Sunday, October 30, 2016
If God Sent An Email To Our Leaders
By Rev. Paul J. Bern
Given the state of affairs of leadership in general throughout the world, and particularly here in the US with the current crop of Christian “leaders” such as Sarah Pailin, Mitt Romney, Mike Huckaby and Michelle Bachman, I can't help but wonder what God must be thinking about all this. As you recall, Mr. Romney stated during the closing days of his 2012 presidential campaign that, if elected president, his first act as chief executive would be to launch an airstrike on Iran. Keep in mind that this is the same guy who is opposed to abortion and who calls himself “pro-life”. He fights for the rights of the unborn, but if you're already alive and living in Iran, you're toast. Go figure.
Of course, if you live in Syria, where the government is slaughtering the governed and where there is no oil, you're on your own. Yet in Iraq, where there is plenty of oil, we have occupied that country since 2003 while killing over 1,000,000 Iraqi civilians, over half of whom were women and children. But that war was supposed to be different because we toppled a terrible dictator. Never mind that that same dictator, none other than Saddam Hussein himself, was a former CIA collaborator and “asset”. So much for loyalty among allies. Yes, that's what our country has been doing in the Middle East since Gulf War 1 in 1990-91. And it is the American military-industrial-incarceration complex that has been doing this same thing throughout the globe since the Cold War of the 20th century.
Meanwhile here at home, one person in five depends on SNAP benefits to eat. Lots of people can't afford medical care or insurance so they show up at emergency rooms, only when they absolutely have to, knowing that the medical bills they are about to incur will bankrupt them. Twenty four million Americans can't find sufficient work (if any), but since they can't afford to go back to school and get retrained because of the staggering cost of America's for-profit higher education system, they remain stuck in their situation with no relief in sight. As I wrote in my first book, “The Middle and Working Class Manifesto” (scroll down after clicking the link), our country has more than enough money to pay for lifetime medical care and higher education for every single American who wants either or both. All they have to do is call off all the endless wars and bring our troops home.
As I explained in this 2011 book, if the US government took all the money that is spent in just one day on the wars/occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan and put it into an interest-bearing bank account, there would be ample funding for 4-year college educations for every school kid in America from pre-K through high school, including tuition, books, housing, food and transportation. Internet too. Yeah, just one day's war expenditures would do that. Besides, there is sufficient legal precedent in doing this very thing in the form of the GI Bill that was passed by Congress after the end of World War 2. If they could reeducate G.I.'s back then (and that law remains in effect), they can do it for everybody now.
But what do we have instead? Overseas military adventures purely for the sake of economic domination by the US against any country regardless of cost. This is not just unsustainable, it is sheer madness! Our government has been taken over by a bunch of psychopaths. They operate from behind the scenes bent on world conquest at any cost, failing to understand that the “superpower” era is over, and they are an integral part of the so-called “new world order”. Unless they are stopped they will take the world over the brink of the abyss of World War 3. Yet these people are, by and large, religious conservatives of one church denomination or another. Their counterparts in the Muslim world are similarly conservative religious fundamentalists. Only their names for God are different. Yet, as far as I am concerned, there is only one true God who is undoubtedly far greater than the sum of all the world's different religious faiths combined. If this very same almighty God, who is “The Great I Am”, sent us an email about all this mess down here on earth, I think it would be worded something like this:
“My children, I appear before you now to bestow upon you a supplemental to the New Testament. I offer this directly to the peoples of earth, without intermediary, cleric, or agent of any kind. Circumstances have compelled me to sever all ties, contracts and assignments with my earthly representatives. I have been, in fact, very dissatisfied with their performance of their duties for some time. Children get molested in some churches, adultery runs rampant in others, while still others have turned their churches into businesses and have enriched themselves with material possessions beyond all reason. You pastors and evangelists who drive around in cars with six-figure price tags while flying around in your own jets, you know who you are. There's nothing wrong with having a nice car and a comfortable house, but a good bit of that plane money should have been used to feed the poor and house the homeless, whom you are ignoring. But the rape of Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan and other crimes committed in my name by the USA, not counting the additional war plans they have made, has forced my hand. All my earthly representatives are now terminated! They no longer speak for me.”
“Humankind, however, remains in my affections and always shall. But it would be remiss of me not to explain why I have taken such drastic measures. War displeases me. Five thousand years of war among the humans over the right way to pronounce my name, not to mention the earth's resources which I gave you, has exhausted my patience. I will no longer be responsible for any more murders committed under color of my authority. Although I do not require that you worship me in any certain way, I much prefer that you who claim to believe in me should put some legs on your faith. It's good when you fast and pray, but it's far better to go and find someone in need and doing whatever you can to help him or her.”
