Testimony for National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service — END DRAFT REGISTRATION

I prepared the below testimony to present at a public meeting in Chicago before the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service, a commission created by Congress to deal with questions of draft registration, most specifically, whether to end draft registration or expand it to women. The Commission designed the format for this meeting with severely restricted opportunities for general public input. I intend to submit this testimony in written form, but I do not anticipate that I will be able to present it in person. At the end of this testimony is a much shorter statement that I intend to present to the media in Chicago, and directly to the Commission, if possible.

FULL TESTIMONY

My name is Dan Rutt. I have traveled from Toledo, Ohio, to be here today. I have come from 250 miles away to testify to you about service. I am volunteering my time to testify about that which is involuntary: conscience. I have come much further than 250 miles to be here today…

My testimony is rooted in family history predating the existence of the United States of America.  I am 12th generation in this land now known as the United States of America. In the early 1700’s, my ancestors settled on land given to them by William Penn, on what would come to be known as Pennsylvania. My Mennonite ancestors fled Germany to escape conscription and war.

With that wave of German immigrants and refugees, those that occupied the land had much fear about them ruining life as they new it. Newly-arrived German males age 16 and older were forced to take a loyalty oath to the British crown. The English oath was administered roughshod over the newly arriving boys and men, most of whom spoke only German upon their arrival. Apparently, a nominal and blind oath provided some comfort to those fearful residents already occupying the land.

As the Philadelphia harbor bells rang, signaling new arrivals, people gathered to greet them. Many gathered to welcome family or provide strangers with much needed assistance, knowing what it is like to leave one’s home and arrive in a strange land with little or nothing. Others gathered to enlist indentured servants. Here is my most important question regarding service. Serving freely or serving under coercion — which is the greater service? I submit that serving freely is greater. In this particular case, the free service of hospitality and welcoming outsiders is greater than enlisting indentured servants. In the shared scripture of The People of The Book — Jews, Christians and Muslims — a similar exhortation is repeated multiple times: “You must love foreigners because you were foreigners in Egypt.” This service of what may be considered radical hospitality is a time-honored practice of Jews, Christians and Muslims. The humble practice is at the heart of every great faith worldwide. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Love because you were first loved. My ancestors, yearning to be free, wanted neither to be the cause of war as soldiers nor the tragic effects of war in its wanton destruction. This was at the heart of my ancestors’ journeys in life. This is my heritage.

More recently, in relation to war and peace, my great-grandfather, during World War II, ran an alternative service camp for conscientious objectors. As for me, I was literally born into service. I was born in 1961 in Haiti, while my parents were serving as medical missionaries, a doctor and nurse, with Mennonite Central Committee. Mennonite Central Committee has long encouraged and empowered years-long terms of service, often overseas. For my Dad, this was also as an alternative service to military service.

In 1979, the year I graduated from high school, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. In response to this, President Jimmy Carter instituted draft registration of young men my age, ostensibly to send a message of military preparedness to Soviet leaders. I was in the first batch of young men required by U.S. law to register for the draft. However, the prospect of draft registration conflicted with a higher law, my conscience and ultimate commitments. I could not and cannot, in good conscience, participate in war-making. As the clarity of my conscience emerged, I could find no way to register for the military draft, whose sole purpose is preparedness for war. My conscience also dictated that if I was to disobey an unconscionable law, then I was to openly take full responsibly for my actions while I worked to change such a law. I began by writing letters to Selective Service and my elected representatives. I may not have had been well-schooled — yet, anyways — on the politics of waging war or peace, but I was intimately familiar with my conscience and the legal duty that my young male peers and I faced. I was a teenager facing obedience to my conscience. This obedience came at the legal threat of up to five years in prison and up to a $250,000 fine.

I quickly learned that my war resistance is not dependent on geopolitical circumstances, political pendulums, or legal threats. I am already opposed to the next war. Unlike in the pragmatism of war, my enemy’s enemy is not my friend. For me, war is the enemy. Nonetheless, the nearly 40 years since my initial confrontation with draft registration affords me a certain perspective as I have lived through a full cycle of history.  While I was a skinny teenager facing taking on the United States government, the U.S. government was backing the soon-enough-to-be-notorious Osama bin Laden as a so-called “freedom fighter,” leading the mujahadeen in Afghanistan against Soviet occupation.  Of course, our support of Osama bin Laden, our enemy’s enemy, turned out to be a deadly lessen in the futility of weaponizing violent radicals in the vain hope that it won’t blowback in further violence on virtually all fronts. Today’s “freedom fighter” is tomorrow’s terrorist. Today’s war seeds tomorrow’s terrorist. Gandhi spoke frequently of the seamless connection of means and ends. War IS terrorism. How can we expect it to produce anything else — with it many “means” and “ends”? In the end, I cannot view warmaking as service to this country, or any country for that madder, certainly not to humanity as a hole. I find warmaking incompatible with Jesus’ call to love our enemies and to be peacemakers, the children of God.

In speaking with hundreds of Americans over the years about draft registration resistance, I have found that people’s objections to my objections are of two basic types. One type of response is basically that draft registration is such a minimal requirement that it isn’t worth much fuss. If this is the case, then why don’t we just get rid of draft registration, without much fuss? The other type of response is about the utter graveness of our warmaking, and usually something about our national doody. If war is so grave, perhaps the concerns around someone refusing to go postal should receive more thoughtful and consequential consideration. To add insult to injury, in a surreal show of moral farce, war apologists routinely cite “necessary evil” as their moral foundation. This is not the God I serve. Straddling these two poles of minimal and supreme concern, are the tired questions that are asked pacifists, such as: “What would you do if someone was raping your grandmother in the ally?” I learned to answer such questions with: “I’d register for the draft.” If their perplexity persisted, they might suggest that I go back to Russia (where I’ve never been) or indicated their inclination to see me face time in jail; presumably, so I am not around to not protect them.

