ourselves. This Christmas, change how you celebrate. Speak from your heart to your kids about consumerism and how it is affecting the planet as well as our behavior. Instead of buying your wife a new nightgown, give her your heart through sweet words of affection. Make her something really nice, like a fancy meal or a piece of furniture. Ladies, instead of buying your husband a new bag of golf clubs, give him a night he will never forget. Be creative, be loving, be tender and compassionate. Enjoy each other. To enjoy is to enjoin, to enjoin is to unite. Consumerism keeps us isolated by gimmicks of sensationalist advertising of unrealistically beautiful women, “perfect” children and gorgeous hunks of men that are created off the corporate mold. And who is being molded by all these advertising gimmicks? You! For what purpose? To make others rich. Don't go there this year. Find richness in your heart and share that this Christmas. And keep more of your money.
Sunday, December 15, 2013
Send In The Drones
Today I feel compelled to speak out against the drone attack in Yemen earlier this week that killed at least 13 people and probably more – all of whom were, by all accounts, part of a wedding party. The erroneous targeting of innocent civilians by the CIA and the US military causes me to wonder whether the letters CIA stand for Complete Idiots Agency. But all joking aside, I want to write truthfully today about God and what he might do under similar circumstances. After all, I am a Progressive Christian and an antiwar crusader because my conscience compels me to be such – it's in my nature. I cannot hope to transcend that identity, nor do I think that attempting to do so is a worthy goal, especially for the sake of "objectivity". Indeed, being a Christian inevitably means many things — it means being baptized, partaking of the Lord's supper, and belonging to a community marked by the confession that Jesus Christ is Lord. Likewise, being a Christian means lamenting the violence carried out by those powers and principalities that coercively seek their own lordship over God's good creation – powers and principalities like America – and to stand for social and economic justice and against inequality as Jesus did.
I recently found out, much to my dismay, that Liberty University has been training Christians to pilot armed U.S. drones since 2011 in its School of Aeronautics (SOA). My dismay is over the idea that Liberty graduates can somehow "serve the Lord" by targeting and killing their global neighbors. Here, I would like to outline some of my concerns in detail with the hope that Liberty University might reconsider, or at least restate theologically, its position regarding U.S. drone warfare:
[1.] Drone strikes are imprecise, counterproductive and of questionable legality.
According to a recent study carried out by researchers at NYU School of Law and Stanford University Law School, some experts suggested drone strikes hit just 2 percent of "high priority" targets, often killing civilians instead. Indeed, America is responsible for killing more than 3,000 people with drone technology – several hundred of which are children. America also uses egregious strike techniques in order to kill individuals suspected of terrorism. All of this has led to significant opposition from citizens, especially in Pakistan, in what some have called a kind of "recruitment program" for terrorism. And though legality is unclear, terrorism and human rights officials at the United Nations have said that U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan violate international law. Has Liberty University considered how these factors might undermine America's interests? More importantly, have you considered how these factors might compromise the integrity of the greater Church?
[2.] Drone strikes necessitate complicity with untruthful media systems.
Reports suggest that the Obama Administration stretches the definition of "militant" to reduce reported civilian death tolls. Just follow the articles – as soon as you get beyond the realm of mainstream American media, “militants” suddenly become “suspects” or even “civilians.” How can the church – any church presenting itself as a truth-telling institution – accept at face value and propagate misleading half-truths or outright lies from the mainstream media, especially when innocent lives are at stake?
[3.] Liberty University assumes drone warfare as an ethical norm for Christians.
Don't get me wrong – I dislike just-war theory just as much as the next Progressive Christian, but don't you think that drone warfare demands some sort of philosophical and theological backing? Short of ambiguous and unhelpful appeals to "justice," how has Liberty managed to reconcile drone strikes with the ethical teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ? How can the church support drone warfare while loving our neighbors and our enemies at the same time? Before Yemen there is or was Afghanistan, and before that there was Iraq, where at least 100,000 Iraqi civilians died, and not all were accidental.
Still another aspect of drone warfare is the insane misdirection and misappropriation of funds for war instead of for peaceful purposes. As I wrote in my 2011 book, “The Middle and Working Class Manifesto”, if America took all the money it spends in just one day for the ongoing occupation of Afghanistan and put it into an interest-bearing account, there would be enough money in that account to send every American school kid to 4 years of college so they could earn their professional degrees and diplomas without cost. This is the way this is already being done in most of the other developed countries in the world. America is the only exception, and it is undoubtedly a dubious distinction. It is also a fact that America spends more money incarcerating people than it does educating them. For me, this is proof positive that our country has its priorities completely out of whack. This in turn is a reflection on America's leadership, or more accurately the lack thereof. As things are right now, America's voters will have to wait until the 2014 elections to be able to do anything about it. But, if after the 2014 elections are over with and numerous new senators and congressional representatives are elected to replace the old – which is likely – and the state of our country remains unchanged, and especially if it gets worse, there will be serious trouble and much civil unrest, and things could get ugly in a hurry.
Ultimately, I oppose drones because Christ – through his obedience unto death – defeated the principalities and powers of this world. In so doing, he brought his Kingdom, with all its alternative politics, to earth. With expectant hope, the church is called to an ever-patient and Christ-like peace in accordance to Christ's faithfulness that is made possible through the power of the Holy Spirit. As such, the church cannot participate in the violence of empire without undermining its calling — we are, as it were, to put faithfulness to Jesus before our attachment to the world. No doubt, many at Liberty University will reject my argument. Nevertheless, I can see no theological reasons for doing so. After all, as the largest evangelical school in the world, I would presume that they know how to talk about God. So the next time you pray, why not ask God, “Heavenly Father, who would Jesus drone?”
Wednesday, December 11, 2013
Making Do With Less
As we move forward through the Christmas and New Year's holiday season, it has been my observation that we live in a society that is focused on the accumulation or acquisition of material wealth, while intangible enrichment such as peace of mind and contentment are overlooked or ignored. Everywhere we go we find ourselves surrounded by a bombardment of mass media, mass marketing and corporate sponsorship. The average American gets knocked over with endless commercials from the time they get up until they lay back down at night, and that includes our children. To illustrate how bad this commercial barrage has become, watching TV or listening to commercial radio is the equivalent of having a door-to-door salesperson ringing your doorbell once every five minutes continuously. Just when you think the sales pitch is finally over, here comes another one immediately behind it. All the while, the average house costs $180,000.00 even in the currently depressed real estate market, and the average car costs $35,000.00. In contrast, I grew up in a 1,200 square feet house that cost $18,000.00 when it was built in 1954. We are surrounded – hemmed in is more like it – by opulence and wealth on a magnitude never before seen in the history of human civilization, even to the point that many of us have begun to take it all for granted.
