Sunday, March 29, 2015

America's doomed drug war: a Progressive Christian viewpoint

Just this past week in my hometown of Atlanta, Ga., the Georgia State Legislature just passed a bill legalizing the medical use of cannabis oil for the treatment of seizures of various kinds, plus about 7 other illnesses which respond only to cannabis oil treatment to alleviate the symptoms. In other words, illnesses for which nothing else works. In the letter and the spirit of this new law, I have decided that this week would be a good time to re-post an updated version of an essay I first wrote in 2011 based on my first published book listed below. This sums up everything I have been saying for years about the stupidity of the 'war on drugs', as well as about parts of the Bible that are either being taken out of context or omitted altogether in order for these naysayers to propagate their warped perspectives about drug use, both legal and otherwise. So, read on and enjoy...

The Doomed War On Drugs and the Bible
2nd updated edition (c)2011, 2013) by Rev. Paul J. Bern)

Of all the people throughout the world who are incarcerated, fully 25% of them are locked up right here in the US. The United States has more people locked up in state and federal prisons than all the rest of the countries of the world combined. Of all the US prisoners currently serving sentences in state and federal prison, nearly 55% of them are locked up for nonviolent drug offenses such as simple pot or crack possession. When I looked at whether fewer people use drugs in countries like ours with stricter drug laws, I found that the World Health Organization looked at 17 countries in a 2008 study and found no such correlation. The US, despite its punitive – to the point of being Draconian – drug policies, has the highest level of drug use, legal or otherwise, in the world. By any measure, making drugs illegal fails to achieve one of its primary objectives. But it is the unintended consequences of prohibition that make the most compelling case against it.

Prohibition fuels crime in many ways: without state aid, addicts may be forced to fund their habit through robbery, for instance, while youngsters can be drawn into the drug trade as a way to earn money and status. In countries such as Colombia and Mexico, the profits from illegal drugs have spawned armed criminal organizations whose resources rival those of the state. So what's the alternative? There are several models for the legal provision of “recreational” drugs. They include prescriptions for medical marijuana by doctors, consumption at licensed premises such as bars and smoking lounges, and particularly sale on a similar basis to alcohol and tobacco, with its own taxation rates, health warnings, and age limitations to only those age 21 or older. If this prospect appalls you, consider the fact that in the US today, the majority of teenagers say they find it easier to buy cannabis than beer! According to sources in law enforcement as well as licensed therapists, close to of 40% of teens – and approximately half the US adult population – now say pot is safer than alcohol. Based on my own experiences I would agree completely even though my government is opposed to it. This opposition resulted in the so-called War On Drugs that was declared by President Nixon back in 1971. What has this 44-year-long war on drugs gotten us? In all that time, taxpayers spent more than:

$20 billion to fight the drug gangs in their home countries. In Colombia, for example, the United States spent more than $6 billion, while coca cultivation increased and trafficking moved to Mexico — and the violence along with it.

$33 billion in marketing "Just Say No" messages to America's youth and other “prevention” programs. High school students report the same rates of illegal drug use as they did in 1970, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says drug overdoses have "risen steadily" since the early 1970s to more than 20,000 last year.

$49 billion for law enforcement along America's borders to cut off the flow of illegal drugs. This year, 25 million Americans will snort, swallow, inject and smoke illicit drugs, about 10 million more than in 1970, with the bulk of those drugs imported from Mexico.

$121 billion to arrest more than 37 million nonviolent drug offenders, about 10 million of them for possession of marijuana. Studies show that jail time tends to increase drug abuse.

$450 billion to lock those people up in federal prisons alone. Last year, half of all federal prisoners in the U.S. were serving sentences for drug offenses.

The $320 billion annual global drug industry now accounts for over 1 percent of all commerce on the planet. A full 10 percent of Mexico's economy is built on drug proceeds. For every drug dealer you put in jail or kill, a line forms to replace him/her because the money is just that good. Today it is clearer than ever that criminalization not only does not work when it comes to drug law enforcement, it actually exacerbates the drug “problem” overall. The February 12, 1996 issue of the National Review had the headline in bold letters, “THE WAR ON DRUGS IS LOST”. But never mind about all those illegal drugs for now. Let's start with one drug that has repeatedly demonstrated healing properties, and I'm talking about cannabis. That's right – medical marijuana. Consider a few facts about America's weed war:

  • It diverts hundreds of thousands of police agents from serious crimes to the pursuit of harmless smokers, including agents from the local and state police, FBI, Drug Enforcement Agency, and U.S. Marshals, Secret Service, Border Patrol, Customs, and Postal Service.

  • By even the most conservative estimate, the outlay from US taxpayers now tops $10 billion a year in direct spending just to catch, prosecute, and incarcerate marijuana users and sellers, not counting other illegal drugs and such indirect costs as militarizing our border with Mexico in a hopeless effort to stop marijuana imports.

  • Police agents at all levels trample our Bill of Rights in their eagerness to nab pot consumers by conducting illegal car searches, phone and email taps, garbage scrounging, stop-and-frisks out in public without just cause just because the police can, and door-busting night raids, many of which are not accompanied by Constitutionally required search warrants.

  • Even people who are merely suspected of marijuana violations and have had no charges filed against them can (and regularly do) have their cars, money, computers, and other property confiscated by police. In a reversal of America's fundamental legal principles, it is up to these suspects to prove that their property is "innocent" of any crime.

  • People convicted of possessing even one ounce of marijuana can face mandatory minimum sentences of a year in jail, and having even one plant in your yard is a federal felony.

  • At least 49,000 Americans are in federal or state prisons right now on marijuana charges, not counting people in city and county jails, in which there are even more than the prison systems.

  • 89% of all marijuana arrests are for simple possession of the weed, not for producing or selling it. In short, marijuana prohibition is not, and will not, reduce demand. So then, it’s time to regulate the supply. It is time to remove the production and distribution of marijuana out of the hands of violent criminals and into the hands of licensed businesses, and the only practical way to do that is through legalization, regulation and taxation.