Mean wile, back in 1980, soon after winning the presidential election, Ronald Reagan broke his campaign promise to end draft registration. His campaign rhetoric about getting the government off the backs of people rang hollow, like a hollow bullet to my heart. The media wanted to do a story on this broken promise and how it affected the young men subject to the law, particularly those opposed to it. As it turned out, while there were millions of nonregistrants quietly in violation of the law, I was the only local public nonregistrant that they could track down, and I soon found myself highlighted in various media for years to come.

To make a long story shorter, in 1983, I was indicted for failure to register — I prefer refusal to register. In 1986, I was tried and convicted. My indiscriminate honesty more than compensated for their lack of investigatory skills. I served 107 days in the federal Community Corrections Center in Detroit, served two years probation, and served 200 hours of community service. I can’t help but note, today, since the theme is “service,” that the solution to my singular failure was to rip me from my community in order to integrate me back into my community. Plus, the court had to bean-count community service that you couldn’t have stopped me from serving anyway.

Of course, there were larger forces at work. I, and a select few others, had to be made examples of. I, for One, am proud of the example I served. In the case of The United States of America vs. Daniel A. Rutt, there was a focus on my failure/refusal. In the meantime, I had finished college, got married, finished graduate school, had a son, and got a job. I went on to serve in a public health career of almost two decades. I even got a national award from the feds for my work in health promotion — thanks for noticing, U.S. of A. For the last 16 years, I have run my own business promoting social justice.

I do not consider my time imprisoned or countless hours engaging in war resistance as any great burden. In fact, I consider this as service to my country and humanity. I do suspect that most any person who did a tour of active duty in Iraq or Afghanistan has suffered more than I.  Unfortunately, war is replete with suffering. Of course, suffering is of no great inherent value. Nonetheless, whatever we willingly suffer for is a good measure of what we truly value. I hope that more Americans, whether male or female, young or old, will volunteer to put more skin in the game and resist war in any way they can. I believe that the cost of freedom is found in not killing, rather than killing. As General Patton so infamously stated, “No dumb bastard ever won a war by going out and dying for his country. He won it by making some other dumb bastard die for his country.”

It is impossible for me to separate my service from my conscience. Conscience is that small still voice that emanates from the foundation of our existence, that calls us, at the risk of trademark infringement, to be all that we can be. My war resistance is deeply rooted in following Jesus, The Prince of Peace. The Jesus I follow was executed as an enemy of the state. He was executed at the behest of the religious elite. Today, the religious elite dutifully save themselves and their clan, more faithfully blessing warmakers than counseling their youth to resist war, more conveniently blessing warmakers than counseling their youth to resist war. The first wave of martyrs in early Christendom were men who refused military service. The broader wave of martyrs were Jesus followers who refused idolatry, the literal and figurative “pinch of incense on the altar” to Caesar.

For me, draft registration is that “pinch of incense on the altar” of the state. When it comes to military service, in the great U.S.A., there is no “one nation under God.” When it comes to military service, The United States of America is God. Specifically, The United States of America, does not recognize ANY Constitutional right to refuse military service for ANY reason, including conscience or freedom of religion. As we all know, the U.S. Constitution provides for many rights, rights that cannot be infringed upon by the state. There are many constitutional rights, such as freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom to peaceably assemble, freedom to petition for redress of grievances, freedom from unreasonable search and seizure, and the right to equal protection under the law, among others. These are often referred to as natural rights or God-given rights. Such rights define the character of a state, and place limits on its sovereignty, recognizing a power greater than itself. The United States of America, does not recognize ANY natural or God-given right to refuse military service for ANY reason. If you are surprised by this, so was I. I count this as the singular lesson that I learned in my draft registration resistance. This sad and idolatrous reality was unmasked only by a federal judge citing a Supreme Court case in a legal opinion rejecting my motion for dismissal on the basis of religious freedom. Fortunately, I have found that God’s grace extends further than legislative grace or constitutional provision of this republic. I strongly suspect that tens of millions of Americans of faith recognize that holy obedience sometimes requires civil disobedience.

My male ancestors age 16 plus who arrived to this land so many years ago were forced to swear a loyalty oath to the government, even though most didn’t even speak the language in which the oath was administered. This didn’t even seem to matter to government officials. Why is this? I suspect that the nominal and incomprehensible oath was a “pinch of incense on the altar,” a ritual form of national worship needed by a resident populace afraid of strangers. The minimal content of the oath served as a safe and surefire way to maximize compliance and minimize resistance. Who would get back on the boat and return across the sea because they had to mouth or sign an incomprehensible swearing. Who would not submit their name and basic information to the Selective Service System? Well, most young men do not register when they first become legally required. Most young men, hoping to go somewhere, register when they need to secure a driver’s license, or when they reach the shore of an education, needing a student loan.

I suspect that the ritual obedience of a “pinch of incense on the altar” may be more important than an actually functioning, fair and equitable system of potential conscription. Conspicuously absent from the Selective Service annual report is the noncompliance rate with the requirement for registrants to update their address (within 10 days) every time they move. Every observant person knows that 18-25 year-old men move a lot. How many address updates do they get? How many address updates don’t they get? Surely, this can be estimated, and certainly it matters if one actually cares about being able to effectively and fairly enlist young men in a potential draft. The noncompliance rate for initial registration is 8% for all 18-25 year-old men. I strongly suspect that the noncompliance with current address is much higher than noncompliance with initial registration; probably, in combination, high enough to blow a hole in any contention that draft registration is effective and fair. By the way, those young men not complying with address updates are subject to the same legal penalties of up to five years in prison and up to a $250,000 fine. In FY 2017, 184,051 names and addresses of suspected violators to initial registration were provided to the Department of Justice. Does it strike anyone else as odd that the names and addresses of suspected violators are forwarded? If the Selective Service System has the names and addresses of potential enlistees, what else do they need?