Maybe we should begin to ask ourselves some basic questions about our lives and how we are living them. For example, why would any of us want a newer car when there is probably nothing mechanically wrong with the one we drive now? And why would any of us want a bigger house when the one we are currently living in is fine? The answer in both cases is that American society is, for lack of a better word, programmed to be upwardly mobile. This happens partly due to social pressure on the part of our peers as well as economic pressure from corporate America, with the accompanying least common denominator being pure greed. Our society here in the US, from our current and terrible medical care system to the dangerously overextended banking system, to the well-established debt-based capitalist economic system that keeps us all enslaved, is based on greed for the accumulation of material goods and the hoarding of cash and assets for “investment” or “retirement” purposes, two euphemisms for “I've got more than you have”.
Owing to the fact that there are 2 billion people, or roughly a third of the earth's population, who live on less than $2.00 per day, it has been getting clearer to watchful eyes from everywhere that the hoarding of wealth by the developed and established countries is increasingly happening at the expense of other less fortunate third-world countries. The unending influx of economic refugees from Mexico and Central America to the US is only one example of dozens globally. Increasingly larger amounts of money are being hoarded by an ever smaller minority of elitists worldwide. Some people in this group are for the most part engaged in legitimate enterprises, while others are either drug cartels or just flat-out organized criminals. Capitalism's holy grail, the quest for never-ending profit, has devolved into a monster – composed of endless debt and infinite compounded interest – that is consuming itself, that is unsustainable, and that is therefore ultimately self-destructive. Its impending self-destruction also means that it is harmful to the rest of us when it implodes or otherwise collapses, constituting a real and present threat to us all.
As a result of growing hunger on the part of many of us who are disillusioned with the old school, debt-driven, for-profit business and government (yes, the government sure does), people are beginning to explore other ways of living and to develop new values for a less growth-oriented community. I myself am a part of this movement, having moved from the suburbs to the inner city here in Atlanta where I live, and relying mostly on public transit to get around. Although I'm disabled and don't own a car any more, the lifestyle changes I have made over the last few years has accidentally transformed my life. First of all, I'm no longer stuck in Atlanta traffic, and so I seldom get stressed out over much of anything. The buses and trains go at a gentler pace, and I find this rejuvenating. I leave whenever I feel like it, and come back home the same way. But the most practical part of using public transit is that not owning a vehicle saves me at least $10,000 dollars annually by the time I include insurance and maintenance, and that's for an entry-level car. It also gives me a very small “carbon footprint”, which proves that you don't have to protest on street corners to be an environmentalist. Besides, in Genesis chapter one it says that God created man to “subdue the earth”, which includes caring for it. In that regard, mankind has done an atrocious job of taking care of the planet that God gave us to live on, a planet that God created specifically for us. Mankind has the collective responsibility to care for and nurture this planet we live on. One of the best ways to begin to repair the earth's damaged environment would be to move to the city and rent, sell or park our cars, and take public transit, ride bikes, or walk. In other words, doing this would be a way that we can all honor God. Add to this the fact that walking or bike riding is very good for our health, and we have sufficient motivation to begin working toward this goal.
Others are exploring additional ways to simplify their lifestyles and to get by on less stuff than they were formerly accustomed and still be contented. The Bible tells us “to be content whatever the circumstances” (Phil. 4:11). The apostle Paul wrote that he “has learned the secret to be contented” (Phil. 4:12), and that “Godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Tim. 6:6). Many people are opting for smaller, more practical living quarters. One acquaintance of mine from the church I attend and serve as a musician has done something similar to that. When the family car reached the end of its life and they didn't have enough money to replace it with a newer model, they moved out of their suburban apartment into a dwelling where the bus stop is 100 feet away. It's a slightly smaller house than where they had been living, but it gave them the added benefit of becoming a closer family — both literally and figuratively. By moving to a smaller house, this family of four was forced to be around each other more often, which they discovered they actually enjoyed. They essentially traded excess space that they really didn't need for togetherness and connectedness. I can’t figure out why everybody wouldn’t want that deal.
At the heart of this story lies a deeper critique of the American obsession with consumption and the “bigger is better” mantra. We Americans shun the word “sacrifice,” but studies find that trading stuff for time with people quite often makes us happier, healthier, and more sustainable. I can cite one of my favorite scientific findings: When we act altruistically (volunteer, donate to charity, etc.), we get the same neurological high in our brains that food and sex impart. Being good really does feel good. Welcome to conscious consumption: It’s not just about what we buy (even if it is fair-trade, organic, local), it’s also about being intentional with what we already own and cutting out the excess. On a related note, because of the recent recession, Americans are buying less, but doing more. The Department of Labor, keeping tabs on how people spend their time, found that Americans were cooking at home or participating in “organizational, civic and religious activities” more in 2012 than in 2008. So what can we do immediately to begin a cooperative movement to begin to rejuvenate the earth? Cook at home more and eat out less? Check. Getting involved in politics (for all the right reasons, unlike the crop of losers America is currently stuck with)? Check. Going green in every possible way, up to and including doing without a car? Definitely, check! Engaging with communities more? Check. Those are some hopeful and meaningful signs of progress toward sustainable, climate-friendly cities in a totally green future. Can my crusade for unconditional equality, and for social and economic equity encourage a bigger shift toward conscious consumption and green living? I certainly hope so.
Sunday, December 1, 2013
Taking a Stand Against Perpetual War
Many people are urging the Obama administration to exert more leadership in the struggle to reduce gun violence in the United States. President Obama has spoken to the nation in the past about the need to undertake war while dodging the domestic gun violence issue – first in the surprise drone strikes around the globe, next concerning Libya, more recently in Syria until overwhelming public opinion against another war forced Obama to change his mind, and most recently when he informed Congress and the American people that US troops will be in Afghanistan until as late as 2024. I recently viewed a CNN video where the terrible problem of rape in U.S. prisons was lifted up. Violence surrounds us. It is ingrained into and embraced by U.S. Society. This needs to change.
More than 50 years ago, President Dwight Eisenhower warned of the growth of the military-industrial complex. He cautioned us about the need to guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, "whether sought or unsought," by the military industrial complex. "The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist," he said. More than 60 years ago, George Orwell wrote of "perpetual war," a situation in which war operates as a means of controlling the population by constantly rallying them against a common enemy. It matters not whether a Republican or a Democrat is in the White House; wars go on and on and on, perpetually it seems. World War Two lasted 4 years for the US and six years for Europe, yet US troops have been in Afghanistan since October of 2001.
Libyan dictator Col. Muammar Gaddafi was the longest-serving ruler in Africa, having taken power in 1969. He was a strange character, noted for many eccentricities. He also has supported horrible terrorist incidents over the decades. The United States wasn't really sure who to side with against Gaddafi. Libya is a complicated stew. As the winds of change blew across the Middle East, many in Libya seized the moment to revolt. At first, it appeared the momentum of their rebellion would carry the day. Sadly, Gaddafi unleashed his military forces against the rebels, and the rest is history. Obama administration officials maintained that United States decided to wage war on Libya because of the threat the horrible Gaddafi was to his own people. Then why not attack Bahrain or Yemen or Somalia? Tyrants in those countries are committing similarly repugnant acts against their citizens, maybe even worse.