“Someone who goes to church every Sunday but does nothing more during the week is not as faithful in my eyes as someone who donates to charity, who volunteers their free time, who is a role model for the fatherless, or who visits the sick, the elderly and the prisoner, and someone who is a defender of the widow, the orphan, the homeless, the mentally ill, and other vulnerable individuals. I created you with a divine spark, in my image. But you persist in snuffing out that spark and destroying that image in those who don't agree with you about whether or not it is permitted to draw my face. Until you prove you can worship the divine spark I put in all of you, and desist from the mayhem and slaughter that you love more than me, I will summarily reject and disallow all your claims to my providence.”
“You have banded yourselves into tribes, nations and races and the results have not been pleasing to my eye. I take some responsibility for this distressing development; I should not have given you an earth so large. But had I started with a smaller Eden, you would have corrupted and polluted it until it became uninhabitable millenia ago. You have proven your refusal to understand the panoply of laws and wisdom I laid down for you when I set you upon the earth. I have been mistranslated by your spirit guides and abused by your leaders. Perhaps I was too complex. Let us try to simplify. Respect my creation and all the inhabitants thereof. Any so-called religious leader who tells you otherwise is a false prophet and does not represent me, my brethren or any part of my Kingdom which is to surely come.”
“Those of you who find comfort in organized religion may continue to do so. I understand – I created you as vessels for love and love rejoices in the presence of others. Keep your churches, mosques and synagogues, but cease your bickering. And remember, when you engage in bloodletting in My name, you commit blasphemy. I realize that in severing my ties with so many of the sects, denominations and "holy men" that you rely upon for moral guidance, I have created confusion where there was once certainty in your souls. But that cannot be helped. Your certainties were almost certainly wrong and most certainly misapplied.”
“But do not despair, my children, for I have not abandoned you. There is a little piece of me inside all of you, a fail-safe guide to good and evil, a moral compass that never leaves you, a true voice you can hear amid the storms of fire that drive you mad with hatred and confusion. It is called your conscience and it always points upward. Follow it and you will be walking in my light. Ignore it and you'll be lost in the darkness cast by your own shadow. Here is your New, New Testament, starting with Commandment One:”
“I have given you a conscience. Use it.”
“Sort that out to my satisfaction and maybe next millennium we can talk about the dietary laws.”
Sunday, October 23, 2016
Ways to Fight Back Against an Evil and Dangerous World
By Rev. Paul J. Bern
America's electoral process plows ahead towards what could turn out to be a Constitutional meltdown, although I sure hope not. Meanwhile, ever greater numbers of our senior citizens live into their 100's while mired in poverty. The horrific specter of terrorism rears its ugly head as it spreads globally, threatening everything in its path over, ironically, religious differences. One priest/minister saves lepers and drives out demons, another abuses kids. One Nazi ran the ovens while others hid Jews. There's life and death, positive and negative, good and bad in all kinds of folks, even the 'bad' ones. And when we marvel at those contradictions we have a ready explanation. There's good and bad everywhere, in all races, nations, societies. We have yet to bridge our differences in race or culture or nationality or faith, but at least we can all agree on that simple truth while we continue to work on all the others.
We live in a 21st century of instant communication, jumbo jets, knowledge and computing power that grow exponentially, and everything on social media all the time. Nations are beginning to blur; races, ethnicities and various nationalities are mixing, our globe has shrunk to an overheated marble, yet the world seems more fractured than ever. So much divides us while so much more scares us half to death, like the ever-present threat of nuclear war, or a sudden and unexpected job layoff. What unites us? Religion? It could, but having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ is much better, because it can unite us all when put into practice, as it is written, “Here is a trustworthy saying: If we died with Him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we disown him, he will also disown us; if we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself.” (2nd Timothy chapter 2, verses 11-13) Meaning that Jesus Christ, as always, is and has the answers we are all searching for. The maximum number of true Gods is only one. Yet we've been waging wars for millennia over what to call him and whether he likes his picture shown or not. But while religions, unfortunately, can't agree on the real nature of God, they're remarkably close on people. There is near universal agreement on what makes a good one.
Be kind to people, treat your neighbors well, be hospitable to strangers, pray for your enemies instead of attacking them, love one another, live honestly, and a dozen other virtues seem to comprise the teachings of Jesus. Its a definition of being as close to 'the perfect human' as we can possibly be. All societies agree on them without exception. It's as plain as daytime in the Bible, starting with the four gospels. Humankind has been speaking these words since the first philosopher carved cuneiform into clay.