I contend that what Selective Service is largely after is your assent to civil obedience, participation in a national religion of warmaking, your “pinch of incense on the altar,” if you will. This seems to be a better characterization of Selective Service’s function than, in the case of a military draft, to “rapidly provide personnel in a fair and equitable manner.” Oddly, if you find yourself a male age 26 or older, beyond the age requirement to register, and you failed to register, you could still run into trouble by being denied eligibility for federal student financial aid, federal job training, federal employment, or U.S. citizenship; yet, you may be in the clear if your can “show by a preponderance of evidence” that your failure to register was not knowing and willful. Just don’t be too conscientious; that is, until you have to prove that you were not conscientious. Apparently, the true crime is conscientiousness in not registering, more so than simply not registering. The selective prosecution of a few conscientious and public resisters while millions are noncompliant speaks volumes to this.  Certainly, a system where obliviousness is excusable and objecting conscientiously is a crime is a system that distorts our nation’s highest values.  I don’t object to Selective Service being shot full of holes regarding compliance. I do object to Selective Service dishonoring or punishing conscientiousness. As there is no way for a registrant to officially indicate any intent at conscientious objection, I would be very curious to see what would happen if conscientious objector status were a checkbox in the registration process. We might learn a lot about the state of conscientious objection in America. Of course, if Selective Service noncompliance is largely about non-conscientiousness, then I have to ask: What would such a level of non-conscientiousness say about what we might be fighting for and who might be fighting for it?

The draft registration system cannot account for true conscientiousness. The draft registration system cannot muster enough compliance, conscientious or not, to claim fairness and equitability. The honorable course of action, in both cases, is to end draft registration.

In truth, the actual practice of draft registration ignores conscientious objection. While there is no apparent constitutional right to refuse military conscription, there are some legislative provisions for what are called conscientious objectors. Unfortunately, there is no mechanism to indicate conscientious objection during the current draft registration process. This is objectionable to many conscientiously opposed to war. Somewhat oddly, the only legal way to make such a claim is to submit to a system, the Selective Service System, whose sole purpose is preparing for war, which you must reject completely. Plus, conscientious objector status is only possible as a military service classification, if and when a draft may occur. The longer a registrant is unrecognized as conscientiously opposed to war, the further the objection. Further, conscientious objector status can only be recognized for those who are opposed to all wars. If you in good conscience object to whatever current war in which you are subject to serve, this is oddly irrelevant. You could, in fact, turn out to conscientiously object to every actual war that comes down the pike in your lifetime and this is deemed irrelevant if you are not opposed to every theoretical war (or past war). This renders conscientious objection to a meaningless idea for what is perhaps the vast bulk of being conscientiously opposed to war. Finally, there is no real mechanism to truly count or officially value the service of conscientious objectors, meaning that men will be drafted until the military need is met, whether ten or ten million men have conscientious objection. The service of a conscientious objector is superfluous to the determining aim of the Selective Service System. This itself is offensive to many persons of conscience opposed to war-making. Let’s end the criminalization of conscience.

In truth, the actual practice of warmaking habitually runs roughshod over international law and human rights. The promise of some possible future alternative service as a noncombatant is little comfort to my conscience, and of many others. In a warring world, the distinction between combatants and noncombatants offers fantastical sanitization rather than actual sanity. The fact is that across time and across a myriad of modern armed conflicts, over ten so-called “noncombatants” are killed for every “combatant.” The first casualty of war is the truth; most of the rest are noncombatants. My duty is to oppose war, not escape military service. This is my service to humanity. This service is regardless of combatant status. Plus, the best way to serve warriors happens to be ending war.

In the age of terrorism, some will claim that we live in new era of war, not subject to the old rules of war. We do live in a different time than in the 1980’s, the decade when draft registration was initiated. I can testify to a profound shift toward anti-war sentiment since then. During the first Gulf war, in the early 1990’s, I never felt so isolated as an American, confronting palpable resistance even from liberals. When the U.S. invaded Afghanistan, our local peace network, the Northwest Ohio Peace Coalition, initiated weekly Sunday demonstrations at busy intersections around town. These demonstrations for peace and against war occurred weekly for 15 years (and continue twice each month). In the early years, most of the feedback we had from passing motorists was angry yelling, middle fingers, and expletives flying. Over the years, this angry response has become rare, perhaps a couple a week, and the overwhelming positive responses are represented by hundreds of “honks for peace,” peace signs and thumbs up. Americans in the heartland of Ohio are tired of war and welcome peace. Draft registration is a relic of ages past. Why have draft registration when even the military cites no scenarios where they would want a draft?

One issue at the heart of draft registration and military conscription is what is the proper role of women in warmaking and peacemaking. I am delighted to see that women serve as 5 of the 11 commissioners. Surely, it is women who should determine what is the proper role of women, in this case, concerning warmaking and peacemaking. In my lifelong work across a wide range of social justice movements, I have found women to be the most reliable and most inspiring leaders and laborers for social justice. I strongly suspect that women will take up the mantle of even greater war resistance if they become subject to military conscription. I take inspiration to serve as a war resister from Julia Ward Howe. She, most famously known as the composer of the Battle Hymn of The Republic, was the founder of Mother’s Day, originally a day of war resistance. She issued this Mother’s Day Proclamation in 1870:

Arise, then, women of this day! Arise all women who have hearts, whether your baptism be of water or of tears! Say firmly: “We will not have questions decided by irrelevant agencies. Our husbands shall not come to us reeking of carnage for caresses and applause. Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy, and patience. We women of one country will be too tender to those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.”

From the bosom of a devastated Earth a voice goes up with our own. It says “Disarm! Disarm!” The sword of murder is not the balance of justice. Blood does not wipe out dishonor, nor violence indicate possession.

As men have forsaken the plow and the anvil at the summons of war, let women now leave all that may be left of home for a great and earnest day of counsel. Let them meet first as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead. Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means whereby the great human family can live in peace, each bearing after his time the sacred impress not of Caesar, but of God.

 In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask that a general congress of women without limit of nationality be appointed and held at some place deemed most convenient and at the earliest period consistent with its objects, to promote the alliance of the different nationalities, the amicable settlement of international questions, the great and general interests of peace.

I would much prefer entrusting my conscience and fate to such “a general congress of women without limit of nationality,” rather than the currently constituted National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service.

