How to Deal with the Money Changers

Submitted by Charles Sackrey; Dedicated to Karl Patten

We all know now that the money changers have ruined a good part of the world economy, brought millions to our knees and many more to the streets.   Yet, on the bright side these blue suited, repeat offenders have forced us to ask a crucial question:  Is our worship of capitalism simply another fantastic dream about a pie in the sky that was never there?

And, if so, two other questions:  “What is to be done?  And, just whose advice should we follow?”   We will all have our favorite words of wisdom in these matters, ranging from the soft and resolute murmurs of the advocates of non-violence to the shouts of those demanding that we raid Goldman Sachs amd the home office of the Koch Brothers’ empire, and capture the felons as they try to slither their way to safety.

About these questions, I have found myself lately thinking about two of my own mentors who most usefully to me now about how to unseat these corporate criminals.  Well, first off, there’s Jesus, who led my family to raise me as a Southern Baptist and made me come to believe that you had to worry about the fellow down the road who was in trouble.  I’ll say more about Jesus in a minute.

Second, when I went to college in Texas, I was inspired and radicalized by left wing professors and I became in a predictable order first a communist, then an anarchist, then the democratic socialist that I am now.  That path meant that along the way I would gather wisdom and inspiration from Joe Hill, the most famous member of the Industrial Workers of the World, the Wobblies.  The Wobblies were anti-capitalist unionists who, began in the early 1900s to wage a mighty class war with the bosses.  This is one war you should read about if you haven’t already.  The Wobblies were crushed in 1917 by the federal government for their opposition to capitalism and to World War I, only to rise again to organize farm workers in the 1920s and 30s.  And, they still exist on a much smaller scale.

Joe Hill, an immigrant from Sweden, was an active organizer, speaker, and troubadour for the Wobblies from 1910 to 1915.  Then in 1915 he was executed on trumped up murder charges by the state of Utah. He was enormously popular within the union, and famous for many of his songs and great courage in organizing.  He is especially famous for a comment to a friend just before he was executed.  He said, “I will die like a true blue rebel. Don’t waste any time in mourning. Organize.”  He also added, “Could you arrange to have my body hauled to the state line to be buried? I don’t want to be found dead in Utah.”

The Wobblies believed in resisting the bosses in every way possible, but the weapon they considered the most powerful was the general strike.  In such a strike, the workers – knowing that they are the ones who produce the output — simply would lay down their tools.  The Wobblies knew that without their wage slaves, the capitalist bosses could not produce anything, and the system would stall and become vulnerable to being overthrown.  In my anarchist days, I, too, used to dream about the general strike, and once again it seems to me a promising weapon in the war with the corporate bosses.

Given these views, I see the Occupy Wall Street movement as at least in part, a fabulous reincarnation of the spirit of Joe Hill and the Wobblies. And, I know that many of the older ones are being urged forward by remembering Joan Baez, or someone else, singing “ I Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill Last Night. Alive as You and Me.”   My hat is off to those in this movement, in my town and in all the others around the world, because they switched from being complainers to being organizers.  Now, I dream happily that they and I will become worthy ancestors of the Wobblies.  And, as they talk among themselves about short and long strategies, surely the idea of a general strike somewhere down the road will find its way into their discussions.

So, what about my second mentor, Jesus, himself, And, here, I’m not talking about the one who claimed his to be the son of God, and whose followers claimed he healed the sick, and could turn water into wine, among other miracles.  The Jesus that most influenced me after I grew up was the rabble rouser who loved the poor and loathed their oppressors. Like many radicals, my favorite story about Jesus is the one, told by his disciple, John, and confirmed by many other witnesses. According to John, this is how Jesus answered the question, “What is to be done?” Just before Passover, Jesus went to the Jerusalem Temple and found men selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords, and drove the men and animals from the temple area.  He scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables.

Jesus apparently was particularly perturbed about the burden of Temple commerce on widows and their children.  Given this story,  and whether we are faithful followers of Christ’s sacred word, or just an admirer of the parts of Jesus that were like Joe Hill, we might see this story as a mandate to do something like this:  we organize a caravan and go to the offices of Goldman Sachs and of the Koch Brothers where, armed with whips made from cords, we demand that they follow us to the jailhouse where they can begin to pay for their crimes against humanity and democracy.    