It's a good thing that America decided not to attack Syria. It could easily have started World War Three. Had America bombed Syria from the air, Syria would have called in reinforcements from its ally Russia, and it would have been only a matter of time before the nuclear weapons started flying. For this reason and more, I am excited that ordinary people are rising up, first across the Middle East to cast off autocrats, tyrants, kings and dictators, not to mention the secret police who harass the citizenry daily, and also in America with the formation of the Occupy and “the 99%” Movements. The most damning thing about our federal government is the recent disclosure of an out-of-control foreign and domestic spy network, which proves to me that Obama is morphing from a US president into a tyrant. People want peace and justice, not war and violence. We're all sick and tired of all the fighting, all we want is some peace and quiet for a change.
In the United States, including right here in Atlanta, many leaders and members of churches constantly, loudly lament about a shortage of money. There is a reason for that – vast sums of the incomes of their members are being drained off for war, death and destruction. These are people who become enraged over an aborted fetus, but who have no problem going overseas to kill oftentimes innocent strangers. To call this a glaring contradiction would be an understatement. At any rate, and given the near silence of America's pulpits in the face of the violence and war that surrounds us, the exertions of our theologians in justifying war, the devotion of denominational members to the myth of redemptive violence, it is certain that future historians will view the church as a slave to the vast war machine that engulfs us. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. prophesied, "A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death." It looks to me like the USA is already there due to the fact that America spends more money locking people up than is spent on educating them. Will we rise up against this madness of violence and backwards priorities, or are we dead already?
Sunday, November 24, 2013
Please Join Me in Observing
Buy Nothing Day on Black Friday
Is there a tradition any more backward or disgusting practiced across America today than that of Black Friday? Hordes of consumers mob stores for frivolous deals on ridiculously overpriced "goods" like flat screen TVs, Playstations, Xboxes, the latest gadget from Apple, boatloads of useless trinkets of dubious quality made in China and other countries you may have never heard of, or clothes manufactured by Chinese, Southeast Asian or Central American children in dangerous sweatshops. The top 1% of America's wealthy have exported our jobs to the third world for pennies on the dollar, and they're laughing at the rest of us as more and more formerly middle class Americans wind up homeless and with no job prospects.
We're in an insanely messed up place politically and environmentally. Multinational corporations and financial firms pretty much own the US government, they control Wall Street, they set the retail price people pay for anything from groceries to cars, and they are making real sure that nobody from the bottom 99% – which is us – gets their hands on any of “their” money. The use of fossil fuels is rapidly ruining our one and only planet Earth, while the development of clean-burning power plants, cars and trucks that run on electric or natural gas power, and alternative energy sources such as wind and solar, is being deliberately held back in its development by the same mega-oil companies that profit from fossil fuel use. As a result, global warming is not only a real and present danger, but it is rapidly accelerating. There is a plastic "raft" in the Pacific Ocean bigger than Texas – that's how badly polluted the world's oceans truly are. And as people we're constantly being taken advantage of to make this situation last longer so that corporate profits and bonuses can climb even higher than they are now.
The strong link between these two things – our society's consumerism and the terrible political, social, environmental, and economic situations we're in – demands action. By buying things from these corporations and feeding into this model of an economy, we only encourage it while enriching only a select few at the expense of the many. So I'm asking you: please join me in buying nothing this Friday and Saturday after Thanksgiving. I can't say it any better than this: this November 29th and 30th, I and many others like me are calling for a Wildcat General Strike. We're asking tens of millions of people around the world to bring the capitalist consumption machine to a grinding – if only momentary – halt. I want you to not only stop buying for 48 hours, but to shut off your lights, televisions and other nonessential appliances. We want you to park your car, turn off your phones and log off of your computer for the day. We're calling for a Day of Atonement-like fast. From sunrise to sunset we'll abstain en masse, not only from holiday shopping, but from all the temptations of our materialistic lifestyles. Those who are healthy enough are encouraged to go on a 24-hour hunger strike on Black Friday as well.
You know what they say: a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step. You feel that things are falling apart – the temperature rising, the oceans churning, the global economy heaving – why not do something? Take just one small step toward a more just and sustainable future. Make a pact with yourself: go on a consumer fast. Lock up your credit cards, put away your cash and opt out of the capitalist spectacle. It's all rigged anyway, so why bother with it? Some people may find that it's harder than they think, that the impulse to buy is more ingrained in us than you ever realized. But you will persist and you will transcend – perhaps reaching the kind of epiphany that can change the world.
Ideally, everyone will shut off their electricity for the day and just enjoy some time with their family or friends or both. If you can't do that, at least refrain from the Black Friday madness. Don't go to a store for some kind of deal. Don't shop at the big box stores - in fact, don't shop anywhere. Just take a break for one day. If you must use your electricity, then to avoid the barrage of advertisements we are exposed to constantly, don't watch television. Stream videos from the Internet instead, there's tons of free stuff you can watch. This is what I do instead of subscribing to cable TV, and it saves me nearly $100.00 per month just by doing this simple thing.
Some might criticize me for publicizing this idea during such tough economic times. "We need people to consume in order to drive the economy!" It is an established fact that 70% of America's economy is dependent on consumer spending – retail sales of products and services. Since American wages continue to wither and dry up, this is obviously unsustainable. To that I say this: it's not good if we need people to buy useless crap in order to maintain our economy. That needs to fundamentally change. And the only way towards fundamental change is to stop buying useless crap. So will you join me? Will you take the plunge and break the chord from your normal consumerist ways? Liberate yourself this holiday season!
Sunday, November 10, 2013
The 'Spiritual Not Religious' Gospel of
Progressive Christianity Continues to Spread
They are called “unaffiliated,” as in a recent Pew poll, or “nones” – or even just “not very religious.” A recent poll by the Public Religion Research Institute divides these groups further into “unattached,” “atheists”, “agnostics,” and “seculars.” One thing is for sure; this ever-growing cohort of non-churched Americans made up, at 23 percent, the single largest segment of Barack Obama’s “religious coalition” that helped him win reelection in 2012 (compared to the 37 percent of white evangelicals who supported Mitt Romney). As a result of this, the unaffiliated clearly had their moment. Media analysis, however, did not go very deep – there was a story that went beyond names and numbers.