We must have an instinctive sense of goodness taught by our parents, teachers, pastors and all others who chip in to get the next generation on the right path in life. Goodness is not born into us. The Bible reprimands us that, “All have sinned and fallen short of God's glory” (Romans 3: 22-23). Rather than saying we are all sinners, which is still ever so true, let me put this in a more modern context. We – every last one of us, all of humanity, myself included – are born with a natural enmity towards our Creator. We are like disobedient children, wild horses that cannot be broken in, or dogs that cannot be trained. Not all of us are particularly grateful for being alive, some simply presume they're supposed to be here.
Moreover, since God made us all with a free will, we are prone to abuse it without considering the consequences first. Many of us have no relationship with God at all, for various reasons that I will decline to judge, at least for now. That's what “sinful nature” means. We also agree on what makes a bad person: The manipulator, the cheater, the bully, the taker, the liar, the murderer and the thief. We know who we are. The vast majority of us try not to hurt people. We try not to cheat, lie and steal and we're ashamed of ourselves when life drives us to those ends, or when things don't go according to plan. We profess peace on earth and goodwill towards men, yet we Americans in particular look the other way while the USDoD continues to stockpile nuclear weapons. And for ten thousand years we've let the bad people push us around and tell us what to do and whom to do it to. We've let them dominate us because they were mean and ruthless enough to force us, and we were too soft or lazy to stop them until they did terrible damage. We should not ever hesitate to stop evil people.
Bad people are very hard to ignore. You can't avoid a bad person if he or she happens to be your boss at work. And that happens a lot, because bad people seem disproportionately to occupy corner offices and seats on the Board of Directors. They know how to play the cynical, cold hearted game of office politics. That can be rough on you if you work with them. But the worst people also know how to play the high-stakes game of real politics, and that's rough on everybody. Bad people hate, and they convince ordinary good people to hate the same things. Oh sure, there are always a few saints who rise above the evil that bad people do, and they usually die for it. We know about them posthumously from the Bible (Christ's crucifixion, the story of Stephen in Acts 6, 7 & 8, etc.), the King and Kennedy assassinations of the 1960's, stories about 9/11, and books about the Holocaust.
But those aren't good people, they're great people, and we can't count on them because they don't come along every day. But there are always plain old good people around, because there's good and bad in all kinds. To borrow a truism, the only reason bad people succeed is because good people stand by and do nothing. And so this is a call to arms for good people everywhere! We have to stop following the bad people immediately! Without us, bad people lose their power, bad governments lose their legitimacy, ditto for these huge corporations that pollute the earth and poison our food and water. Does anyone reading this who believes in a Higher Power seriously believe that God has not seen all this? Is there anyone remaining who does not understand that God is sitting back waiting for just the right time, just the right set of circumstances and for the worst possible moment to unleash the fury he has stored up for those who know only violence, death and cruelty??
Good people everywhere, I'm speaking to every one of you. We need to go on strike against the world! Let's tell the bullies and haters they no longer exist as far as we're concerned. Let's tell the warmongers we refuse to go to foreign lands and fight their wars, because we don't want to have to kill any more people for the benefit of a few. Let's laugh at the conspiracies of their 'intelligence communities', reject the twisted right wing-nut theories of “American exceptional-ism”, and refuse to be provoked by the aggression of small minorities. Let's tell them we won't play their deadly games anymore! Let's tell them it's over! We're not going to buy their stuff any more, either!Let's tell all the capitalists where they can go with all their junky merchandise, and exactly how to get there! Maybe we can give them an island where they can fight it out to their black hearts' content. Greenland comes to mind, so does Antarctica. Maybe they'll all just kill each other off there, on the island of the damned. Maybe then, and only then, the rest of us can finally have some peace and quiet.
Sunday, October 16, 2016
The Confrontation Between Russia and the US Found In the Bible, and the Outcome Doesn't Look Very Good For America
by Rev. Paul J. Bern
I'm quite sure everyone is well aware by now of the rising tensions between Russia and the United States over Syria, the Ukraine, and the Crimean peninsula. Although the roots of US-Russo tension go back to the late 1940's, let me give a brief history of events between the two countries over the last 7 years or so. In March 2007, the U.S. announced plans to build an anti-ballistic missile defense installation in Poland along with a radar station in the Czech Republic. U.S. officials said that the system was intended to protect the United States and Europe from possible nuclear missile attacks by Iran or North Korea. Russia, however, viewed the new system as a potential threat. Vladimir Putin warned the U.S. that these new tensions could turn Europe into a "powder keg". On 3 June 2007, Putin warned that if the U.S. built the missile defense system, Russia would consider targeting missiles at Poland and the Czech Republic. On 16 October 2007, Vladimir Putin visited Iran to discuss Russia's aid to Iran's nuclear power program and "insisted that the use of force was unacceptable." Despite U.S.-Russia relations becoming strained during the Bush administration, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and U.S. President Barack Obama struck a warm tone at the 2009 G20 summit in London and released a joint statement that promised a "fresh start" in U.S.-Russia relations.