Perhaps somewhat ironic, given my heritage, Germany now has a constitutional right to conscientious objection while the United States does not. When Germany ended conscription in 2011, the majority of those serving were conscientious objectors, and the debate had shifted from conscience to whether they should give up a huge pool of cheap labor. I believe that forced national service is incongruent with our nation’s highest ideals. I believe that volunteerism is at the core of authentic service. I suspect that lowering our ideals by forcing service is a poor way to nurture true service. Let us lead by example. This is why I am here today. If you want to gauge both the heart and the cutting edge of service in this country and for this country, look to those who volunteer, willingly, without pay, to live out their deepest values. This is the clearest view of our highest ideals incarnate, that service, that work, which cannot be bought and sold.

I appreciate the opportunity to testify before the Commission. From your bios, I can see that you are exemplary leaders in service. Unfortunately, I think that you may have an impossible job. I appreciate that Selective Service is technically considered under civilian control. Still, I can’t help but notice that both Selective Service and this Commission are heavily represented by persons from the military or traditional national security apparatus. This does not fairly represent America in the civilian service necessary to make for peace in the world. Also, about 4 in 10 Americans are persons of color, including many of those in the military. Why is this Commission even whiter than the overly white Congress who appointed it? This is not a service to America, and raises the question of whether white supremacy is part and parcel to your work. In tandem, the Commission’s overwhelmingly militarized representation and unduly whiteness, inspires little confidence that your recommendations can represent America. Perhaps it would be more honest to call this Commission an Omission. I suspect that this failure is rooted in the failure and cowardice of Congress to deal with draft registration in a changing world, that is, a world that recognizes women as equals. Congress punted on the politically unpopular choices of just ending draft registration or expanding it to women. Instead, Congress kicked the can down the road for a couple of years by creating a Commission to address this question for them. Unfortunately, This Congress-created Commission is so couched in generic service rhetoric that it is hamstrung in dealing straightforwardly with the singular issue that triggered its creation: draft registration. Until the Commission owns up to addressing the issue of draft registration as its core reason for existing, any hopes of sparking a national conversation on service will be sparks falling on damp firewood.  Further complicating the credibility of the Commission is the tightly controlled and choreographed public meetings in conjunction with severely limited open public testimony. A responsive democratic process would have began with generous opportunities for open public testimony, and then using this input to shape additional “invited” testimony. This may already be too late to remedy. The chasm between the nature of “invited” testimony and uninvited testimony betrays a characterization of the Commission’s work to date as democratic or representative. In my years of public service, both as a community planner and as a citizen participant in many public forums, I think that it is fairer to characterize the Commission’s public meetings to date more as “dog and pony shows” than as an open and responsive democratic process. For this Commission’s work to claim legitimacy, there is a lot of changes that need to be made. Lastly, having to make FOIA requests to find out about the basic public functioning of the Commission does not bode well for a culture of transparent, accountable public service by the Commission. I hope that you have found worthwhile input in my testimony to move toward a peace-loving democracy in which every one of us finds ample opportunities, free of compulsion, for self-sacrificial service for the good of all.

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PRESS STATEMENT

My name is Dan Rutt. I have traveled from Toledo, Ohio, about 250 miles away, to be here today. I am one of the select few prosecuted and imprisoned for refusing to register for the draft, back in the 1980’s. We are here today for one reason, and one reason alone: Congress punted on the politically unpopular choices of just ending draft registration or expanding it to women. Congress punted by appointing a Commission to provide recommendations regarding draft registration a couple years down the road. That Commission is the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service. Unfortunately, This Commission’s work is so couched in generic service rhetoric that it is hamstrung in dealing straightforwardly with the singular issue that triggered its creation: draft registration. Until the Commission owns up to honestly and openly addressing the issue of draft registration as its core reason for existing, the Commission will be a failure. Draft registration continues to have no mechanism to accommodate conscientious objection. Draft registration is fraught with noncompliance by young men either not registering at all, registering late, or not updating their addresses. The military cites no scenarios where they would want a draft. This is no time to expand draft registration, whether to women or persons with select skills the military might want. Now is the time to end draft registration. Voluntary service is true service. Let’s keep it that way.

Today’s public meeting in particular highlights the failing credibility of the Commission. Previous public meetings around the country have had very limited opportunity for open testimony from the general public. Today’s meeting has even less opportunity. Previous public meetings have been billed as having opportunities to speak directly to the Commission; and when people get there they find out that there is a scheduled two minutes per citizen. This meeting is being billed as an opportunity for Q&A, not even to the Commission but to their invited speakers. Furthermore, the overall time for the public to even participate in this insular Q&A has been cut down to “20 or 30 minutes.” From the experience of previous public meetings, the chasm between the nature of “invited” testimony and uninvited testimony betrays a characterization of the Commission’s work to date as democratic. The Commission is moving in the wrong direction. A responsive democratic process would have began with generous opportunities for open public testimony, and then used this input to shape additional “invited” testimony as needed. This may already be too late to remedy.

Unfortunately, the Commission has other credibility problems that may very well make their job impossible. This Commission is dominated by members from the military or traditional national security apparatus, all the while trying to couch their work in a broader, more generic view of service. This Commission is extremely white, in a nation where people of color are about 4 of 10 Americans. This Commission is poorly designed to represent America. To make matters worse, the Commission has chosen to conduct its business in such a manner that citizens have had to make FOIA requests to find out about the basic public functioning of the Commission. This does not bode well for a culture of transparent, accountable public service by the Commission.

Originally, I planned my trip from Toledo to Chicago, for this public meeting, to deliver testimony to the Commission, offering a story of conscience and how draft registration fails to meet a broad range of America’s ideals. Because this public meeting cannot accommodate such open testimony, I stand before you, hoping that a free press will shine a light on the ill-conceived and poorly executed work of The National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service.

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IMMIGRATION POEM: In A Parent Idiocy

In a parent idiocy
Wee are tolled
The right
Thing to do
Is children
For sake
In wanting
To be a legitimate American
Leave your children behind
A crashing symbol
To not here
As freedom wrings
A bout effacing the music
A band in family values
Trump-it-ing
A minor problem
Into ruin U.S. racket
And those halving hearts crying
Whoa to those without!