Another thing about the drug war is that we are forced to draw connections between the war on drugs and the disintegration of low-income and minority communities in America. As Dr. King so poignantly reminded us in his critique of the Vietnam War, "a time comes when silence is betrayal." With many communities disparately impacted by the drug war, many of us working for justice have come to the realization that America's war on drugs is really a war on families and communities. In the spirit of Rev. Dr. King, we must now ask: Has this drug war assault on the poor and the marginalized become the next big civil rights struggle? In view of the repeated police killings of unarmed black civilians across America, the answer appears to be an emphatic yes! Civil rights advocates are honoring Dr. King's legacy by standing up against the "new Jim Crow" – mass incarceration through the racially disproportionate war on drugs. It is impossible to talk frankly and honestly about racism without talking about the drug war. Few U.S. policies have had such a devastating effect on Blacks, Latinos and other racial minorities than the drug war. Every aspect of the war on drugs – from arrests to prosecutions to sentencing – is disproportionately carried out against minorities. Speaking as a minister who speaks up for the poor, minorities, the mentally ill and the outcast, this is inexcusable in an allegedly Christian country like the US. Why is this being allowed to continue? Join the folks in Ferguson, Mo., get out in the streets and protest! It's your patriotic duty to do so!

OK, so now let me go deeper. Approximately 100,000 Americans die accidentally each year from legally obtained prescription drugs — that’s 270 per day or more than twice as many as there are killed in car accidents each day. This shows you how dangerous prescription medications truly are. To make matters worse, we are the only developed country that doesn't control prescription drug prices, meaning that the drug companies can charge whatever they want to – even for drugs that don’t work very well. The pharmaceutical industry’s unlimited hikes in their prices have helped make health insurance unaffordable for most Americans. This is also why wages of American workers have stagnated. When health premiums rise, employers must get the extra money from somewhere, and employee raises are one of the first things to go. Get the price of prescription drugs under control, and this problem goes away on its own.

But what if some of that money that we are spending on apparently dangerous but legal prescription drugs was redirected towards medical marijuana? Has modern medicine been able to document the positive effects of cannabis medication? Research into possible medical uses of cannabis is enjoying a renaissance. In recent years, studies have shown potential for treating nausea, vomiting, premenstrual syndrome, insomnia, migraines, multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injuries, alcohol abuse, collagen-induced arthritis, asthma, atherosclerosis, bipolar disorder, depression, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Huntington's disease, Parkinson's disease, sickle-cell disease, sleep apnea, Alzheimer's disease, glaucoma and anorexia nervosa. It is also documented to be very effective for patients undergoing chemotherapy for cancer. I sometimes use medical marijuana because it helps me manage bipolar disorder, chronic depression, post traumatic stress disorder and a recurring back injury. I can personally testify that, when used responsibly, medical cannabis can be surprisingly effective, and with zero side effects.

Portugal decriminalized the use of all drugs in a groundbreaking law passed in 2000. Just last year, Uruguay in South America did the same. Now, the United States, which has waged a 40-year, $1 trillion war on drugs, is looking for answers in both countries, which is reaping the benefits of what once looked like a dangerous gamble. White House drug czar Gil Kerlikowske visited Portugal in September 2010 to learn about its drug reforms, and other countries — including Norway, Denmark, Australia and Peru — have taken interest, too. The disasters that were predicted by critics didn't happen. The answer can be summed up in two little words: Provide treatment. Here's what happened in Portugal between 2000 and 2010 as a result of decriminalization of formerly illegal drugs:

There were small increases in illicit drug use among adults, but decreases for adolescents and problem users, such as drug addicts and prisoners.

Drug-related court cases dropped 66 percent.

Drug-related HIV cases dropped 75 percent. In 2002, 49 percent of people with AIDS were addicts; by 2010 that number fell to 27 percent.

The number of regular users held steady at less than 3 percent of the population for marijuana and less than 0.3 percent for heroin and cocaine — figures which show decriminalization brought no surge in drug use.

The number of people treated for drug addiction rose 20 percent from 2001 to 2008.

Officials have not yet worked out the cost of the program, but they expect no increase in spending, since most of the money was diverted from the justice system to the public health service. The U.S. is spending $74 billion this year on criminal and court proceedings for drug offenders, compared with $3.6 billion for treatment. The result of the criminalization of alcohol sales and consumption during the 1920's was the gangster era of Al Capone, Bonnie and Clyde and scores of other lesser-known hoodlums and gangs that profited from the violent underground economy that Prohibition created. Today we have an identical situation since the drug trade is mostly in the hands of gangsters and thugs, with the criminals killing innocent bystanders and each other in fights over turf and cash flow. The fact that more people are being locked up while crime has decreased and our prisons are already bursting at the seams, particularly in minority communities, constitutes a 21st century civil rights issue of the highest order. It is time for the US government and law enforcement to “stand down red alert” in the war on drugs. It's time to end this madness and this stupidity.

The fact of the matter is that if cannabis was legalized and regulated, the medical profession would have a new and completely natural weapon to use against chronic pain, the side effects of chemotherapy, glaucoma and a veritable laundry list of other ailments. All the claims about cannabis being harmful and addictive have long since been disproved by reputable scientific researchers. Moreover, if cannabis was legalized and taxed at the state and federal levels, American taxpayers and lawmakers alike would be looking at a new revenue stream well in excess of $400 billion dollars annually at the federal level alone. This is not counting fresh revenues in the amount of tens of billions annually that each state would collect as a result of legalization, times all 50 states and US territories. And let's not forget that cannabis legalization across the country has already been estimated to create anywhere from several hundred thousand to well in excess of one million new jobs (just look at Colorado, Washington state, and Alaska, and they're just getting started). That's the part the elite 1% can't stand; the idea that multitudes of long-time unemployed US workers could get back on their feet financially – even if pot were the only currently illegal drug to be decriminalized – along with its sister plant hemp (search that) and the additional hundreds of thousands of jobs hemp legalization would create. That should be the first step for the American people to take back their country from the Globalist Elite. The more jobs we create, the more money gets taken away from Wall Street, Washington and the Federal Reserve.