I first published this website after I began to understand who the current crop of unaffiliated people are and what they do and believe in. Yet we have precious little historical understanding of this critical and growing demographic. What are their roots? What religious, cultural, economic, demographic, and political processes shaped their sensibilities, habits, and makeup? In order to understand these still-believing “nones,” we need to understand that much of the religious dynamism in the United States happens outside the church walls, and has for some time now. The “rise of the nones” is but the latest phase in the long transformation of religion into what we now commonly call “spirituality.” In my case and that of my peers, it is Christianity and the strongly held belief in Jesus Christ, not as a distant and mysterious god, but the Son of God who we can develop a relationship with on a personal level. So if you want to get closer to God, just get one-on-one with Jesus. By the same token, spirituality can mean many things to many people. The language of spirituality is used by traditional religious adherents as well as the religiously unaffiliated. But only the “nones” have made it into a cliché: “spiritual but not religious.”
The history of American spirituality reveals that our commonplace understanding of spirituality — as the individual, experiential dimension of human encounter with the sacred — arose from the clash of American Protestantism with the forces of modern life in the nineteenth century. While religious conservatives fought to stem the tide, giving rise to fundamentalism, religious liberals like myself have adapted their faith to modernity, often by discarding orthodoxies (such as my strict Catholic upbringing) in favor of evolution, psychology, and meditation. It looks to me like the majority of today’s religious “nones” – those who claim no religion but still embrace some form of spirituality (here in the US it's mainly Christianity) – are engaged in the same task of renovating their faith for a new historical moment. I am convinced that this moment has in fact arrived in the form of the debacle over the shut-down of our country because of disagreement about the debt ceiling, among other things. Because this has occurred, and particularly since it was the neo-con Tea Party and their ultra-conservative friends who were the instigators, right-wing conservativism and the religious right have been dealt a blow from which it will take them a long time to recover, if ever. The liberals, or more properly Progressive Christians as I have been calling folks like us for years, have been given the proverbial football. It's up to us to score, so let's get started.
Today’s unaffiliated, like the liberals of previous generations, typically shun dogma and creed in favor of a faith that is truthful, genuine, practical, psychologically attuned, ecumenical and ethically oriented. This liberal spirituality, or Progressive Christianity as it has evolved over time, has become entwined with media-oriented consumerism. Of course Americans of all religious varieties have allowed themselves to be deeply influenced by consumerism, but media and markets have particularly shaped the religious lives of those without formal institutional or community ties. The religiously unaffiliated might not attend services, but they “do” their religion in many other ways: they watch religion on TV and listen to it on the radio; find inspiration on the web; attend retreats, seminars, workshops, and classes; buy candles and statues, bumper stickers and yoga pants; take spiritually motivated trips; and, perhaps most significantly, buy and read books. Books have been the most important conduit for spreading the “spiritual but not religious” gospel.
This dependency on the consumer marketplace, and especially books, has had significant consequences for the religious lives of all Americans, especially the unaffiliated. First, it has enhanced the tendencies within American religion toward a therapeutic understanding of the spiritual life. The profit-oriented commercial presses that came to dominate religious publishing naturally pursued the largest market possible for their goods, and seized on the non-creedal, nonsectarian, and psychologically modern forms of faith advanced by religious liberals as a common American religious vernacular. These trends have only accelerated from the 1920s to the present, such that now the line between religion and self-help sometimes disappears in the spirituality section of Amazon. Second, spiritual consumerism has fostered books that allow some readers entry into religious worlds to which they have not been previously exposed. Since the invention of the printing press, the lines of denomination and tradition have gradually mattered less and less. The political and moral imperatives of World War II provided the greatest stimulus to such interfaith reading, and before long even the Protestant-Catholic-Jew formulation of the era could not contain American readers. What matters to the unaffiliated is not imprimatur but inspiration.
Progressive Christianity's rise and liberal Protestantism’s organizational decline has been accompanied by and is in part arguably the consequence of the fact that liberal Protestantism has won a decisive, larger cultural victory. The cultural victory happened not because more Americans joined liberal churches, in other words, but because liberal religious values and sensibilities became more and more culturally normative. And no single cultural force has been more significant to this profound religious shift than the unabashed consumerism of the religious book business in the twentieth and 21st centuries. Even as religious affiliations decline, religious books sales continue to rise, as they have steadily for more than a half century. In this ultimate spiritual marketplace, American religion displays its full shape-shifting vitality.
Sunday, November 3, 2013
Right-Wing Evangelicals Like the Ones Who Shut Down Our Country Had Better Start Seeing the Light
I have known a few evangelical pastors and far more Christian ultraconservatives in my 57 years on this great planet Earth. They were all sure they were right and that every other person not of their faith was going to burn in hell forever. They teach that we as Christians should take this nation back, but I have long since concluded that we never really had it to begin with (one example of that would be the electoral college). After decades of teaching their homophobic, divisive message that has driven away so many millions of the same people whose souls they should have been winning over to Christ, I have similarly come to the conclusion that some of the “religious” people need to think of something else to do with their lives. Let the truly committed and dedicated people do the works of faith and perseverance in spreading the Gospel of Jesus. Instead, maybe they could try selling cars, especially since some TV evangelists have only slightly more credibility than that. Or better yet, they could become truck drivers – you know, see America and all that jazz.
I once did something like that back in 2008. I left Atlanta, where I had been living for the past 25 years, for a job in Texas. Since Atlanta and Odessa, Texas are 1,500 miles apart, I did get to see some of America. But the country I saw was very different from the one I was taught about in Catholic school as a kid and from my mentors in early adulthood. What I found instead was that this nation is filled with people from all walks of life, and from every different culture. To me – and I'm speaking from experience – I have met thousands of people of widely divergent faiths, and I found that these folks are not the wicked sinners I was taught about. They are just good-hearted Americans from all faiths and cultural backgrounds, trying to pay their bills, care for their families and have a few good times with their friends and lovers. I also began to notice a change in me and my perspective as well. I gradually came to the realization that all the Latino immigrants I saw in Texas (the population there was about 30% Hispanic) weren't invading hordes of so-called “illegal aliens” from south of America's border. In point of fact I have since concluded that there is no such thing as an illegal human being. Every man, woman and child on the entire earth has a right to be here because we are all made in the image and likeness of the same Lord God ever since Adam and Eve. But the Latinos were economic refugees from the third world who apparently working furiously to better themselves. And that, dear readers, is why I have admiration rather than prejudice for Latinos the world over.
Texas wasn't a particularly good experience for me, but it was a great second education. After four months I decided to return to Atlanta and work to help all of the people I could by warning them and taking affirmative measures for protecting them from the oppression of right-wing conservatism. I created this website for that very purpose, and that's why I call it “progressive Christian”. Progressive Christianity means it is focused sharply on Jesus Christ without all the added dogmas of religious denominations, without condemning any faith or group of people whether Christ-based or not. That leaves a lot of maneuvering room for me as far as how my web site's content is presented. I want everyone to know that the Christian fundamentalist political movement is the beginning of a cultural revolution that will take our nation to a very dark place. You have to understand that this has been methodically planned and is being carried out with the utmost vigilance. In accordance with their world view, conservatives do not in the least care about what anybody else thinks. They are against democracy, they are in the process of turning our country into one big minimum-wage sweatshop, and those who comprise this top 1% of America's economic pie are seeking to end the rule of the majority in our great country. When they are finished, they will own all the property that is left in the US and we will all be paupers.