In May 2012, Russian General Nikolay Yegorovich Makarov said that there is a possibility of a preemptive strike on missile defense sites in Eastern Europe, to apply pressure to the United States regarding Russia's demands. In July 2012, two Tu-95 Bear bombers were intercepted by NORAD fighters in the air defense zone off the U.S. coast of Alaska, where they may have been practicing the targeting of Fort Greely and Vandenberg Air Force Base. Later in August 2012, it was revealed that an Akula-class submarine had conducted a patrol within the Gulf of Mexico without being detected, raising alarms of the U.S. Navy's anti-submarine warfare capabilities. Following the collapse of the government of Viktor Yanukovych in Ukraine, in March 2014 Russia annexed Crimea on the basis of a controversial referendum. The U.S. submitted a UN Security Council resolution declaring the referendum to be illegal; it was vetoed by Russia on March 15 that same year; China abstained and the other 13 Security Council members voted for the resolution. As unrest spread into eastern Ukraine in the spring of 2014, relations between the U.S. and Russia worsened. Russian support for separatists fighting Ukrainian forces attracted U.S. sanctions. After one bout of sanctions announced by President Obama on July 16, 2014, Putin said sanctions were driving Russia into a corner that could bring relations between the two countries to a "dead-end”.
From March 2014 to 2016, six rounds of sanctions were imposed by the US, the EU, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Japan. Due to the situation concerning Ukraine, relations between the United States and Russia are at their worst since the end of the Cold war. In early October 2015, U.S. president Obama called the way Russia was conducting its military campaign in Syria a "recipe for disaster"; top U.S. military officials ruled out military cooperation with Russia in Syria. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter and other senior U.S. officials said Russia's campaign was primarily aimed at propping up Assad, whom U.S. president Barack Obama had repeatedly called upon to leave power. Since then there have been incidents where Russian aircraft have flown by, and narrowly missed, US Navy ships patrolling in the North Sea and the Caspian Sea. Russian military aircraft have been intercepted off the Alaskan and California coasts while they were probing Us military defenses. As tensions continue to rise between these two countries, the risk of a nuclear exchange greatly increases. Being a resident of a large metropolitan area, my only consolation in the event of a nuclear attack would be that my death would likely be instantaneous.
These worrisome trends can be found in the Bible in a number of places. Since much has been written and discussed about the Book of Revelation, with some of the teaching being very good and some not so much, I will bypass that for now. Today, I want to compare what is written in the Book of Jeremiah chapter 51 with current events, and I find some alarming similarities. For example, verses 6-9 read as follows: “Flee from Babylon! Run for your lives! Do not be destroyed because of her sins. It is time for the Lord's vengeance; he will repay her what she deserves. Babylon was a gold cup in the Lord's hand; she made the whole earth drunk. The nations drank her wine; therefore they have now gone mad. Babylon will fall and be broken. Wail over her! Get balm for her pain; perhaps she can be healed. We would have healed Babylon, but she cannot be healed; let us leave her and each go to his own land, for her judgment reaches to the skies, it rises as high as the clouds.”
Babylon? What was the prophet Jeremiah writing about here? One thing for sure – it wasn't the ancient Babylonian Empire, which had conquered ancient Israel by the time this was written. Although there are a number of places in the Bible that can be cross-referenced with this, one of the most extensive is in Revelation chapter 18. To sum it up, “mystery Babylon”, as it is called there, turns out to be the USA (please see http://wp.me/p4uvMi-ep for a fully detailed commentary, it's just a 5-minute read). So when Jeremiah wrote that we should flee for our lives, it wasn't just a suggestion. He was imploring all to whom this prophecy applied to get the heck out of there. A lot of Americans – thousands each month, both Christian and secular – have been going to live in other countries for quite some time now, and they are leaving in increasing numbers. Many of them say they made the decision to leave after reading Jeremiah 51. “Do not be destroyed because of her sins. It is time for the Lord's vengeance; he will repay her what she deserves.” What sins was Jeremiah writing about here? Where should I start, I wonder? Polluting the earth would be one. The nations of the world, with China being the worst offender and America following close behind, have poisoned earth's land and waters to the point that huge masses of animals are dying off all at once. More people suffer respiratory ailments, from asthma to lung cancer, due to air pollution than die each year from cigarette smoking!