Finally, if cannabis were to be decriminalized, all the combined resources of law enforcement at all levels could redirect their time and effort to the main things that they do best, which is to stop violent crime in its tracks, and to detect and expose those who are involved with terrorism and human smuggling or trafficking across or within our borders. It is much easier for law enforcement at all levels to protect the public when they do not have to waste time prosecuting certain persons for smoking a harmless plant. Cigarettes are legal; when someone lights one up they are also smoking a plant, so (speaking as a minister who has no problem with taking a stand against bad laws that are civil rights violations at best and Constitutional breaches at worst) morally there is no difference. It is a documented fact that cigarette smoking kills between 40 and 50 thousand people per year in the US alone. By the same token, nobody ever died from smoking cannabis. Absolutely nobody. Ever.

If “we the people”, America's 99%, want an effective way to take away what I regard as excess authority that is being abused by the uniformed minions and henchmen of the top 1%, then ending the war on drugs would be one very good place to start. The war on drugs, like the ticking time bomb of economic inequality and the resulting class warfare that is ongoing in America, is the new civil rights battle cry of the 21st century. As a watchman on the wall for the Lord protecting a boundary that shields the human rights of mankind, it is my job to sound this warning, and I am not alone in doing so. All one has to do is listen and you will hear their voices, that it's time to take back our country from the unscrupulous minions of Wall St., starting with the big banks, and their armies of Washington lobbyists who have seized control of our country in a (nearly) bloodless coup de etat on November 22nd, 1963 when President Kennedy was assassinated, and with the Federal Reserve, who financed the whole debacle of the 2008 financial crash. Worst of all, stories are beginning to circulate about a probable collapse of the US dollar. In that event, having enough food and water to last for at least a week up to a month or more would be prudent.

As the spring of 2015 gets started in earnest, a resounding crescendo of voices of the multitudes who are completely fed up with an existence of bare bones survival will rise up and speak the truth to the power of big corporate money. We who are rising up will say with one voice, “Enough is enough!”, and by the force of sheer numbers we will overwhelm those who hoard wealth, assets and possessions at the expense of everyone else. The summer of 2015 will be a time of reckoning. If we are denied a hearing for our “redress of grievances” as guaranteed by the US Constitution, then we will take to the streets in protest. “We the people” can shut down the entire country if we want, even if only for a day. Then the top 1%-'ers will see that resisting us will only turn America into another Tunisia, another Egypt, another Yemen, another Spain, or (God forbid) another Syria, or another Greece. It is time for everyone to make a choice. If we do not make ourselves part of the solution, then we default to being part of the problem. Become part of the solution. Occupy America for legalized cannabis in 2015 and beyond, and praise Almighty God, who made the marijuana plant in the first place!

Monday, March 23, 2015

Does God Hate Inequality? Oh Yes He Does!

Why God Hates Inequality
by Rev. Paul J. Bern

In a continuation of my ongoing efforts to bring Christianity, current events and a relationship with Jesus Christ into the 21st century, I wish to bring to your attention a newspaper headline posted earlier this week on Linked-In by a colleague of mine. The headline, which was reposted from, reads, “Detroit Stops Residential Water Cut-Offs, and a few selected highlights are as follows:

Detroit — The city’s water department this week plans to step up enforcement of overdue business accounts to collect tens of millions in lost revenue, but it won’t shut off residential water until a proven safety net is in place. Although there are 26,000 residential accounts with outstanding balances, officials said they will target commercial accounts first. The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department is seeking compliance from 2,044 delinquent commercial accounts to avoid shut-offs. Those customers owe DWSD about $20 million, said Bill Nowling, spokesman for a new regional water authority set to go into effect in July...... There will be a point when the department does have to resume shutting off water to delinquent residential accounts, ….but after the shut-offs caused a national uproar last year, the city wants to be certain all eligible residents know about — and take advantage of — payment assistance programs...... The approach is in stark contrast to the widespread residential shut-offs that kicked off last March. The aggressive campaign angered residents, activists and civic groups, spurring protests over the city’s treatment of delinquent water customers......”

Formerly middle class people, and a whole lot of poor folks including people of color, are having their most basic rights taken away by runaway government and their out-of-control police departments. Access to running water is a fundamental human right. Period. End of story. To forcibly remove – by turning off or forcibly cutting off – anyone's access to running water is a crime as far as I am concerned. The Bible says in the Book of Proverbs chapter 29, verse 7, “The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern. That's God's take on poverty in a nutshell. “The poor you will always have”, Jesus said not long before His crucifixion, “but you will not always have me”. The poor are humankind's responsibility, starting with the churches. Shelter falls into the same category as water – it too is a basic human right. Even the earliest humans from 100,000+ years ago slept in caves, long before the invention of written language, and before the discovery of fire and the wheel. Moreover, I wrote in my 2011 book, “The Middle and Working Class Manifesto”, which is still available in paperback from this website or as an e-book from Amazon (ISBN #9780615494036), that people everywhere have The right to affordable housing and the fundamental right to shelter regardless of economic status. We have a responsibility as a civilized society to end homelessness.” 