They truly believe that those who have not been “saved” are living under a curse. Due to this curse of theirs, they expect us to believe that we are incapable of knowing what is best for ourselves, and that because of this we are in need of supervision by more enlightened people. You should also know they do not believe that even centuries-old Christian communities (Catholics, Anglicans, Greek Orthodox, etc.) are “saved,” only those who think like they do. I've seen this first hand, and it's not pretty. You might be thinking that a minority fundamentalist group of zealots can’t really take over the direction of a society, right? Well, just look at the Bolshevik revolution in Russia in 1917, that's exactly what the Communists did. They pulled it off with just a few thousand soldiers and some other mercenaries. In modern times, look at Iran or the countless other places (until recently Hugo Chavez's Venezuela) where people have allowed this to happen. Are you all really going to sit back and watch this occur without wanting to jump up and do something about it? I should think not! They have already begun to attack all sources of accurate information. That's the reason former Minnesota governor Jesse Ventura fled the United States and now resides in Mexico. Public radio was first, next will be museums then school textbooks. Just listen to them argue against the scientific facts about the peril our planet is facing, because it does not fit in with their ideas. They represent a clear and present danger to our union.
If I told you that the Amish in Pennsylvania were running for public office in record numbers with the intention of outlawing electricity and forcing others to act, dress and think like them, you would not believe it. Well, that is exactly what is happening in America, only it is not the Amish, it is the Christian fundamentalists. It is not outlawing electricity, it’s placing limits on being a human with free will. Enjoying art and music, loving the person of your choice, dancing – the things that fundamentalists call “sins” – are a big part of what it means to be a human.
The good news is that we are witnessing the beginning of a new era in human existence. While we watch the revolutions across the Middle East such as the civil war in Syria, the riots in Greece and in Spain last year, and the growing exasperation and anger of the American people we are seeing a great truth: that people have within them the natural desire to be free. It is so sad that as the people of the world are fighting for freedom, we here in the United States are going in the opposite direction. The far right, under the control of Christian fundamentalists, is declaring an all-out war on human progress. We absolutely, positively must fight back. After all, the consequences of not acting are very serious. We are not just fighting for ourselves. We are struggling to protect the future generations of Americans who will suffer from these ruthless actions of the far right. We are speaking out against the measures being taken against those in our community who can least afford to be marginalized. This system of enforced inequality is going to fall one way or the other because it is unsustainable. As the late President John F. Kennedy once said, “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible, will make violent revolution inevitable”.
Saturday, October 26, 2013
A Word of Warning From the Lord For All Who Read This
I'm going to do something that I've never done before on this website; exercising one of the chief gifts of the Spirit as taught by the apostle Paul, gift of prophecy. First, let me point out that prophecy doesn't mean being able to foretell the future. That's called divination, which is based on sorcery, which is essentially Satan worship. Prophecy, on the other hand, simply means affirmatively declaring the Word of God, or of conveying the will of God and letting it be known with precision. For example, if I say, “Jesus will return on Christmas Eve”, that's a prediction of the future, and in this case a pretty bad one. But if I say, “Everyone act, think and live as if Jesus will return this Christmas, because it is the Lord himself who reminds you to keep yourself ready for His return, for He will return at an hour when many do not expect him”, then I have prophesied the Word of God by allowing myself to be used as a vessel for God's Word to mankind, or as a conduit for God's awesome power (which is beyond all human imagination). And so allow me a few paragraphs and yourself several minutes to relate what I believe is this important Word from the Lord God Almighty through his Son, Jesus Christ, the Lamb that was slain and yet lives.
As it was in the times of the prophets of old, so it is today – my people perish due to a lack of knowledge. America's days as a superpower, both militarily and economically, are just about over. Do my children not see what is happening all around you? Your government is printing money at maximum speed to keep your rigged capitalist economic system, a system based on greed that is a laughingstock both here in heaven and down in hell, from imploding. It is as plain and bright as the daytime sunshine I created that your pyramid-shaped economic system has run its course. It will soon be exactly as it was written by my beloved son and apostle John, “In her heart she boasts, 'I sit as queen, I am not a widow, and I will never mourn'. Therefore in one day her plagues will overtake her: death, mourning, and famine. She will be consumed by fire, for mighty is the Lord God who judges her. When the kings of the earth who committed adultery with her and shared her luxury see the smoke of her burning, they will weep and mourn over her. Terrified at her torment, they will stand far off and cry, 'Woe! Woe, oh great city, O Babylon, city of power! In one hour your doom has come!'” (Revelation chapter 18, verses 7-10, NIV)
Is there anyone who still doubts that this passage of Scripture was written about our country, the United States? Go back and read that again, or better yet, read Revelation chapter eighteen in its entirety, it's all right there in black and white. So how else is the US government sinning against God? Our dollar, or more accurately the rate they are being printed, makes a major devaluation of your form of currency likely, possibly even in the near future. If the US does not repent of this egregious sin and get its house in order, God will punish our country with more economic hardship, natural disasters and plagues. I know there are those who will not take my warning seriously, but I remind you that the future of our country is at stake. I do not speak for myself, but I speak for the Lord through Jesus Christ his Son.
We have taken the earth that God created and ruined it. Everything is polluted, even our own bodies. Oil residue still exists on the shores of the Gulf of Mexico and western Florida, the seafood is contaminated with mercury, our livestock are catching deadly new strains of the flu, and our IQ's become ever more diminished due to ingesting fluoridated water for decades. Autism, once thought to have originated from childhood vaccines, is now being more correctly understood as having environmental rather than medical causes and origins. We're doing it to ourselves.
Hard times are coming, of that we can all be sure. God has shown me that gas rationing and food rationing are both on America's horizon. Poverty will increase by leaps and bounds, creating a permanent underclass of Americans who will become the spearhead of a Second American Revolution. Civil unrest is coming, the likes of which haven't been seen since the 1960's. Rioting may occur in (hopefully) isolated areas, and people will stay barricaded in their homes and apartments for days and weeks at a time. With 70% of America's economy dependent on consumer spending, this is ominous to say the least. If and when the dollar collapses – a frightening possibility – all these things will be much worse (God forbid). The Bible warns us that “a day is coming when no one will be able to work”.We have been taking our privileged lives for granted for too long. God is a patient and loving God who is slow to anger but swift and sure regarding his punishment for those who willfully disobey. When we take a look around us, we see our neighborhoods, subdivisions, schools, churches, businesses, and industries, and all the infrastructure associated with them. Yet I am warning you all that even the tallest tower – which here in Atlanta is just over 52 stories – will not be left standing upon the arrival of the great and dreadful Day of the Lord. It is only then, when the arrival of Christ Jesus splits the Mount of Olives in two, that every knee shall bow, and every tongue confess, that Jesus Christ is Lord. You children of mine are just about out of time.