Oppression would be another sin. According to Wikipedia, the US is currently involved in 75 conflicts all over the world. These wars of various types are all being fought over natural resources for the exclusive benefit of the American Empire and the super-rich elites who control it, to the complete detriment of everyone else. This American oppression continues unabated here at home too – just ask any person of color or other minorities and you'll likely get an earful. The other, and biggest, sin is the eviction of God and Jesus Christ from our governments and our schools. If there are those who want “freedom from religion” as they call it, then that is entirely their affair. I will respect their beliefs so long as they respect mine and that of other Christian folks, that's what the 1st Amendment to the US Constitution is there for. To prevent school-age kids from being taught about any theological subjects is a different matter altogether. That's not what our Constitution says at all, and humankind has offended God in this regard whether they realize it or not! “...she made the whole earth drunk. The nations drank her wine; therefore they have now gone mad.” I don't think Jeremiah was talking about alcoholic beverages here, I think he was referring to excessive wealth and profit – materialism, if you like – resulting from the US being the economic and military center of the world. After all, riches, fame and fortune can all be intoxicating as well, and even more so.
“Babylon will fall and be broken... We would have healed Babylon, but she cannot be healed; … her judgment reaches to the skies, it rises as high as the clouds.” This could not be more clear. Other nations would have helped us out when America falls, but there will be nothing anyone can do. “Her judgment... rises as high as the clouds”. To me at least, this sure looks like Jeremiah was describing a large mushroom cloud from an atomic blast. As I said in the beginning, this looks very much like it's not going to end well for the US. How far into the future this prophecy is, no one can say for sure. The rest of chapter 51 is equally inflammatory towards “Babylon”. Let me quote one more time from further down in this same chapter: “You who live by many waters and who are rich in treasures, your end has come, the time for you to be cut off. The Lord Almighty has sworn by himself: I will surely fill you with men, as with a swarm of locusts, and they will shout in triumph over you.” (Jeremiah 51: 13-14) “you who live by many waters” is an unmistakable reference to the USA. What other country is besides many waters (having two coasts) and rich in treasure? “To be cut off” means being cut down or pruned decisively, When written in reference to a country, people or nation it means military defeat. So this is unmistakable! We better start praying for America, that we would be spared her fate! We had better start praying for world peace as well, meaning the return of Jesus Christ, because without him there can be no peace. In the meantime, I'm considering applying for a passport, but I will still be praying while I wait for it to arrive.
Monday, October 10, 2016
Sunday, October 9, 2016
Weeping For Aleppo
by Rev. Paul J. Bern
The Syrian Civil War has been raging for five years now. It is, to say the least, a multifaceted conflict. Aleppo is the capitol city of Syria, with roughly the same population as Houston, Texas. One of the primary reasons it's in the news a lot is because the rebel-held, eastern part is one of the hardest-hit areas of the war. We're talking airstrikes and food, water and supply shortages affecting hundreds of thousands of people. There are a thousand reasons why you may not care about Aleppo. The question is, what's the one reason why you would? Things that happen far away, to people we have never known from areas of the world we have no connection to, don't hit us as hard as whatever is happening at home. So if you don't particularly care about the Syrian civil war, or the crisis it's created in places like the city of Aleppo, I think it's high time you did. Even as you read this, the world is watching the exploding humanitarian catastrophe known as the Syrian civil war unfold in real time. But this disaster should surprise no one: It is the natural result of a series of policy decisions that led to the current diplomatic standoff. Step by step, the very nature of humanitarian access and relief has almost been redefined in Syria.
The Syrian civil war has laid bare a great deal, including the world's unwillingness to intervene to stop civilians from being killed in their beds and on their streets, in a conflict that has pinned them down in their homes. Every time those close to the war think things have sunk as barbarically low as imaginable – from bombing convoys to starving towns – things get even worse. For many of those in the US government who have worked on Syria policy for years, the overwhelming sense of frustration has made the bloodshed nearly impossible to watch, in part because of its predictability. Grief-stricken families embracing in the rubble of what used to be their home – a home like any other, and probably similar to yours. Mothers and fathers crouching over their dead children as they sob uncontrollably together. A father and son, crushed in place under the wreckage of another airstrike. And these aren't even among the most iconic images. This is every hour, every day. That's five elementary school classrooms gone in a matter of days. That's more children than you likely know by name. That's only one week of fighting. When we say trapped, we mean Aleppo's citizens literally cannot leave. Roads out of parts of the city are under constant attack. That doesn't only mean people can't leave, it means things can't get in; things like food, water, medicine and fuel.