Here in the city of Atlanta where I live, there are lots of boarded up and abandoned houses (there's plenty in the suburbs, too, but most of those aren't on the bus line). There are also a lot of homeless people, mainly because Georgia is one of those states whose minimum wage is still stuck at $7.25 an hour. Any way you slice and dice it, a single person who makes minimum wage can't afford to rent a one-bedroom apartment in Georgia. So there are a slowly growing number of squatters who are living in these abandoned houses, nearly all without the benefit of water or electric hook-up. When the police catch them, and they do so routinely, they are taken to jail. OK, now let's review this. The cops catch some luckless squatter, who is living in a house that nobody wants. Since that person is considered to be a tresspasser under Georgia law, and since the majority of the squatters are also usually black, they are taken immediately to a county jail where it will cost the taxpayers upwards of $60.00 a day to detain them. So, there are some who think it's better to spend $60.00 a day to house otherwise harmless petty criminals than it is to let them sleep in abandoned structures at night where they are bothering no one. No one seems to care about the fact that incarcerating these people is an unnecessary burden on the taxpayers. I understand that they're trespassing on someone's property, but if that is something that must be enforced then why is the structure abandoned and in disrepair? The answer, brothers and sisters, is greed. The property owners, many of whom live out of state and who want nothing to do with these properties because they owe back property taxes on them, will not hesitate to press charges against some poor homeless man, or a homeless single parent with small children, for sleeping on a front porch on a rainy night.

Indeed, the circumstances and situations that the middle and working classes in the US find themselves in today are a series of gross social injustices that demands a sharply focused and well-coordinated response from the entire populace, a rebuttal and decisive counterattack designed and intended to right, correct and re-balance US political power back into the hands of the overwhelming majority of American citizens to whom it rightfully belongs. There can be no doubt that class warfare has been declared in the US, perpetrated by the wealthy top 1% against the middle and working classes, for the sole express purpose of eliminating from society the Constitutional majority of working Americans, with the end result being the complete and merciless liquidation of middle and working class wealth, general prosperity, and even our health. This has been accomplished by the largest transfer of wealth in all of human history, and it has been manifested in three different ways. First, the employment of working Americans, particularly of the US working class, has been decimated by closing down manufacturing facilities and shipping jobs overseas to the third world for pennies on the dollar. Second, the retirement savings of the middle and working classes have been severely compromised or even liquidated altogether by the crooked and devious manipulations of Wall Street bankers, market speculators, hedge fund managers and corporate boards of directors who engineered the largest swindle in human history back in 2008. This criminal act resulted in the US government bailout know as TARP, an $850 billion bank robbery of the US Treasury conceived and carried out by the same Ponzi-schemers who ran the US economy into the ground in the first place. Third, the largest transfer of wealth in human history is being enforced by runaway prices for college and university tuition that are being deliberately engineered by wealthy elitists for the sole express purpose of putting higher education financially out of reach for an increasing majority of the ever-vanishing American middle class.

There are tens of millions of formerly middle class people – of whom I am one, I was in IT – from all across the country who find themselves in similar circumstances to varying degrees of severity. Many have not been as fortunate as me. They have lost jobs or entire careers like I did, been forced out into the street due to the epidemic of foreclosures throughout the land, had their cars repossessed, leaving them with no way to get to work assuming that they are lucky enough to still have jobs, and are hounded by collection agencies for debts great and small. They have no access to health care except to show up at the local emergency room with no way to pay the bill, putting them even deeper into debt than they already are. They have watched their pensions and their retirement savings evaporate due to market manipulations by unscrupulous “financial managers” who earn obscene bonuses whether they succeed or fail, and all at the expense of the small investors who have the most to lose. Either that or they have spent their savings during interminably lengthy periods of unemployment after their jobs were downsized or out-sourced overseas to the third world, never to return again. And their children, the ones lucky enough to be able to go to college, are graduating with crushing student loan debts that will take decades to repay if they can be repaid at all, depending on whether they can find suitable work or not. What good is a four-year degree if you wind up flipping hamburgers, selling shoes or digging ditches? Meanwhile, the best jobs, the best educations, and the best incomes are reserved for the wealthiest people and their families.

No more will we stand and stare or sit and grumble about having our houses, jobs, cars, savings, health, higher education and our retirements forcibly taken away wholesale while an ever greater portion of American wealth is concentrated into the hands of a small minority of multimillionaires. It is time for the middle and working classes to put our collective foot down and say ”no more”. The time has arrived for us to take back our country by any and all means possible. It is time for political power to be taken out of the hands of corporate America and their invading hordes of lobbyists who would presume to take over our country by means of economic warfare, and to place it back into the hands of “we the people”, the true owners of this great country of ours. And we will do so knowing that history and our founding fathers are on our side, because they left us with a sacred document known as the Constitution of the United States that guarantees us that right. Our free speech and freedom of expression that are guaranteed under the First Amendment, as well as our right to keep and bear arms and to form militias that are guaranteed under the Second Amendment, will not be compromised or trampled upon. We will demonstrate in the streets, we will besiege government buildings, we will bombard our congressmen and women with phone calls and emails, we will form new political parties, we will organize and build labor unions, we will blockade wealthy neighborhoods, we will organize peaceful public events and non-violent sit-ins, we will call general strikes and consumer boycotts, and we will not stop until the balance of power in this country undergoes a paradigm shift back into the hands of hard-working Americans, as well as the millions of people who want jobs and can't find them.

Let there be no mistake, America is ripe for mass civil disobedience, even for outright revolution. The conditions and circumstances in which the middle and working classes find themselves has become intolerable. Personally, I am a very patient and thoughtful man. I work hard each day to be slow to speak and quick to listen because I know from experience that there is much wisdom to be derived from living my life this way. But by the same token, I am a Christian man and Web evangelist who stands against social injustice and economic inequality, and whose patience is at its end. Just as surely as Jesus preached against the political and religious establishment of His day, in like manner I will do the same in the present day in order to emulate the man I regard as my personal Savior. So, if you truly care about the deteriorating state of our nation, if you are really concerned about the issues that we are faced with collectively as a people, and if you want to make a stand against social and economic injustice, and since it's in all our best interests to do so, you owe it to yourself to stand up in the face of power and say, “That's it! You're done!!” You know why? Because if Jesus Christ were to return this very day, that's what He'd say. And the ones who are having the homeless thrown in jail for trespassing on their dilapidated properties would be the first ones Christ would send straight to hell.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Police Violence and Christianity: What's the Next Step?