This poem goes out to all those whose hearts are breaking because of Prez Donald Trump’s cruel policy of separating children from their parents when refugee families or immigrant families seek refuge in the United States of America. LOVE is a Traditional Family Value PEACE BUTTONHate Is Not A Family Value PEACE BUTTONThe Trump regime’s cruelty is matched only by their cowardice, making the grotesque claim that the law requires them to separate immigrant/refugee families, and even the absurd claim that the Trump policy is the Democrats’ fault. Their capacity to not take responsibility for their actions peers to no no bounds. This clarion cruelty may doom any Republican family values rhetoric for quiet awhile. Let family be a family value! Let’s rise up and end this cruel policy and work for refugee/immigrant polices characterized by compassion and generosity, not fear and xenophobia.

FREE POSTER: GOP Greedy Old Perverts Sexual Predator-in-Chief Donald Trump and Roy Moore

Dirty old men, predominantly dirty old white men, are running rampant throughout our culture and politics. A long overdue push back is underway as many powerful sexual predators are finally being held to some account.  The cutting edge of this push back against patriarchy and hypermasculinity will likely be best measured by whether Prez Donald Trump, Sexual Predator-in-Chief, and Roy Moore, Senate candidate and former Alabama state supreme court justice, will continue with impunity. While sexual assault and sexual predation are not limited to any political party, Republicans manage to ascend to new heights of hypocrisy in the quests to maintain and grow their political power.  In their honor, I unveil my latest free poster: GOP Greedy Old Perverts Sexual Predator-in-Chief Donald Trump and Roy Moore. Please feel free to share with friends and enemies.

FREE POSTER: GOP Greedy Old Perverts Sexual Predator-in-Chief Donald Trump and Roy Moore

Sexual harassment and assault is only one form of abuse of power. This op-ed, How Donald Trump Opened the Door to Roy Moore, connects the underlying political dynamics that Donald Trump and Roy Moore serve in prefiguring authoritarian or fascist politics:

In 2002, the Alabama Supreme Court issued a ruling in a child custody battle between a lesbian mother and an allegedly abusive father. The parents had originally lived in Los Angeles, and when they divorced in 1992, the mother received primary physical custody. But she was an alcoholic, and in 1996, she sent her three children to live with her ex-husband, who’d since moved to Alabama, while she went to rehab. Her lawyer, Wendy Brooks Crew, told me they had an understanding that the kids would stay with their dad for a year, but he refused to return them to their mother because she was living with a woman.

There was evidence that the father was abusing the kids, who by 2002 were teenagers. He acknowledged whipping them with a belt and forcing them to sit with paper bags over their heads. He refused to send the younger children to summer school, even though their grades were bad. When the kids called their mother, their father taped the conversations. By the time the case got to the Alabama Supreme Court, a lower court had ruled in the mother’s favor. The Alabama Supreme Court reversed the ruling, with then Chief Justice Roy Moore writing in a concurring opinion that a gay person couldn’t be a fit parent.

“Homosexual conduct is, and has been, considered abhorrent, immoral, detestable, a crime against nature, and a violation of the laws of nature and of nature’s God upon which this nation and our laws are predicated,” wrote Moore. He added, “The state carries the power of the sword, that is, the power to prohibit conduct with physical penalties, such as confinement and even execution. It must use that power to prevent the subversion of children toward this lifestyle, to not encourage a criminal lifestyle.”

The man who wrote those words is now the Republican candidate for the United States Senate from Alabama. In some ways, this is an embarrassment for Donald Trump, who heeded establishment advice to support Moore’s opponent, sitting Senator Luther Strange, in the primary. But Moore’s victory is also a victory for Trumpism, a populist movement that has eroded normal limits on political behavior.

GOP - Greedy Old Perverts - POLITICAL BUTTONOn the surface, Trump and Moore couldn’t be more different. The president is a thrice-married former casino owner who let Howard Stern call his own daughter a “piece of ass.” Moore is a fundamentalist Southern Baptist who writes rhyming verse denouncing wanton sex. “Your children wander aimlessly poisoned by cocaine/Choosing to indulge their lusts, when God has said abstain,” he wrote in his sarcastically titled poem “America the Beautiful.” Trump described himself, during his campaign, as a “real friend” of the L.G.B.T. community, even if he hasn’t behaved like one in office. Moore has said that gay sex should be illegal.

But read the rest of “America the Beautiful,” and you start to see where Trump and Moore’s worldviews overlap. Both see a nation in apocalyptic decline, desperate for redemption. Whereas Trump spoke of “American carnage” in his dystopian inauguration speech, Moore calls the country a “moral slum” awaiting God’s judgment. Like the president, Moore is a conspiracy theorist who demonizes religious minorities; he once wrote that Keith Ellison, a Democrat from Minnesota, should not be allowed to serve in the House of Representatives because he is Muslim.

I met Moore over a decade ago, when I was researching my first book, “Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism.” By then, Moore had been forced off the bench for refusing a federal judge’s order to remove a 2.6-ton Ten Commandments monument he’d installed in the state judicial building. This martyrdom made him a cult figure on the religious right. A group of retired military men had taken the monument on tour, holding over 150 viewings and rallies; at an event in Austin, Tex., one of them spoke bitterly to me about the outsized power of American Jews. (Moore would later be re-elected to his seat, only to be suspended for the rest of his term in 2016 for ordering judges not to comply with the Supreme Court decision overturning bans on gay marriage.)

In trying to understand the movement I was reporting on, I turned to scholars of authoritarianism and fascism. If their words seemed relevant then, they’re even more so now. Fritz Stern, a historian who fled Nazi Germany, described the “conservative revolution” that prefigured National Socialism: “The movement did embody a paradox: its followers sought to destroy the despised present in order to recapture an idealized past in an imaginary future.”