Take Houston off the map. Yes, the whole darn city. Or Atlanta, or Miami and then some. Do you live in Lansing, Michigan? Destroy it – four times over. That's the number of people who have been killed in five years of fighting in Syria. It's easy to think that, if things were really that bad, someone would surely be doing something about it. That's the whole point. The world is trying and failing. The US can't decide whether to authorize military action against the Syrian regime. Ceasefires designed to help bring aid to people trapped in war-torn areas only last a matter of days. The biggest humanitarian crisis since World War II drags on. The ghosts of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars still looms large in Washington, but the question is, what lessons has it offered? Without question the conflict has prevented the Obama administration from committing sustained resources to stopping the carnage. Officials in Washington who for years argued for greater intervention could never prove that further American action would make things on the ground in Syria better, not worse. And so the status quo prevailed. And that status quo was to do little to address the conflict's root causes, but a great deal to fund help for refugees who were suffering the war's effects. Meanwhile, the carnage has continued.
The United Nations once spoke of a responsibility to protect and defend. In 2009 it said that in the face of war crimes, when a state was miserably failing to protect its population, then the international community was prepared to take collective action in a "timely and decisive manner." Yet there is nothing either timely or decisive about the world's approach to Syria, which has become the theater in which global and regional actors pursue their own goals, with Syrian mothers and fathers trapped in cities under attack paying the price. But this piece is not about dueling political aims; it is about the shared misery of those on the ground and an international community that has failed them. What is life in Aleppo like now? Bombing in plain sight. Hospitals crushed under the weight of the injured and the dying. Food and water supplies dwindling. Medical supplies limited to almost nothing, leaving anesthesia near nonexistent and babies dying without functioning ventilators on the dirty floors of the few overwhelmed facilities that remain standing. And all of it is happening in real time as the city's life and death is captured on social media and shared with the world. And yet the world seems to have stopped watching. And the international community is now shown to be impotent in the face of what the British ambassador to the United Nations termed "war crimes."
That has been the pattern for years, only now the death toll is growing even higher and the "barbarism," to quote Samantha Power, the US ambassador to the United Nations, has grown more bold. For those on the ground in Aleppo and other areas under siege, it is clear that no one is prepared to stop the carnage everyone can see and many had predicted. The pictures may be on phones and screens within easy reach, but a solution to ending the bloodshed remains much further away. We don't want to lose hope, but in the end if you look at the situation it seems hopeless, that we can't do anything, so the world is just watching. People keep on dying and the situation continues to get worse and worse, with no end in sight, and no plan to help those children in Aleppo from facing death the next time they go outside to play on their streets. From the very beginning of this on-line ministry, this blog, and this website, I have vigorously opposed and vehemently stood against warfare in all its forms. There is no ideology that can justify mass murder, no economic or governmental policy that justifies terrorizing an entire populace, and at the end of the day that's what warfare is! What's all this killing for, for what purpose? If we pause to step back and examine the reasons for warfare, I see two little words coming to my mind – pillage and plunder. Or, if anyone prefers, criminal activity are two other words that could be substituted. Jesus summed this point up perfectly when He said, “Those who live by the sword will die by the sword.”
Of course, I can practically hear all these 'conservative Christians' say these wars are necessary to address the perceived threat of militant Islam. They are likely excoriating me even as they read this (if any of them are actually reading this at all), stating that I'm not patriotic enough, or that if I don't help kill more Muslims they will be at my doorstep to kill me. Problem is, this is the kind of thinking that gets wars started in the first place! Still others would – and do – say that if America doesn't take a more aggressive stance in the Middle East in order to protect and defend “our” oil, that we will be cut off from “our” petroleum reserves and suffer a military and economic defeat of unimaginable proportions. The problem I have with that is the internal combustion engine is at the end of its useful life span. At the very least, America should have converted over to much cleaner-burning natural gas decades ago after the Arab Oil Embargo of the 1970's. At best, the US should have engaged in a crash-program of developing battery and solar-powered cars and trucks, again starting decades ago, but no! There's still too much oil in the ground for the 'big oil' companies to simply walk away from, there's too much profit to be made! Never mind that all those car, bus and truck engines and slowly asphyxiating our planet – the only one we've got! Never mind that more people die from respiratory illnesses caused by pollution globally than from cigarette smoking! We Americans, I conclude, are indirectly responsible for the catastrophe of Aleppo. Those who support 'blood for oil' – mainly the US political, military and corporate systems and their respective organizations and entities, are accessories to the murder of hundreds of thousands just in Aleppo alone, not counting the remainder of Syria. Moreover, the fact that these are primarily Muslims who are dying is, to me at least, completely beside the point! And what is the point? Murder, no matter what the context or circumstances, is wrong. Period, end of story. And so, I sit here at home today and I silently weep. I, too, weep for Aleppo.