It is also interesting that, according to his disciples and other witness, the fracas as the temple was the only time they ever saw Jesus really angry.  In fact, if you didn’t’ know this story, you might think Jesus spent most of time talking about love, grace, forgiveness and how awful things would get for us if we didn’t behave. I think we can all understand at this point why it was the bankers of his time who helped to push Jesus over the line into violence.

If I were a money changer, or a political hack in their pay, I would be worried about the collective rage now building about their actions. What they have done and are doing is likely to cause many of us to cross all sorts of lines in our struggle to regain the power they have seized.

A final note here is about a wonderful irony.  While Jesus was the founder of Christianity, and Joe Hill was an atheist with a deep contempt for the church, they were as one in their unfettered anger for the money changers. And, as the Baptists in my family would put it, they were also both great witnesses for the good.

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Occupy Cherry Alley Interview with Mark Lawrence and Robin Jarrell

This interview highlights the importance of worker participation in corporate decision-making and the connection between Occupy Wall St. core principles and Christian values.  Robin Jarrell is rector at the Diocese of Central Pennsylvania.

http://www.wkok.com/1070_WKOK/OTM.htm

 

Political Typology Quizzes Annoy Me

I put this on Facebook.  Then, 40 minutes later, I had this stab at an explanation…

According to this: http://www.theadvocates.org/quiz I’m a a “liberal.” And in this one I am “solid liberal” or “post-modern” depending on how I answer. http://people-press.org/typology/quiz/. Why do I find myself arguing with lots of liberals then?

I find myself able to take either side in almost all of these forced choice pars in these things.  They are designed to squeeze people into set categories.  Neither one of them even has “progressive” as a political ideology.  I am not sure it is one, but it is worth thinking about. Off the top of my head, an embrace of pragmatism as an approach to knowledge and action is part of being progressive.  Let’s talk about what can work for this problem and not look to “ideology” to decide how we should approach an issue.

Three examples come to mind.

One, schools and religion.  I don’t think banning any whisper of religion from public schools is the best reading of the establishment clause.  As  I get it, even the supreme court recognizes religious expression as a form of culture.  The bright line is coercion or proselytizing.  However, for many schools or other public entities, it is simpler to ban than to handle the nuance of deciding if a menorah, cross, or whatever is clearly cultural as opposed to endorsement of a religion.  To pull it off, you need to trust officials to use judgement.  So, a pragmatic response is to figure out how to balance trusting judgement with means to redress clear violations of religious freedom and the establishment clause.

Second, educational funding.  I had an interesting discussion the other day with a friend and I mentioned that I would rather have MORE diversity among schools, and if a school choice- voucher system accomplishes that, fine.  Basically, focus public education policy on some broad outcomes and free up schools to differentiate and yes, compete, for families and their students.  Among his concerns was what happens if school officials are given too much autonomy and they enact discrimination or other harms.  He is invoking racial segregation under Jim Crow.  I get it; we don’t want to re-create that, but a system where each family and each school can be distinctive is not the same as forcing some to go to inferior schools.  Smaller schools that can create a sense of difference and cohesion will work better and hence a liberal approach of equalizing inputs through enforced sameness is a mistake.

Third, the tax code.  I believe in progressive taxes.  There are two reasons.  One, the wealthiest should pay more proportionally because their wealth is created and supported by more of government spending- courts, police, military, transportation, disaster relief, education (yes, we pay to educate the workers who create value in firms the wealthiest own).  Two, apart from economic fairness, we believe in social fairness.  Capitalism always exacerbates inequality and therefore it is good to tax progressively to create avenues to reduce inequality.  The periods of the greatest amount of activity to reduce inequality in the US, roughly the 1930s to the 1980s, saw the lowest rates of inequality.  Since the onset of neo-liberal economics in the a980s, roughly, economic growth increased along with gross measures of inequality.   Anyway, this is my case for progressive taxation.

However, that does not mean defending the current status quo tax code (at the federal level).  I’ve not done the math or seen anyone else do it, but I can imagine getting behind a simplified, progressive, LOWER set of tax rates.  The complexity of the tax code sucks up a lot of human capital.  Is it necessary?  Well, yes, for me.  I can’t stand doing income taxes.  What would happen if we had federal marginal rates at 0% (for people at living wage or less), 5, 10, 15, 20, and 25%  No other exemptions or deductions.  This would decouple a dynamic national economy, as well as personal financial decisions like getting a mortgage, from the tax code.

It would also obsolesce a chunk of the accounting profession.  But maybe their human capital could be redirected to tasks that they may like more and may create other economic or social value…

But, as to typology and ideology, I’ve never seen a “liberal” politician discuss anything like this.