His formulation helps explain the overlapping appeal of Trump and Moore, who thrill their supporters with their distinctly un-conservative eagerness to destroy legal and political norms. What Moore’s critics see as lawlessness, his fans see as insurgent valor. Trump’s most prominent nationalist supporters, including Steve Bannon and Sebastian Gorka, lined up behind Moore, describing him as part of the Trumpian revolution. Nigel Farage, a right-wing British politician and Trump ally, flew to Fairhope, Ala., to speak at a rally for Moore, saying on stage, “It is getting someone like him elected that will rejuvenate the movement that led to Trump and Brexit.”

Whether or not that’s true, the movement that led to Trump has brought us to a place where Moore will probably soon sit in the United States Senate, something I could hardly have imagined when I first encountered him. Back then, anti-gay prejudice was far more acceptable than it is today, but Moore’s messianic denunciation of a lesbian mother was still shocking. Trump is not a pious man, but by destroying informal restraints on reactionary rhetoric, he’s made his party hospitable to the cruelest of theocrats. Moore’s success is bound to encourage more candidates like him. The Republican establishment’s borders have been breached. Its leaders should have built a wall.

POLITICAL POEM: You Don’t Say, And Ever Prey

To every American
YES
The president no’s stuff
That wee don’t
Real lies
Pinocchio without puppeteers
Cyrano’s muzzle sow credible
Undisclosed pickings of boogie men
Obscuring a lode of crop
Not too be shared
Impolite company
Helled as rue’d or over-sullen
Too reefer or a lude
As in appropriate cons piracy
Of the public goods
In farced buy their whored of privates
Free speeches and hush money
At our ever be quest
Only in the service of
Gag hors d’oeuvres
Wading for good ciao
As if
The qualm before the stormin’
Reading between the lies
You don’t say
And ever prey
An American
Yes

This poem is about the president and commander-in-chief enshrined in a web of secrecy and power, and the commensurate lies and inevitable compromising of the public trust.  The timing of the publication of this poem may allude specifically to Donald Trump, but I wrote this poem long ago about EVERY president.  Of coarse, the particulars on Donald Trump exemplify the harsh eternal truths that this poem dares udder.  Governments Lie POLITICAL BUTTONGovernments and politicians, the human agents of government, lie (to others and themselves) for the benefit of powerful interests other than the public good.  Some presidents squeak out more or less public good than others, but power is as power does — ask anyone living daily on the short end of power.  Speaking truth to power is not the natural habit of the powerful.  Speaking about, talking about, truth is a prerequisite for politicians in civilized societies.  Unfortunately, politicians’ rhetoric is, more often than not, directed at tutoring and propagandizing the masses rather than challenging the powerful few.  Cow-towing to powerful elites eviscerates the very power that truth offers: power for all.

Elites disparage the vulgar “mob” as a danger to democracy rather than a danger of democracy.  The masses are disposed to mistake the occasional rituals of voting as democracy.  Whereas, real democracy is derived directly from the lives and actions of the people.  I Don't Agree With President Vader's Policies, But I Still Think We Should Support Our Storm Troopers POLITICAL BUTTONThis is the truth revealed by the statement that the people get the government that they deserve.  What else could be expected?  If we can or will not govern ourselves, then what will fill that vacuum of governance?  In this disrespect, Donald Trump offers himself as a striking poser, claiming that when he is running the government he will regulate himself in a better way than when he was not.  The sorry truth is that Donald trump cannot lead himself, let alone others — which he will not!  Of course, in the same disrespect that a traffic crash or celebrity captures our undisciplined attention, Donald Trump will have inordinate influence on our lives.  We must pry our eyes from the vagaries of disaster capitalism and disaster democracy and keep our eyes on the prize.

“Keep Your Eyes on the Prize” is a folk song made most popular during the civil rights struggles of the 50’s and 60’s.  The journey and the prize are inscrutably bound, exercising our freedom of body and soul for ever more freedom of body and soul.  Here are the lyrics:

Paul and Silas bound in jail
Had no money for to go their bail
Keep your eyes on the prize
Hold on, hold on

Paul and Silas thought they was lost 
Dungeon shook and the chains fell off 
Keep your eyes on the prize 
Hold on, hold on

Hold on, hold on
Keep your eyes on the prize 
Hold on, hold on

The only thing that we did was wrong 
Was staying’ in the wilderness too long 
Keep your eyes on the prize 
Hold on, hold on

The only thing we did was right 
Was the day we begun to fight 
Keep your eyes on the prize 
Hold on, hold on

Hold on, hold on
Keep your eyes on the prize 
Hold on, hold on

Freedom’s name is mighty sweet 
One day soon we’re gonna meet 
Keep your eyes on the prize 
Hold on, hold on

Got my hand on the gospel plow 
Won’t take nothing for my journey now 
Keep your eyes on the prize 
Hold on, hold on

Hold on, hold on 
Keep your eyes on the prize 
Hold on, hold on

And some possible alternative verses:

We Are The People We Have Been Waiting For - POLITICAL BUTTONOnly chain that a man can stand 
Is that chain o’hand on hand
Keep your eyes on the prize 
Hold on, hold on

 We’re gonna board that big Greyhound,
Carryin’ love from town to town.
Keep your eyes on the prize 
Hold on, hold on 

We’re gonna ride for civil rights,
We’re gonna ride both black and white.
Keep your eyes on the prize 
Hold on, hold on 

We’ve met jail and violence too,
But God’s love has seen us through.
Keep your eyes on the prize 
Hold on, hold on

The first step in the evolution of ethics is a sense of solidarity with other human beings -- Albert Schweitzer quote POLITICAL BUTTONTruth is on the side of the oppressed. Malcolm X quote POLITICAL BUTTONIf we are looking for presidents or other so-called great men to save us, then we will continue to be bamboozled by distant rulers over those within arms reach.  We are the people we have been waiting for.  And for just us, we must discover where the truth lies.