Sunday, October 20, 2013
Happy Belated 2nd Anniversary, Occupy Wall Street
While I was rebuilding my computer and repairing my Internet connection these past few days, and as fall begins, I found myself reflecting on the second anniversary of Occupy Wall Street and the fifth anniversary of the financial collapse induced by Wall Street and the mortgage industry. I was there for the first three days of Occupy DC at Freedom Plaza in October 2011, and again later that month for a day of Occupy Atlanta in Woodruff Park in the heart of downtown, and I have some fond memories of being part of something much bigger than myself or the sum of my experiences.
There are reasons to celebrate Occupy, as well as the loosely affiliated “We Are The 99%” Movement which is also still ongoing, despite continued economic stagnation and growing debt. The culture of resistance in the US is here, it’s having an effect, and it's growing slowly but steadily. There are cracks in the pillars of power, they're starting to get a little bigger, and it’s up to us to pry them the rest of the way open and shine the light on the lies and corruption that have been used to steal our future. I look back over the events of the past two years and feel cautiously optimistic, because I see a movement that is steadily building momentum. As we met at Freedom Plaza in Washington, DC, on Oct. 6th, 2011 there was a strong sense of suspense in the air. Some said that Americans weren’t feeling enough pain, that we hadn’t reached the tipping point. Similarly, the organizers of Occupy Wall Street acted out of anticipation. They staked out a place in the heart of the monster and held it. At first there were only a few hundred, but by holding that space courageously, more people were inspired to join them. Excitement and wonder were in the air. Could the people really take on Wall Street? Obviously Wall Street thought so because they ordered excessive and constant police protection. They must have seen something brewing because Wall Street firms had donated unprecedented millions to the NYPD over the previous year. It was police aggression towards peaceful protesters that grabbed public attention and sympathy. A few weeks after the start of Occupy Wall Street, an amazing 43 percent of Americans supported Occupy, a figure that remains largely undiminished to this day.
Two years later, the physical encampments are gone, but the Occupy Movement remains. Occupying public space was a tactic, not an end in itself. It was a way to make the issues visible, a place for people to gather, a model for a new way of doing things based on respect, mutual aid and democracy and a metaphor for claiming what has been taken. The ‘public’ is disappearing, not just public space but also public services, research and resources have been privatized, expropriated for the profits of a few. When the financial crisis hit in 2008, there was an expectation that the government would respond appropriately to stabilize the economy and that we simply had to weather the storm. What we saw instead were massive bailouts of the industry that caused the crash and greatly inadequate steps to secure jobs, housing and health care. This turned some already catastrophic financial crises caused by runaway private speculation into an immense source of private gain for the same very financiers responsible for the catastrophe to begin with. Even worse, it made those catastrophes so much more catastrophic than they really needed to be in the first place.
As a result of all this mess, we’re not heading toward greater income equality. We’re not building up the middle class or supporting unionization. We’re not eradicating poverty and hunger. We’re not expanding educational opportunity. We’re not rebuilding infrastructure. Nothing we’re doing looks anything like the society we built from the New Deal through the 1960s. We’re not doing any of the things that would lead to a more stable and just economy. In fact, we’re doing just the opposite, which means the billionaire bailout society will become even more firmly entrenched. This means that if left unchecked, the trends towards greater inequality and suffering will not only continue, it will accelerate as well. But the billionaire bailout society went too far. According to a Stanford study, “animosity toward the financial sector reached its highest level in 40 years in 2010” which probably fueled the Occupy and 99% Movements, and anger remains high. A majority of Americans believe that “not enough was done to prosecute the bankers.”
When drowning in so many crises it is sometimes hard to see above the surface of the water, but the anti-globalization movement and its offspring, the Occupy and “the 99%” Movements, are having an effect. Since 2000, the World Trade Organization has been unable to advance its agenda and 14 free trade agreements have been stopped by public pressure. The Trans-Pacific Partnership and its sister the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership known as TAFTA, are being negotiated in secret as a way to pursue the WTO agenda through the back door. A recent study found that the TPP will reduce wages for the bottom 90 percent of people in the US while significantly increasing the wealth of the top 1 percent. The AFL CIO passed a resolution opposing the TPP and Teamster President James Hoffa wrote, “Workers on both sides of the deal get screwed while corporations rake in record profits. Like low-wage workers in the fast food and retail industries, workers must join together to let Congress know that the TPP is not the right path for the U.S.” A broad coalition of groups have come together to stop the TPP. At the Occupy Wall Street protests recently in New York, the TPP was a top theme. In addition to marches and teach-ins focused on the TPP, the Money Wars street theater group performed its epic battle of Princess Laid-Off and the rebels against the TPP Death Star, Emperor Pipeline and Dark Banker. Actions are taking place this weekend and next week in Washington. If we are successful, this will be a huge victory against transnational corporate power.
There have been a number of wins recently against top corporations. The Nez Perce tribe and their allies took on General Electric and won a case to stop truckloads of tar sands from crossing their land in Idaho. Exxon was charged for illegally dumping toxic fracking waste in Pennsylvania. And JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon admitted that the bank broke the law. Another important win that is inspiring many in the US took place in Colombia where farmers went on a prolonged strike to win back the right to use their own seeds. The anti-Monsanto and anti-GMO movement is strong here. Thousands of people marched this week in Kauai for a law to protect themselves from pesticides. And, despite an outpouring of money, a vote to label GMO products in Washington State is still holding strong. And stopping the imminent attack on Syria was a win for people everywhere and a loss for the military industrial complex. Raytheon and Lockheed Martin in particular were set to make hundreds of millions from it. We must be vigilant though because the current diplomatic path could be used to justify an attack in the future.
It is important to recognize these wins and to build from them. It is also important to remember that we never know how close we are to achieving significant change. The occupy movement spawned the “idle no more”, workers’ rights and climate change movements. Our eyes are open and we can’t ignore what we now see; we know that it is the plutocratic system, not individual inadequacy that is causing poverty in America. We know that the $1 trillion given by the Federal Reserve to private banks could have created 20 million desperately-needed jobs. We know that the 400 richest people in the US have more wealth than the GDP of entire countries like Canada and Mexico. And we know the names of those who control the wealth and exploit people and the planet for it. We no longer expect “leaders” to create the change we need. We are all leaders and change depends on our actions and ours alone.