Police Brutality: How Should Christians Respond?
By Rev. Paul J. Bern

An unarmed black man was shot to death by police in an Atlanta suburb this past week. I live a 30-minute drive away from the location of the shooting, and I sometimes buy groceries at a discount grocery chain not far from there, so I've driven – or lately ridden on the bus – right through that area. It is one thing to see this stuff about police shootings – or any shooting for that matter – on the evening news, but the frightening spectre of police violence against the very citizens they are sworn to protect only miles from my apartment brings it all home to roost. A New York Times article from March 10, 2015 had the following headline:

Police Killing of Unarmed Georgia Man Leaves Another Town in Disbelief

CHAMBLEE, Ga. — Witnesses to the fatal police shooting of an African-American man gave differing accounts Tuesday. But they all ended with a similar question: Why was it necessary to shoot Anthony Hill, a 27-year-old Air Force veteran who was naked and unarmed?

The shooting, which occurred early Monday afternoon, has prompted mourning, confusion and anger in the apartment complex northeast of Atlanta where Mr. Hill lived.

He was a calm, friendly person,” said Julio Hernandez, 54, a groundskeeper at the complex whose 14-year-old son rode skateboards with Mr. Hill. “To me, this was police abuse, because what can a naked person do?”

On his social media accounts, Mr. Hill, an aspiring musician, hinted that he had a mental illness. And most everyone who saw him at the apartments Monday said his behavior was bizarre in the extreme in the moments before the police arrived. Mr. Hill, they said, had been lying on the ground, semi-clothed and then naked, and had been jumping repeatedly off his second-story balcony.

The shooting is the third police killing of an unarmed or apparently unarmed black man in the last five days, following shootings in Aurora, Colo., and Madison, Wis. They have occurred as the nation considers race, policing and lethal force in the wake of the killing of another unarmed black man, Michael Brown, in Ferguson, Mo., in August......”

Just days before, another shooting of an unarmed black man by a white police officer occurred in Madison, Wisconsin, which resulted in a massive protest on March 9th, the day before the Atlanta shooting, as the following Washington Post headline attests:

Protests continue in Madison after shooting; police chief apologizes to community
By Mark Berman, Washington Post, March 9, 2015

Demonstrations continued Monday over the death of an unarmed black man shot and killed by a Madison police officer Friday night, as protests in Wisconsin’s second-largest city stretched into a fourth day and reached the heart of the state’s government.

A large crowd gathered inside the rotunda of the state capitol, about a mile from the apartment where Anthony Robinson, 19, was shot after what authorities described as a struggle with a police officer.

Robinson’s death sparked outrage and drew national attention over the weekend, becoming the latest incident involving a black man dying at the hands of the police. Michael Koval, Madison’s police chief, said he understood how it seemed to fit the narrative that has spurred an ongoing conversation over race and policing, but he pleaded with people for patience while investigations are carried out.

A rally on the campus of the University of Wisconsin took place Monday before students marched to the state capitol, and the demonstrations and actions remained calm and peaceful, with no reported arrests or other issues. Many of the protesters who gathered at the capitol building were high school students who came to attend the rally, the Wisconsin State Journal reported. March organizers had posted on Facebook, asking high school students to walk out of classes Monday morning......”

And let's not forget that two Ferguson, Mo. cops got shot the other night, and they have no idea who did it. That's probably because whoever did it used a small caliber rifle such as a .22, from some distance away, with a scope on it, possibly even a night-vision scope, and the police know it. Because of all this, cops all over the country have taken a shoot first and ask questions later stance when it comes to how they do their jobs. But what law enforcement fails to realize is that if they weren't shooting unarmed people, the American people wouldn't be so upset in the first place. That's just what's on the surface. What's underneath is that between 85-90% of police shootings in America in the last 10 years have been white officers shooting black suspects, the overwhelming majority of whom were unarmed. So the shootings, or most of them, are evidently racially motivated. Is it any wonder that people everywhere are furious with the police, especially people of color? Is it any wonder that no one trusts them anymore (including this author, who prefers to take matters into his own hands)? What should we do about this and still be legal? After all, if we don't stay legal we're just giving the cops a reason to shoot at us. Unless, of course, we decide to shoot back. But then we're talking civil war. Do we really want that? As far as I am concerned, armed revolt should only be considered as a matter of last resort. Before things come down to that, I have some ideas that I would like to see everyone put into practice first. If these don't work, maybe then we should talk further.

The first thing Christian Americans need to realize is that we're not living in a democracy, and we haven't been ever since Nov, 22,1963, when president John Kennedy was assassinated. It isn’t a democracy at all. It’s a tyrannical oligarchy of the worst kind: one that’s disguised as a democracy and hidden behind the smoke and mirrors of political propaganda. Just because governmental decrees are no longer issued by royal fiat but are instead issued by lobbying and propaganda, doesn’t make it any less tyrannical. It is nothing more than inverted totalitarianism. And it is our responsibility, if we would be proactive citizens, to revert this totalitarianism. The 99% must turn the tables on the 1% or we will not survive as a species on this planet. It’s as simple as that. Here are four ways we can turn the tables on tyrannical oligarchy without firing a shot:

1.) Shame the Rich By Mocking Plutocracy

While the world goes through the motions of getting poorer and poorer the moneyed elite are getting richer and richer, to the extent that it is costing people their lives. We must be able to muster the courage to put our foot down and draw a line in the sand. A declaration of emergence is needed. The current demonstrations against police brutality taking place in America's streets is the new 'occupy' movement. One way to put our foot down is to mock the plutocratic entities that have a monopoly on power and to ridicule the cult of personality. Shame is a very powerful psychological motivator. The sooner we make them realize that they have to be morally responsible with their power, the sooner we will be able to bring balance to the world. And the way we make them realize it is through the stultifying effect of shame. Like Confucius said, “In a country well governed, poverty is something to be ashamed of. In a country badly governed, wealth is something to be ashamed of.” And have no illusions, countries the world over are badly governed. Through a healthy mockery of their power we inadvertently get power over power and turn the tables on the power dynamic.