Bayonets

When stout voices mutter

“Bayonets, bayonets,”

Narrower folk tremble.

A bullet, at least, kills

From a distance and makes

A clean penetration

In breast or skull, but

Bayonets will be close,

Next to next, like sex, thrust

In and twisted can disgorge

More guts and blood than

Anyone thought he contained.

This evening, the growl-snarl

Is “bayonets, bayonets,”

In the church sub-basement.

Eager to attack, sinews hard

After years of toughening,

They slip the long slim knives

Over the ends of their rifles,

Which they grip, sure, truth

Tightening, ready to go –

In which direction? Go where?

Karl Patten

From Touch: Poems

Commentary:  This poem was written several years ago when there was much talk – and evidence – of private militias of members of the radical right wing.   In fact, I interviewed at least one man who belonged to the Aryan Nation in the Lewisburg Penitentiary, and there were others there.   Now, apparently some members of the so-called “tea party” have similar ideas, e.g. nine men in Michigan who have been arrested for allegedly intending to kill policemen.  There is certainly much talk.

I decided to imagine such a group in our town here in the provinces where, unfortunately, “guns, guts and God” have a presence.  A church sub-basement seemed to be the correct habitat and the attitude a tough sense of “truth.” But the poem is optimistic, for I suspect such people are really confused, unsure of just what they want to do.  The form I chose, short, tight lines, seemed appropriate.

9/12/01, Florence

Drawing on a cigarette outside a lavanderia,

Two weeks of sweaty clothes burbling inside,

I found myself in conversation with a fellow

Washer.  Only one topic, yesterday’s news.

What I remember best of this Florentine’s

Words is that the madmen would smash a plane

Into St. Peter’s, because it is the heart

Of Christianity, and his tangible fear as

He evoked such outrage, the basilica as pure

A target as the New York towers – “gemini”

To the Italians.  He was no Catholic, “of course,”

But centuries of baptism had rubbed in and

For a moment Il Papa seemed to be a father.

 

Years later, I reflect how many times Rome

Has been destroyed, reduced to rubble and

Looted, and I think, lapsed Protestant

And infidel, it’s good that never happened,

As he must think now. One of a kind, let

The building be, no matter what nonsense

The Pope dribbles from his throne. Nothing’s

Permanent, but this building is different,

And we must admire the difference of things.

 

Back then, I told the accidental Florentine,

“Don’t worry. Those men aim at and bomb only

Centers of money and power, and even though

The Vatican has vast stores of wealth it’s all

Like saints’ bones, not to be cashed, and the church

Is merely a feather in the wind. Rome’s safe.”

Shrugging agreement, eyes lowered to the stubbed

Butts on the pavement, he sighed and returned to

The arms, legs, and body parts tumbling around.

 

From Irreplaceable You and Other Poems

By Karl Patten

 

Commentary:

 

9/12/01 Florence was written several years after that date.  At the time we had been living in the Tuscan countryside, and that day was the last of our rental.  The owner told us of the massacre and said we could stay, but we had a hotel reservation in Florence and chose to take that up.  Nobody could fly into the States at that time, and we had to stay in Florence, hardly a problem, indeed.  Also it gave us a chance to do our laundry.

Everything in this poem is simply a remembrance of that occasion.  I did chat with a Florentine out on the sidewalk, and there was only one subject.  The invention here comes in the words I say to him.  I did assure him that St. Peter’s was safe, but the remarks about the Pope and the Vatican I made up and are probably what I would have liked to say but refrained from in fear of hurting his feelings.  The last three lines are truth, though.

Iran: Just Deal With It

by John Peeler

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s overwhelming victory in Iran’s presidential election disappointed many who had hoped for a president who is not an international embarrassment and loose cannon. That is the image portrayed in the western media, and with such an image, many find it possible to explain such a victory only by fraud and intimidation. But we need to accept that the Iranian revolutionary regime, after thirty years, is solidly entrenched and has real popular support.

Now, it’s true that he’s an egregious anti-Semite and holocaust denier. And it’s probably true that he intends to acquire nuclear weapons, notwithstanding Iran’s repeated assurances that they seek only peaceful uses for nuclear energy. And it’s true that Iran since the revolution has been a theocracy dominated by a reactionary brand of Shi’a Islam. But it is not necessarily true that an election whose outcome we don’t like had to be fraudulent.