Sunday, October 2, 2016
Criminalizing America's Poor and People of Color
by Rev. Paul J. Bern
The number of laws criminalizing poverty and race are increasing as police shootings and homelessness worsens in America. From 2006 to 2012 there was a 12 percent increase in laws prohibiting camping out in public places, a 14 percent increase in laws prohibiting loitering, a 9 percent increase in laws prohibiting begging and a 8 percent increase in laws prohibiting “aggressive panhandling” (I would call that 'frantic begging by some really scared and desperate people'), according to a 2013 report by The National Coalition for the Homeless. At the same time, after a double-digit jump in 2008, homelessness increased by an average of 7 percent from 2009 to 2010, and an additional 7% increase from 2010 to 2012, according to the U.S. Conference of Mayors' Task Force on Hunger and Homelessness.
Since 2012, America's twin social diseases, poverty and racism, have increased even more. At the rate this problem is growing, somewhere between 1 in 3 to 1 in 4 people will be homeless in America in another 15 years or so. That's how severe homelessness is becoming even as I write this. Among families with children, homelessness increased by 14 percent from 2012 to 2015, the last year for which figures are currently available. An average of 33 percent of homeless persons did not receive any assistance at all in 2015 because there weren't enough beds in the shelters, or because homeless shelters would not accept women (or men) with children. So, if you have kids and you wind up homeless in America, too bad for you! You and your children will freeze together in the cold. If you die from exposure to the elements on some January night, at least you'll all go out together. Gee, isn't that nice! And do these shelters who routinely discriminate against single parents and their kids think that God doesn't see what they are doing, or that He doesn't care? You can be sure that God will eternally punish these goody-two-shoes, self appointed public servants most severely!!
In today's economy, cities are facing really tight budgets, so they are often unable to build up or fund housing to meet this need. Many people are being forced to live out on the streets. The lucky ones get to sleep in their cars. The unlucky ones are found the following morning, beaten or frozen to death. In an essay published in 2012 in The Guardian, Barbara Ehrenreich, author of the New York Times bestselling book "Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America," tells the story of a 62-year-old disabled veteran who was dragged from a homeless shelter to jail because he had an outstanding warrant for "criminal trespassing," which is how Washington, D.C., defines sleeping on the streets. In some areas of the country, cities are even beginning to crack down on well-meaning individuals who want to hand out free food to the homeless. Las Vegas passed an ordinance forbidding the sharing of food with any "person whom a reasonable ordinary person would believe to be entitled to apply for or receive" public assistance. In Florida, Gainesville law limits the number of people soup kitchens may serve daily. In Phoenix, zoning officials actually stopped a local church from serving breakfast to homeless people.
Then, of course, there are the spate of police shootings. According to Minute News Press, “Though Americans commonly believe law enforcement’s role in society is to protect them and ensure peace and stability within the community, the sad reality is that police departments are often more focused on enforcing laws, making arrests and issuing citations. As a result of this, as well as an increase in militarized policing techniques, Americans are eight times more likely to be killed by a police officer than by a terrorist, estimates a Washington’s Blog report based on official statistical data. Though the U.S. government does not have a database collecting information about the total number of police involved shootings each year, it’s estimated that between 600 and 1,000 Americans are killed by police officers each year. Since 9/11, over 5,000 Americans have been killed by U.S. police officers, which is equivalent to the number of U.S. soldiers who were killed in the line of duty in Iraq.” In an article from November 11, 2014, USA Today reported, “Police killings highest in two decades”, and I quote, “The number of felony suspects fatally shot by police last year — 461— was the most in two decades, according to a new FBI report. The justifiable homicide count, contained in the FBI's annual Uniform Crime Report, has become increasingly scrutinized in recent months as questions continue to be raised about the use of lethal force by law enforcement. National attention has been drawn to cases from New York to Albuquerque, though much of the focus is on Ferguson, Mo., where the restive St. Louis suburb awaits the decision of a grand jury weighing the fatal shooting in August of a black teenager by a white police officer.” In the most egregious example to date that I know of, just this past week the police shot a six year old boy down in Florida. Six years old!!! Moreover, my black brothers and sisters are 2.5 times more likely to be shot by the police than whites. Considering that African-American people comprise about 15% of the US population, that number becomes even more disproportionate.