The culture of resistance necessary to create the kind of world we want to live in is here. Actions are taking place daily in the US and around the world. You won’t hear about most of them in the mass media. This week alone, more than one hundred women, most of them undocumented, were arrested in Washington, DC to protest the ways that immigration policies harm their families. Dairy workers in New York protested their abusive working conditions. Protesters in Vermont, ages 65 to 94, chained themselves to the entrance of the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power plant to demand its immediate closure and Marylanders protested outside an ‘arms bazaar.’ The Cascadia Forest Defenders scaled the capitol building in Oregon to drop a huge banner to protest clear-cutting.
Resistance is not all protesting, it also includes building alternative systems to meet our basic needs. Many who are active in OWS have been hard at work at this since the physical occupation was shut down. This week the Occupy Money Cooperative announced its launch with a fund raising campaign. They will provide low-cost financial services to the millions of Americans who are unbanked and under-banked and who are preyed upon by banks, check cashing services and payday lenders. It will be an opportunity for all to opt-out of big finance. Just as OWS created the infrastructure that was used to organize Occupy Sandy and continues to provide services to those affected by Superstorm Sandy, occupiers in Colorado responded to the needs of people in the Boulder area who were hit by massive flooding.
Hard work is being done every day to take on entrenched corporate power and create a new world based on principles such as mutual aid, community, equity, solidarity and democracy. It is appropriate to stop and celebrate this work and what has been accomplished so far. Things are changing. Justin Wedes of OWS writes, “Sure, we face an uncertain future, but we embrace the chaos that defines our time. Because, there is no alternative but to challenge the status quo of ever-increasing debt, shrinking job opportunities and disappearing civil rights.” We can’t say what the outcome will be or whether we will live to see the world we hope to create. Can there even be an endpoint? Perhaps the most important piece of social transformation is not a goal but rather is the process of living in a way that is consistent with our values. We live in the culture of resistance which requires constant nurturing to bend the arc of time towards justice.
Sunday, September 8, 2013
The Insanity of Another Mideast War
In 1939 and 1940, Hitler conquered the great majority of Europe. You will no doubt recall from your high school history classes that he did very well in his military excursions, or at least at first. Austria and Czechoslovakia fell first, then Poland, followed by Holland, Belgium and France. By that time Spain and Italy were already aligned with Hitler's Germany. Then, Hitler attacked Great Britain but failed – twice – and things started going downhill from there for Nazi Germany. Failing to conquer the British Isles got Hitler flustered. So, by the summer of 1941, Hitler decided to attack Russia, a country more than ten times the size of Germany, whose military prowess was more than a match for the German armed forces. That December, Japan attacked the US at Pearl Harbor, which got America involved in WW2. Germany then declared war on the US, and vice-versa. So, Germany found itself fighting a war on 2 fronts: one East of Germany with Russia, the other West of Germany with America. Germany ended up getting obliterated when it took on more military opponents than it could handle.
I find it more than a little disturbing that our country's military is in the process of making the same mistake Hitler made over 70 years ago. We have troops and so-called “contractors” – a barely concealed pronoun for “black ops” mercenaries – in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, plus the Balkans and Germany in Europe, and that's not counting more than 100 countries globally. As of this coming week, president Obama is going to take his case – or more accurately that of the US military-industrial complex – to Congress and to the American people. Speaking as a person who is opposed to waging warfare, and having concluded long ago that war is obscenely immoral, I am vehemently opposed to any so-called “limited” engagements with Syria. President Bush and his advisers either didn’t know or didn’t care about the probable consequences of their decision to invade and occupy Iraq back in 2003. This resulted in the following:
- Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and over 4,000 Americans dead;
- Millions of Iraqis and Americans wounded physically and psychologically;
- Legions of young men of the region now experienced in warfare and for hire moving from Iraq to Libya to Syria;
- The Iraqi “democratic” government, which is evidently unable to control the whirlwind of sectarian violence that is now killing and maiming hundreds each week.
Although the U.S. invaded and occupied Afghanistan under a different rationale, it is very important to acknowledge the tens of thousands of Afghan citizens who have been killed or wounded in the U.S. war in Afghanistan. The further consequences of the Afghan war was several thousand Americans dead and tens of thousands maimed, wounded or injured. Let's now fast forward to the present day, where President Obama has not spelled out the possible consequences of a military attack on Syria, but U.S. military leaders are repeatedly warning about the risks. In a letter to the Senate Armed Services committee, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey wrote last month said, “As we weigh our options, we should be able to conclude with some confidence that use of force will move us toward the intended outcome.” “Once we take action, we should be prepared for what comes next. Deeper involvement is hard to avoid.” General James Mattis, who retired recently as head of the U.S. Central Command, said last month at a security conference that the United States has “no moral obligation to do the impossible” in Syria. “If Americans take ownership of this, this is going to be a full throttle, very, very serious war.” That's right, general. An all-out brawl in the Middle East which could easily trigger World War Three. We can make some educated guesses of what the “unintended consequences” could be:
- Syrian anti-aircraft batteries will fire their rockets at incoming U.S. missiles.
- Many Syrians on the ground will die and both the U.S. and Syrian governments will say the deaths are the fault of the other.
- The U.S. Embassy in Damascus will be attacked and burned, as may other U.S. Embassies and businesses in the Middle East.
- Syria might also launch rockets toward the U.S. ally in the region—Israel.
- Israel would launch bombing missions on Syria as it has three times in the past two years and perhaps take the opportunity to launch an attack on Syria’s strongest ally in the region – Iran.
- Iran, a country with a population of 80 million and having the largest military in the region untouched by war in the past 25 years, might retaliate with missiles aimed toward Israel and toward nearby U.S. military bases in Afghanistan, Turkey, Bahrain and Qatar.
- Iran could block the Straits of Hormuz and impede the transport of oil out of the Persian Gulf.
“What is the political end state we’re trying to achieve?” said a retired senior officer involved in Middle East operational planning who said his concerns are widely shared by active-duty military leaders. “I don’t know what it is. We say it’s not regime change. If it’s punishment, there are other ways to punish.”
Could there be an underlying reason to attack Syria that is being concealed from the American people? There sure is. Let me give you the short version of what's being done and why. In an August 2013 article titled “Larry Summers and the Secret ‘End-game’ Memo, columnist, journalist and blogger Greg Palast posted evidence of a secret late-1990s plan devised by Wall Street and U.S. Treasury officials to open banking to the lucrative derivatives business. The cynically named “end-game” would require not just coercing support among World Trade Organization members, but taking down those countries refusing to join. Some key countries remained holdouts from the WTO, including Iraq, Libya, Iran and Syria. As of this writing, the only one of those four countries still standing is Iran. In most Islamic countries, banks are largely state-owned, and usury – charging rent for the “use” of money, hence the name – is viewed as a sin, if not a crime. That puts them at odds with the Western model of rent extraction by private middlemen. Not all these countries were Islamic. Forty percent of banks globally are publicly-owned. They are largely in the BRIC countries — Brazil, Russia, India and China — which house forty percent of the global population. To make the world safe for usury, these rogue states had to be silenced by other means. Having failed to succumb to economic coercion, they wound up in the cross-hairs of the powerful US military. In this August 22nd article, Greg Palast posted a screen shot of a 1997 memo from Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, then Assistant Secretary of International Affairs under Robert Rubin, to Larry Summers, then Deputy Secretary of the Treasury. Geithner referred in the memo to the “end-game of WTO financial services negotiations”.