The Islamic Republic of Iran has, in fact, a quite credible electoral system, in the minimal sense that the votes get counted accurately. Credible evidence to the contrary regarding this most recent election has not yet been produced. The issue isn’t fraud, it’s the systematic structure of control that is built into the republic’s constitution. Ahmadinejad didn’t need to fix the election. Candidates for any office (including the presidency) are vetted by both the Council of Guardians (all committed to the reactionary Islamist vision of the regime), and by the Supreme Leader, Ayatolllah Khamenei (whose authority far exceeds that of the president). None of these people are popularly elected, but they exercise ultimate political control. It’s not that the elections were fixed; rather, the ballot itself was systematically stripped of serious reformers. Even if Ahmadinejad had lost, the experience of his reformist predecessor, Mohammed Khatami, suggests that no serious change of direction will be tolerated. Iran is a theocracy that has honest elections among pre-approved candidates. The available political spectrum is very narrow.

There’s another, more substantive reason that Ahmadinejad won. Like Hugo Chávez in Venezuela, Ahmadinejad is a serious populist in a society where the overwhelming majority of the people, urban and rural, are poor. And he has made sure that the poor have gotten benefits from Iran’s oil-based economy. So on a purely bread-and-butter basis, it’s not surprising that huge numbers of poor people voted for him.

But what about the polls that suggested that he would lose? Polling in Third World countries like Iran almost inevitably has a bias toward the big cities, because it is extremely expensive to reach a random sample of voters in rural areas. Moreover, if the polling is done by telephone, most of the poor won’t be reached because they don’t have phones. Many villages might have no phones at all, or just one for the whole town.

Careful study of the returns will probably show an electorate sharply divided on class lines, with urban, educated, middle class voters going heavily for Mir Hussein Moussavi, while much larger numbers of the rural and urban poor supported Ahmadinejad.

Why are the poor so reactionary? George W. Bush might well ask, “Don’t they love freedom?” Well, no. They have no reason to trust educated, sophisticated politicians who have never helped them in the past. They do have reason to trust Ahmadinejad, who has indeed helped them (even if he’s ruined the economy in the process). And for many of them, the certainties of dogmatic religion are a great comfort in a world largely beyond their control.

There is one final thing to keep in mind. Iran, even more than the rest of the Middle East, has nearly a century of experience with Western intervention and manipulation. They have not forgotten how the British put the Pahlavi dynasty in power, and kept them there. They have not forgotten that the CIA organized the overthrow of the popularly elected prime minister, Mohammed Mossadegh, in 1953, and restored the Shah to power. They have not forgotten that the United States stood with the Shah to the bitter end. So whenever the West expresses a preference, Iranians will tend to defy it.

What can the US do? We need to come to terms with the fact that Ahmadinejad is the legitimate leader of the country, however much we may dislike his policies. We need to deal with Iran like adults, looking for areas where our interests may overlap (e.g., Afghanistan, where Iran certainly wants to avoid a Taliban/al-Qaeda victory). The same could be said about Pakistan: Iran has to be concerned about the threat of a Talilban takeover in that country, because of the intense hostility between Shi’a fundamentalism in Iran, and Sunni fundamentalism in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

You wouldn’t know it from the American press, but Iran actually provides far more opportunities and freedoms for women than most other Middle Eastern countries. Turkey, Lebanon and Egypt probably do better than Iran in this area, but Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf states are incomparably worse. The US ought to recognize this.

There will surely be conflicts of interest, most notably on nuclear weapons. The US must credibly deter Iran from using such weapons, but we are hardly in a good position to demand that they not have them, when we have thousands of them.

It’s time to get real, and deal with the real Iran.

I Don’t Believe in God, But I Believe in Church

Creative Commons License
I Don’t Believe in God, But I Believe in Church by Jordi Comas is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.
Based on a work at netsweweave.wordpress.com.

This is the sermon I gave at UUCSV in February 2009. A few people asked me for copies. If you want to use or cite, please reference me. Maybe this will finally be the nudge I need to figure out how to use CC licenses.

This includes readings used which were essential for the sermon.

Call to Worship:

From Tennyson’s “Ulysses”

Come, my friends,

‘Tis not too late to seek a newer world.

Push off, and sitting well in order smite

The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds

To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths

Of all the western stars, until I die.

It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:

It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,

And see the great Achilles, whom we knew

Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and though

We are not now that strength which in old days

Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;

One equal temper of heroic hearts,

Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will

To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

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