2.) Defy the Police State

A primary purpose of the police is to enforce the delusions of those with lots of pieces of green paper. Those without the green papers generally buy into these delusions almost as quickly and completely as those with. These delusions carry with them extreme consequences in the real world. No longer do police act in the capacity of peace officers. Now they are simply hired thugs of a government that no longer has the best interest of the people at heart. Like George Orwell said, “The capitalist society is a police society where the number one goal is the protection of upper class property.” While the governments of the world have been taken over by corporate interests, bankers and special interest groups, our countries have been turned into police states. Black-booted police state beware, your fascist violence is no match for our creative freedom. The so called “herd” is methodically being populated with wolves in sheep clothing, and we will bite if we’re cornered. We can turn the tables on the police state by mocking it like Pussy Riot mocked Putin, and like Anonymous mocks power.

3.) Ridicule the NDAA

As it stands, The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) is the most diabolically authoritarian law to ever come down the governmental chute. It’s anti-freedom in the name of security, the most deceptive kind of law. The NDAA is a greater threat to our national liberty than the terrorism from which it claims to protect us from. It impermissibly impinges on guaranteed First Amendment rights and lacks sufficient protections to meet the requirements of due process. Simply put, it is an instrument for the government to restrain the people. The Constitution used to be an instrument for the people to constrain the government, but with legislation like the NDAA and the Patriot Act, the instrument of the constitution is useless and no longer holds a tune. It’s past time that we get out there and petitioned against the NDAA. We must ridicule it. We must scorn it to the nth degree. Blaspheme it in the face of the president if need be. Inform people about how corrupt it really is. People will remain ignorant as long as we allow them to be. Let’s not allow them to be; not only for the sake of their freedom but for our own, as well as for the freedom of our children and our children’s children. People are born to be free. Ridiculing acts like the NDAA, and attempting to abolish them, are ways of safeguarding such freedoms.

4.) Challenge the Mass Surveillance State

Beginning with the adoption of the Patriot Act in 2001 (The government’s backbone-less, scared-stupid response to 9-11) the floodgates opened for covert government surveillance not only for the NSA, FBI, CIA and Homeland Security but for hundreds of municipal and state governments, a green light to infiltrate and spy on millions of American citizens. Now FISA is a dead horse that’s been beaten beyond recognition, because it has been morphed into a vehicle of covert means shielded from effective oversight through countless amendments by the Bush and Obama administrations. And now congress itself is hung-up on the fear-mongering tactics of the War on Terror. It is now up to us, “We the People”, to challenge this surveillance state, unless we inadvertently become what George Orwell warned us against in his novel 1984. Leaking information has become the civil disobedience of our age. The late historian and activist Howard Zinn described the act of civil disobedience as “the deliberate, discriminate violation of law for a vital social purpose… Such acts become not only justifiable but necessary when a fundamental human right is at stake and when legal channels are inadequate for securing that right.” Even Thomas Jefferson realized it, writing, “If a law is unjust, a man is not only correct to disobey it, he is obligated to do so.”

Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning, Julian Assange, Jeremy Hammond, and the late Aaron Swartz have all continued the tradition of civil disobedience by revealing the details of global mass surveillance programs. It’s time for us to change the tune. It’s time to interrupt their corrupt dance. It’s time to challenge the powers that be. Nothing short of the survival of the human species is at stake. If we are going to proclaim ourselves Christians, then we have a responsibility to oppose that which is corrupt, unjust, unfair and which poses a threat. Evil must at all times be resisted with good. Not through some imaginary fist-fight between good and evil, all that is just Hollywood imagery. I'm talking about resisting evil in the Spiritual realm through prayer, faith, love and good works whenever possible. Passive resistance works as well in the Spiritual world as it does in the physical, so use it whenever possible. Let the peace of Christ, which is beyond all human understanding, be with you all. Stop the shooting, everybody – police and civilians alike, you're only making matters worse! We can either live in peace together or die fighting each other. I'd say the first choice is a lot more palatable to me, not to mention a lot smarter.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

America's Trojan Horse

America Is Being Conquered One Person At a Time
by Rev. Paul J. Bern

Based on a good bit of observation conducted for a long period of time, it has come to my attention that the US is in large part an utterly clueless nation. The Bible says, “The people perish for a lack of knowledge”, and it's interesting that many seem to be doing just that during what is purported to be the information age. An alarming number of people appear to be dying of terminal igorance, and the root cause can be traced to the American shadow government that operates from behind Congress, the White House, and the Supreme Court. When a country's “leaders” spend 50+ years dumbing down America's schools, this is the result we get. Everybody has their eyes glued to video screens both small and large, or they're walking around with earphones in their ears listening to music that tunes out everything and everybody else. As a result, a fairly large majority of people are consciously disconnected from the world around them. It's as if everyone is saying – but not verbally – “I don't want to know how bad it's getting. Just let me go to work and collect my check every week while leaving all else alone, and I'll be fine.” Or, to put it another way, “I've got mine. How are you doing? Oh, gee, that's too bad.” Jesus said, “A kingdom divided against itself cannot stand”. Although those words were uttered 2,000 years ago, they are very descriptive of the US today.