The game then in play was the deregulation of banks so that they could gamble in the lucrative new field of derivatives. But the plan required more than just deregulating US banks. Banking controls had to be eliminated globally so that money would not flee to nations with safer banking laws. The “endgame” was to achieve this global deregulation through an obscure addendum to the international trade agreements policed by the World Trade Organization, called the Financial Services Agreement. Palast wrote:
“Until the bankers began their play, the WTO agreements dealt simply with trade in goods–that is, my cars for your bananas. The new rules ginned-up by Summers and the banks would force all nations to accept trade in "bads" – toxic assets like financial derivatives. Until the bankers' re-draft of the FSA, each nation controlled and chartered the banks within their own borders. The new rules of the game would force every nation to open their markets to Citibank, JP Morgan and their derivatives "products." And all 156 nations in the WTO would have to smash down their own Glass-Steagall divisions between commercial savings banks and the investment banks that gamble with derivatives. WTO members were induced to sign the agreement by threatening their access to global markets if they refused”.
That was the fate of countries in the WTO, but Palast did not discuss those that were not in that organization at all, including Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Iran. These seven countries were named by U.S. General Wesley Clark (Ret.) in a 2007 “Democracy Now” interview as the new 'rogue states' being targeted for take down after September 11, 2001. He said that about 10 days after 9-11, he was told by a general that the decision had been made to go to war with Iraq. Later, the same general said they planned to take out seven countries in five years: Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Iran. What did these countries have in common? Besides being Islamic, they were not members either of the WTO or of the Bank for International Settlements (BIS). That left them outside the long regulatory arm of the central bankers’ central bank in Switzerland. Other countries later identified as 'rogue states' that were also not members of the BIS included North Korea, Cuba, and Afghanistan. Does everybody else reading this see the pattern that has developed here as clearly as I do? I am sure of it! There was a nonfiction book published a couple of years ago titled, “War Is A Lie”. As you can see from the above facts I have gathered, that is absolutely true.
This leads to a loaded question, maybe even literally. Having learned what the American public is currently learning about all of the above, the endless wars, the NSA spying, the unauthorized military actions overseas, and the inescapable fact that our entire government has been bought and paid for by corporate America as well as Wall Street (even to the point that our country is becoming dysfunctional?), could opposition by a war-weary American public to US involvement in Syria lead to another series of antiwar protests such as what America experienced from the mid-60's until the early 70's? When we add to this mix the multitudes of unemployed, or grossly underemployed, American workers whose jobs have been shipped overseas for pennies on the dollar, the millions of pensioners who got cheated out of their retirement savings when their former employers closed down, and still more multitudes of unemployed young adults, some with Masters degrees, who are stuck living with their parents while trying to pay off student loans costing more than a typical mortgage, then you have a recipe for civil unrest of the highest magnitude. The March on Washington in August 1963 would seem like child's play by comparison. To those who may disagree, I would only tell you to look around you, and check out what's been happening since the 2011 Arab Spring. What started in Tunisia spread east to Egypt, and then north across the Mediterranean to Greece, and then west to Spain. During the Movement's crossing of the Mediterranean, some embers fell over Syria, and that entire country has become engulfed, and it has been burning out of control for quite some time now. The exact same scenario is poised to play out here in the US. All of the identical ingredients are already there. The only remaining question is, what will be the spark that sets it off? If not another war that nobody wants, then it will be something else that is currently not foreseeable. But you can bet the very shoes on our feet that it will.
Americans will have to decide for themselves who will represent them once they recognize and accept that both major parties are in the employ of the corporate interests that fund their campaigns. We may as well include the possibility that we may start all over again, with just the US Constitution and the Bill of Rights as the framework upon which it will rest. When they do, they will abandon the myth of the two-party system and realize that solving the problems threatening the viability of the American experiment in democracy is more important than ideology. How one wants to describe the system of government will be unimportant if we hand complete control of it to a police state that operates exclusively in the interest of the economic elite.
Events are conspiring that seem to be leading inevitably to the kind of awakening among average Americans that we have been working towards since it became obvious that the Anglo-American Empire is no longer afraid of public opinion in the US or anywhere else. Just as the power of the banks was revealed by the immunity for the crimes they committed that crashed the US and world economies, the threatened assault on Syria is leading to outrage throughout the majority of the American public. The lies are so transparent that even the Washington Post began to refer to the "alleged" use of chemical weapons by the Syrian military in a story about the decisive defeat in Parliament of a vote to support an illegal, non-UN-sanctioned US attack.
It is becoming easier to help newly alert citizens to connect the dots that have been obvious to some of us for some time. The furious reaction to the revelations of NSA spying have interrupted the ongoing partisan nonsense of pundits representing the two sides of the corporate duopoly long enough for them to agree that the abridgment of civil liberties has gone on long enough, prompting even Congress to act. The furor resulted in the near-passage on a bipartisan vote of the 'Amash amendment' that would have restricted NSA spying. Such resistance to Presidential overreach of authority to strip Americans of basic constitutional rights would have been unthinkable even six months ago. It is only a matter of time before Americans collectively grasp the idea that war abroad, economic disaster, and suspension of civil liberties at home are all symptoms of the same problem: corporate control of the US government. When they do, they will be ready for the solution. The only question remaining here is, will the top 1% give back the huge chunks of America that they have taken over the years, and will governing power be peacefully returned to “we the people”, or will we have to take it by force? Remember the wise words of President John F. Kennedy who once said, “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable”.
There is no doubt that corruption of the US government by corporations and wealthy individuals is at the root of the problem. There are many proposals to do something about it, but the one with legs is the movement to pass a constitutional amendment to effectively reform campaign finance and abolish corporate person-hood. When America has the discussion about why we need such an amendment and what form it should take, we will be ready to elect representatives who are willing to cosponsor and vote for it. It is not hard to see that the mood of the country is shifting away from helpless acceptance of the theft of what they have assumed is our democracy. Surely a politician as brilliant as Obama can see it. That raises the interesting question. Is it possible that he knows that we will not "be the change" he told us we have to be in 2008 unless things get so bad that we finally have no choice but to act? Is that why he seems to be doing nothing to counter the trend toward fascism in America? We can always hope that those we have accused of blind faith might have been right in claiming that Obama is playing three-dimensional chess with a bunch of checker players. Only time will tell, and only if the movement to take back America for the People continues to grow. For more info visit http://www.sandlministries.org/political_activism and http://www.sandlministries.org/national_strike_movement