Donald Trump: The Dress Rehearsal for Fascism

If you want to make sense of the failure of neoliberalism, as typified by Hillary Clinton, and its vomiting up of proto-fascist leaders like Donald Trump, then author and journalist Chris Hedges nails it again, in this piece, Donald Trump: The Dress Rehearsal for Fascism:

Americans are not offered major-party candidates who have opposing political ideologies or ideas. We are presented only with manufactured political personalities. We vote for the candidate who makes us “feel” good about him or her. Campaigns are entertainment and commercial vehicles to raise billions in advertising revenue for corporations. The candidate who can provide the best show gets the most coverage. The personal brand is paramount. It takes precedence over ideas, truth, integrity and the common good. This cult of the self, which defines our politics and our culture, contains the classic traits of psychopaths: superficial charm, grandiosity, self-importance, a need for constant stimulation, a penchant for lying, deception and manipulation, and incapacity for remorse or guilt. Donald Trump has these characteristics. So does Hillary Clinton.

Our system of inverted totalitarianism has within it the seeds of an overt or classical fascism. The more that political discourse becomes exclusively bombastic and a form of spectacle, the more that emotional euphoria is substituted for political thought and the more that violence is the primary form of social control, the more we move toward a Christianized fascism.

Last week’s presidential debate in St. Louis was only a few degrees removed from the Jerry Springer TV show—the angry row of women sexually abused or assaulted by Bill Clinton, the fuming Trump pacing the stage with a threatening posture, the sheeplike and carefully selected audience that provided the thin veneer of a democratic debate while four multimillionaires—Martha Raddatz, Anderson Cooper, Clinton and Trump—squabbled like spoiled schoolchildren.

The Clinton campaign, aware that the policy differences between her and a candidate such as Jeb Bush were minuscule, plotted during the primaries to elevate the fringe Republican candidates—especially Trump. To the Democratic strategists, a match between Clinton and Trump seemed made in heaven. Trump, with his “brain trust” of Rudy Giuliani and Chris Christie, would make Clinton look like a savior.

A memo addressed to the Democratic National Committee under the heading “Our Goals & Strategy” was part of the trove of John Podesta emails released this month by WikiLeaks.

“Our hope is that the goal of a potential HRC [Hillary Rodham Clinton] campaign and the DNC would be one-in-the-same: to make whomever the Republicans nominate unpalatable to the majority of the electorate. We have outlined three strategies to obtain our goal …,” it reads.

The memo names Ted Cruz, Donald Trump and Ben Carson as candidates, or what the memo calls “Pied Piper” candidates who could push mainstream candidates closer to the positions embraced by the lunatic right. “We need to be elevating the Pied Piper candidates so that they are leaders of the pack and tell the press to [take] them seriously.”

The elites of the two ruling parties, who have united behind Clinton, are playing a very dangerous game. The intellectual and political vacuum caused by the United States’ species of anti-politics, or what the writer Benjamin DeMott called “junk politics,” leaves candidates, all of whom serve the interests of the corporate state, seeking to exaggerate what Sigmund Freud termed “the narcissism of small differences.”

However, this battle between small differences, largely defined by the culture wars, no longer works with large segments of the population. The insurgencies of Trump and Bernie Sanders are evidence of a breakdown of these forms of social control. There is a vague realization among Americans that we have undergone a corporate coup. People are angry about being lied to and fleeced by the elites. got fascism? POLITICAL BUTTONThey are tired of being impotent. Trump, to many of his most fervent supporters, is a huge middle finger to a corporate establishment that has ruined their lives and the lives of their children. And if Trump, or some other bombastic idiot, is the only vehicle they have to defy the system, they will use him.

The elites, including many in the corporate press, must increasingly give political legitimacy to goons and imbeciles in a desperate battle to salvage their own legitimacy. But the more these elites pillage and loot, and the more they cast citizens aside as human refuse, the more the goons and imbeciles become actual alternatives. The corporate capitalists would prefer the civilized mask of a Hillary Clinton. But they also know that police states and fascist states will not impede their profits; indeed in such a state the capitalists will be more robust in breaking the attempts of the working class to organize for decent wages and working conditions. Citibank, Raytheon and Goldman Sachs will adapt. Capitalism functions very well without democracy.

In the 1990s I watched an impotent, nominally democratic liberal elite in the former Yugoslavia fail to understand and act against the population’s profound economic distress. The fringe demagogues whom the political and educated elites dismissed as buffoons—Radovan Karadzic, Slobodan Milosevic and Franjo Tudman—rode an anti-liberal tide to power.

The political elites in Yugoslavia at first thought the nationalist cranks and lunatics, who amassed enough support to be given secondary positions of power, could be contained. This mistake was as misguided as Franz von Papen’s assurances that when the uncouth Austrian Adolf Hitler was appointed the German chancellor in January 1933 the Nazi leader would be easily manipulated. Any system of prolonged political paralysis and failed liberalism vomits up monsters. And the longer we remain in a state of political paralysis—especially as we stumble toward another financial collapse—the more certain it becomes that these monsters will take power.

Fascism, at its core, is an amorphous and incoherent ideology that perpetuates itself by celebrating a grotesque hypermasculinity, elements of which are captured in Trump’s misogyny. It allows disenfranchised people to feel a sense of power and to have their rage sanctified. It takes a politically marginalized and depoliticized population and mobilizes it around a utopian vision of moral renewal and vengeance and an anointed political savior. It is always militaristic, anti-intellectual and contemptuous of democracy and replaces culture with nationalist and patriotic kitsch. It sees those outside the closed circle of the nation-state or the ethnic or religious group as diseased enemies that must be physically purged to restore the health of nation.

Many of these ideological elements are already part of our system of inverted totalitarianism. But inverted totalitarianism, as Sheldon Wolin wrote, disclaims its identity to pay homage to a democracy that in reality has ceased to function. It is characterized by the anonymity of the corporate centers of power. It seeks to keep the population passive and demobilized. I asked Wolin shortly before he died in 2015 that if the two major forms of social control he cited—access to easy and cheap credit and inexpensive, mass-produced consumer products—were no longer available would we see the rise of a more classical form of fascism. He said this would indeed become a possibility.