America has two seperate but directly related problems that are ongoing as I write this. They both have to do with an unofficial invasion, one from without and one from within. On one hand, there is a relatively tiny but rapidly growing minority of Americans, mainly young people, who are being recruited over the Internet to join Islamic fighters in the Middle East. After being radicalized and trained, they are brainwashed into becoming suicide bombers, some for the army of ISIS, others for militant groups like Hamas or Hezbollah, and some who come back to the US while awaiting their marching orders. The same thing has been happening in Europe and Great Britain but for a longer period of time. After European recruits return home following their training, they become sleeper cells waiting for their monent to strike. At least two such attacks have already been carried out as I wite this. So goes Europe, so goes America. The American teens sneaking out of the country now will be returning, many within weeks or months, to serve as Islamic sleeper cells right here in the USA. Terrorist attacks that could make 9-11 look like child's play will soon follow, and undoubtedly at a time when we least expect it.

The second problem America has with organized infiltration has to do with China. As you problably know, if a foreign national such as a Mexican woman travels to the US and gives birth, the baby born in the US is automatically an American citizen by law. A 'baby tourist' industry has sprung up because of this law, but up until about 10 years ago most babies born here to foreign mothers were from Mexico or Central America. But for the last 5-10 years or more, the first-place crown for countries with the most foreign-born babies isn't Mexico any more, it's China. Why would Chinese women want to have a baby in a country so far away from their homeland? It's not so much because of the women as it is their government, and its root cause is money – or more accurately, debt. The US has a national debt of over $17 trillion dollars, which is 17 with 12 zero's after it, and that's plus interest that continues to add up even as I write this. The one country who holds the majority of this debt is China. Needless to say, the US government, or more accurately the Federal Reserve, can not physically print the money fast enough to pay the debt off no matter how hard they run their printing presses. So, America is insolvent, the government in Washington knows it, and China knows it too. But, trying to foreclose on part or all of America's debt could be tricky, with serious military as well as economic implications. So, China appears to be taking a pragmatic kind of approach – they're going to invade America one person at a time. All they have to do is keep right on doing what they have been for the last ten years or more – sponsor the births of whole armies of American-born Chinese children and bring them back home to raise them. Once they're of age, they can simply emigrate to America legally and flood the country with Chinese expatriates. Why invade America when China can simply emigrate its invasion force and have them legally buy up everything in sight for pennies on the dollar? And yet the majority of Americans either refuse to see this because they can't or won't deal with it, or they are so wrapped up in their digital coccoons that they don't care. By the time they realize what's been happening, it will already be too late for them. To me, the worst thing of all is that the churches aren't addressing the issue from the pulpit, this one excepted. Why aren't more US churches warning their congregations? Because the church leaders are resting on their laurels instead of sounding the alarm! All pastors who did not practice their due diligence while leading their flocks will be left behind at the rapture of the church. That's not my opinion, that's a prophecy!

America, the giant of the 20th century, will go out with barely a whimper in the 21st century unless drastic change happens fast. It's all foretold in Revelation chapter 18, where it is written, “Therefore in one day her plagues will overtake her: death, mourning, 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 for her. Terrified at her torment, they will stand far off and cry 'Woe! Woe! Woe, oh great city, O Babylon, city of power! In one hour your doom has come!'” (Rev. 18, verses 8-10 NIV) The “great city” is most likely New York, or possibly Washington, DC, there's no way to tell with certainty. But the reason the US political and monetary systems are broken are because of all the dirty corporate money in politics, and you can be sure that God is incensed with all ther corruption in our nation's capital. Do our nation's leaders think they can hide their activities from God? So, change cannot come from within because the same groups of people are being re-elected because the election system itself is broken, and in some cases outright rigged. To borrow a phrase, change will have to come from the bottom up instead of from the top down. Change from the top down can't work when the system is rigged in favor of the top 1% of America's economic pecking order. So it will have to take place as a large-scale grassroots movement of the American people from all over this land. The only question remaining is whether the coming revolt will be peaceful or otherwise.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Eric Ludy - The Gospel

Christianity, the Drug War, and Legalization

I have had my first complaint this week about my new website. On the Welcome Page there are a number of photos that are descriptive of this ministry and what it's trying to accomplish. One of them was a picture of a marijuana plant, and the caption read, “legalize, regulate and tax marijuana”. Since I've been pro-legalization since the 1970's, and since God made that plant along with all the rest of them (see Genesis chapter 1 verse 11) it was only natural that I include it in my website. But someone – I won't say who – complained about my posting that photo on the Web, so as of today I have replaced it with another. If anyone else was offended by that photo, then I will apologize for that, but not for my reasons why I posted it there. Inspired by this experience, I broke out and updated this 2012 posting about the drug war, which has become even more relevant today than it was when I first wrote it. So, read on and enjoy!

Are America's Drug Laws in Line With God's Laws?
By Rev. Paul J. Bern

The Bible says in the Old Testament “Obey the laws of the land in which you are living, so that it may go well for you where you abide”. This is always good advice. Jail is no place for anyone to be, and it is that way by design to deter crime. But what if the laws we are duty-bound to obey run contrary to the Bible? Is it possible for a man-made law to be contrary to the Bible's teachings? And if so, should we still obey it? Is there an example of this anywhere in the Bible?

The answer to all of these is an emphatic yes. The most obvious example of this would be the crucifixion of Christ Jesus himself. If we take all the religious teaching in the Bible and set it aside for just a moment, we find that from a purely historical perspective Jesus was crucified as a criminal because He preached against organized government and organized religion. It is not well understood by many people that the teachings of Christ were revolutionary in their time, a fact that the modern church is not teaching (excluding mine), much to their discredit. When Jesus taught, he spent much more time with the common people than He did at the temple at Jerusalem, where His teachings were met with much consternation among the religious establishment of that time. He was viewed by the political and religious establishment as a threat, and so they put Him to death, not realizing that He would only be in the grave for three days. Another example would be in the book of Daniel in the Old Testament. When Daniel refused to bow down to the god of king Nebuchadnezzar, the king had Daniel thrown into the lions den, only to emerge a few minutes later unharmed. When the king sentenced Shadrac, Meshac, and Abednigo to the firey furnace that was heated up to 7 times hotter than normal (see Daniel chapter, they too were unharmed. Instead, the king looked into the furnace and saw four men instead of three, “and the fourth man looked like the Son of Man”, which was Jesus Christ. Jesus stood with Shadrac, Meshac, and Abednigo in king Nebuchadnezzar's great furnace and protected them from harm. He did so despite the fact that they had been given a death sentence by the governmental authority of their day.