The phenomenon of criminalizing poverty isn't limited to the homeless, though. Speaking from experience – having been homeless myself up until 7 years ago – I would compare applying for welfare and food benefits – which often entails mug shots, fingerprinting and lengthy interrogations about child paternity – to being booked by the police. In Florida, legislators recently passed a law requiring welfare recipients to undergo drug screenings, according to CNN. In response to criticism from the ACLU over his decision to approve drug testing for welfare beneficiaries, former Florida Gov. Rick Scott told CNN the law encourages "personal accountability." People who can't afford to pay court fees or traffic tickets in Michigan are made to sit in jail. Pay-or-stay sentences are no choice for the poor. They translate to rich people pulling out a credit card and going home and poor people going to jail. It's a modern-day debtor's prison. This two-tiered system of justice is shameful, it's a waste of resources, it is unconstitutional, it is a gross violation of human rights and civil rights, and it urgently needs be changed.
As governments have cut funds to social welfare programs and passed laws that discriminate against the poor and people of color, the experience of America's poor has come to resemble that of a rat in a cage scrambling to avoid erratically administered electric shocks. Officials argue, though, that making it illegal to sleep, sit or store personal belongings in public spaces is not discriminatory, according to USA Today. "If you're lying on a sidewalk, whether you're homeless or a millionaire, you're in violation of the ordinance," said Joseph Patner, a city attorney who represented St. Petersburg, Fla, in 2009 when six homeless people filed a lawsuit against the city. "It's not right for taxpayer money to be paying for somebody's drug addiction," he said. "On top of that, this is going to increase personal responsibility, personal accountability. We shouldn't be subsidizing people's addiction."
Here in Atlanta where I live, it's just as bad if not worse. In the inner city neighborhood just west of downtown where I live and work, anywhere from one-third to one-half of the single-family homes are abandoned and/or boarded up. At least 10 to 20 percent of these orphaned homes are in such bad shape that a bulldozer is the only correct solution. But the majority of the other ones, though they are older dwellings, could be rehabilitated and lived in once again. But, since they are in an admittedly high-crime area, nobody wants them even though they are located only 5-10 minutes away from the mostly-revitalized downtown area. But since they are largely unwanted, many of these abandoned homes are inhabited by squatters who would otherwise be sleeping out in the weather. But as I wrote above, when the city of Atlanta police find people in these dwellings, they are immediately arrested for “criminal trespassing” and hauled off to jail. Few if any of these unlucky persons can bail themselves out of jail, so they languish behind bars until their court date, which can be anywhere from several weeks to several months. The fact that it costs the city an average of $65.00 per day to incarcerate these otherwise harmless individuals doesn't matter to the entrenched powers down at Atlanta City Hall.
To make matters worse, if there are children involved, they are forcibly taken away from their parents and placed in foster homes at best, or even juvenile detention at worst. This exacerbates the cycle of homelessness and poverty while creating new caseloads for social workers, therapists, psychiatrists and probation officers, among others. In so doing, the seeds of rage, addiction and abuse are planted within these impressionable young minds until they wind up being institutionalized as teens or adults, one way or the other. And all this continues to occur because certain wealthy and influential property owners would rather board up these abandoned houses that (allegedly) nobody wants, rather than sell them at a hefty discount for less profit. It is these wealthy and incredibly greedy property owners who should be in jail, not the homeless squatters who have no where else to go!
Is there a solution that we can afford as conscientious Americans? You can bet your bottom dollar there is! I explained it the following way in my 2011 nonfiction book, “The Middle and Working Class Manifesto”. If the US government took all the money it spends in just one day on the military budget for its clandestine presence in Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Yemen, Libya and Pakistan – among other places such as Western Europe – and invested those funds in an interest-bearing account at a bank, credit union or money market fund, there would be enough money to build a new 2,500 square foot house for every homeless person and/or family currently in America, fully furnished and with a year's supply of groceries for a family of four. That's right everyone – just one day's needless and pointless military expenditures would pay for all that! In closing, then, the fairness, compassion and equity of developed countries and their so-called “societies” can best be judged by how well they treat their least fortunate citizens. In that regard, I would say America has got a lot of work to do.