The most relevant question to ask at this point is whether there is an example of this in modern times, and how it applies to us. The unfortunate answer in this case is also an emphatic yes, and I am talking about the criminalization of marijuana (and its cousin, hemp, one of the most useful plants that exists with numerous applications) in this country. (Beg your pardon, pastor? Marijuana! Been smoking any?) Before anyone jumps to conclusions or judges me for my words, I have two Scriptural examples of what I am talking about. Just hold your thoughts for a moment for a quick check of God's Word. In the book of Acts in the New Testament, it says the following in chapter ten:

About noon the following day as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up … to pray. He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles of the earth and birds of the air. Then a voice told him 'Get up Peter, kill and eat!'. 'Surely not Lord', Peter replied, 'I have never eaten anything impure and unclean'. The voice spoke to him a second time 'Do not call anything impure that God has made clean'. This happened three times, and then the sheet was taken back to heaven.” (Acts 10, 9-16 NIV)

Now let's hold that thought while we go back to the book of Genesis, the first book in the Old Testament, to the very first chapter. It states in verses 11 through 13:

Then God said, 'Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds'. And it was so. The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seeds according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with their seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning the third day.” (Genesis 1, verses 11-13, NIV)

And so, it really jumps out at us in Genesis that God made all the plant life and fauna on earth and then “saw that it was good”. And yet cannabis is outlawed as a dangerous schedule one narcotic, when in fact it is not. Never mind that nobody ever died or overdosed from smoking weed, while cigarettes kill 50,000 people per year and overdoses of legal prescription drugs kill 100,000 more, not counting suicides. On the other hand, medical uses for cannabis are well documented, such as being effective for glaucoma and chemotherapy patients as well as some (but not all) mental health patients, among other things. There are literally millions of others like me who are clamoring for legalization. Moreover, in a poll just released this week 52% of all Americans want cannabis (its proper name) and hemp (its cousin which has literally tons of commercial applications, including biofuel) to be legalized. If either or both were to be legalized, regulated and taxed, it would create an agricultural and industrial bonanza, creating several million new jobs, maybe even more.

The Bible admonishes us to “not call anything unclean that God has made clean”. Peter, who was the equivalent of an orthodox Jew in today's world, protested to God against breaking the religious laws of the time. He was forbidden from eating the meat from certain animals based on the Law of Moses, the Jewish religious doctrine of that time, which is known as the Old Testament today. But God told Peter in his vision that it was okay, that His laws superseded the legal system of the day. This is noticeably consistent with the teachings of Christ, who taught that His teachings were a new agreement between mankind and God that replaced the Old Testament. Today, being a Christian means being “born again” and receiving a new life in Christ, with all our sins against God, our mistakes and character flaws, our personality defects and moral shortcomings of our past being canceled out by the blood of Christ. And so we become fortunate enough through our newly found favor with God to not be charged with any penalty for the sins and errors of our past, provided we turn away from evil and focus ourselves on dong good so we may honor the holy name of the Lord.

Let me be absolutely clear that we are being lied to by our government about the “dangers” of marijuana use. Cannabis, as it is called in much of the rest of the world, is erroneously classified by the Drug Enforcement Administration as a schedule one narcotic. A narcotic is defined as a barbiturate (downers) or an amphetamine (uppers). It is a manufactured substance made up of certain chemicals which can be physically addictive when abused. Yet these two classes of drugs are legal in spite of their inherent dangers. The USDEA, on the other hand, has classified marijuana as a dangerous narcotic when in fact it is neither. Marijuana is nothing more than a plant. It is not manufactured and it contains no added harmful chemicals or physically addictive tendencies. God put the marijuana plant on this earth for mankind's use. It has medicinal properties that are well documented. I use (on a part-time basis for financial reasons) medical cannabis because it cures or alleviates the symptoms of my bipolar disorder, my post traumatic stress disorder, and my chronic back pain. It is beneficial and never dangerous provided that it is used responsibly. AIDS patients use it because it helps them regain their appetite. There is study after study published in various medical journals going back decades that prove that marijuana used for medical and recreational purposes is harmless when used in reasonable quantities. That's why we should, as in times of old, “not call anything impure that God has made clean”. Who do the abusive authoritarians think they are to criminalize God by outlawing that which He created? All this proves is their colossal arrogance and their extreme closed-mindedness.

So do I think everybody should start smoking pot? Of course not! But this does not mean it's for everybody. For example, certain individuals may be allergic to weed, or they may dislike the smell of the smoke, or have other personal or legal reservations about its use. As Paul wrote in his letter to the church in Rome, “Everything is permissible, but not everything is beneficial”. What's good for one person may not be so for another. Many people drink and have no problem with it while others abstain by choice, and each is equally entitled to their opinion. Is this a contradiction in the Bible then? Not at all. You will recall that I stated that Christ replaced the Old Testament with the New when He died on the cross and then rose from the dead after three days. So if we obey the new law, the law of Christ, obeying the laws of the land should come naturally without effort. But the criminalization of marijuana that calls pot “dangerous” and “a narcotic” makes something “unclean” of a part of God's creation that He has “made clean” (by its very creation). That's why the marijuana laws in this country run contrary to God's laws.

What should we do? If medical marijuana ever comes up for a vote in your state, vote yes. In the meantime, try to be a law-abiding citizen, understanding that not all of the laws on the books are good ones. Some, like the drug laws, are there for the wrong reasons because they are protecting the wrong people. That's why the drug laws are bad ones. We live in a world that is basically evil, but there is still much good despite all that. The Bible can teach us to learn to differentiate between the two for our own benefit.