Bill Clinton transformed the Democratic Party into the Republican Party. He pushed the Republican Party so far to the right it became insane. Hillary Clinton is Mitt Romney in drag. She and the Democratic Party embrace policies—endless war, the security and surveillance state, neoliberalism, austerity, deregulation, new trade agreements and deindustrialization—that are embraced by the Republican elites. Clinton in office will continue the neoliberal assault on the poor and the working poor, and increasingly the middle class, that has defined the corporate state since the Reagan administration. She will do so while speaking in the cloying and hypocritical rhetoric of compassion that masks the cruelty of corporate capitalism.

The Democratic and Republican parties may be able to disappear Trump, but they won’t disappear the phenomena that gave rise to Trump. And unless the downward spiral is reversed—unless the half of the country now living in poverty is lifted out of poverty—the cynical game the elites are playing will backfire. Out of the morass will appear a genuine “Christian” fascist endowed with political skill, intelligence, self-discipline, ruthlessness and charisma. The monster the elites will again unwittingly elevate, as a foil to keep themselves in power, will consume them. There would be some justice in this if we did not all have to pay.

The parent conundrum here is how to create a way out of neoliberalism while dodging the rise of fascism.  Both require a much more politically conscious and politically courageous populace, who on occasion may also be an electorate.

Please feel free to browse more anti-Fascist and anti-authoritarian designs:

This Country Has Been Reformatted to Fit Your Fears--POLITICAL BUTTON I Don't Agree With President Vader's Policies, But I Still Think We Should Support Our Storm Troopers POLITICAL BUTTONWe Have Nothing to Fear But Fearmongers Themselves POLITICAL BUTTON

Make the lie big; make it simple; keep saying it; and eventually they will believe it --Adolph Hitler quote POLITICAL BUTTONOne Party System - Republicrats - POLITICAL BUTTONA Nation of Sheep Soon Beget a Government of Wolves - Edward R. Murrow Quote - POLITICAL BUTTON

You can't underestimate the power of fear. Tricia Nixon quote POLITICAL BUTTON

POEM: A World Without Boarders

Mother earth bids us
What rend must we pay
For such fear in dwelling
In apprehending tenets
In discriminating borne
Giving no quarter
To mother and child
And presumed fodder
Taking the place
Of wear every won re-sides
Drawing lyin’s in the sand
And hiking up shields of water
In a tsunami of divine just us
As fences of steal
Wherever we land
Keeping out nothing worth wile
As per sever demeanor
From our guarded kind
As all is wall
In the confines of what is ours a loan
Yet in efface of
The largesse attract of common ground
Enjoining to gather
What is the lease we can do
Inter or gate
Only wanton to ax
How to occupy that territory sow dear
Between haves and halves not
As humanity cleaves
To that intrepid hope
Of a world without boarders
In habit awe
As kin to won sky
Our only limit

This poem addresses the theme of borders and the human propensity to divide us up into cliques, clans, classes, and territories.  Such divisions are often to the detriment of the common good.  While often under the guise of security, such social stratifications unjust as often reinforce lazy conveniences and guarded advantages.  No Human Being is Illegal / No Ser Human Es Ilegal POLITICAL BUTTONIn this great nation of immigrants — and conquistadors to indigenous peoples — there has been much political rhetoric about building walls.  Xenophobia and scapegoating seem to have found more openly vulgar expressions in contemporary politics.  The peeling back of the veneer of civilization may simply be a necessary process to move from unconsciousness to consciousness of institutionalized racism, first-worldism, the seeming necessity of permanent war, and xenophobic fears of all sorts.  As our ways of life reveal themselves as ways of death, the choice for life becomes more clear — perhaps not any easier, but clearer.  This poem begins with the context of Mother Earth and human mother and child.  We are all children of Mother Earth, who only considers walls and borders as scars on her beauty.  Each of us is a child, daughter or son.  We are all brothers and sisters, cousins and kin.  We are one humanity.  We either realize that blood is thicker than water or our water will be thickened with blood.  We are all boarders on planet earth.  Activism Is My Rent For Living On This Planet -- Alice Walker quote POLITICAL BUTTONNo human being is illegal.  Nation states only deserve to exist inasmuch as they serve humanity and Mother Earth.  Without such stewardship, we just might find out the hard weigh what a world without boarders looks like.  May we rekindle a deep affection and connection to awe of our sisters and brothers near and far, for the healing of the world.

POEM: Ferry Tales

Buy politicians
We have been tolled
Ferry tales
From bank to bank
Holding no water
Liquidating assets
Left and right
Sow gully able
As they desperately wanton
US to believe
The chosen few, the elect
As top down
Driving in convertible submarines
Celling down the river
As whatever
Thou dust
Having already
Drunk
The KoolAid™
In effacing endless boos
As given the owed college try
And in curable desperation
Quipped to say
Bottom up
As no need to take any ship
From any won
Upright
Nor bail
For yawl

Here is an election day themed poem for Ohio’s presidential primary elections today.  While it’s easy to be cynical about politics, the adage, follow the money, is a powerful tool for understanding politics and power.  The political class, overpopulated by the aristocracy, has well developed strategies and tactics to appeal to the notion that they are on your side.  Inevitably, moneyed folks have a way of perpetuating their economic interests over less economically endowed folks.  These strategies and tactics are built into our everyday life — appealing to crass celebrity as distraction and chasing money (and its attendant addictive cycles of debt and over-consumption) as the unquestioned path to the good life — but during campaign season the high rhetoric typically pushes the limits of hypocrisy.  Unfortunately, the United States electorate is the most uniformed electorate among so-called advanced industrial democracies.  Plus, with brazen gerrymandering, corrupt party politics, lack of universal voter registration, and a whole host of practices degrading voter participation rather than enhancing it, our democracy has been bought and sold.  Our so-called democracy would be more aptly described as an oligarchy, plutocracy, or even kleptocracy.  Voter turnout in the U.S. is the lowest among so-called developed countries.  While increased voter turnout could offer modestly better results, a poorly informed electorate does not have the essential immunization against propaganda and manipulation that would make for a functioning democracy.  I strongly suspect the the bulk of effort needed to revitalize our democracy must occur outside of electoral politics, with social movements that force changes in our political system alongside cultivating positive changes toward a more just culture that respects human rights and dignity for all.  Voting matters, but if we rely primarily on voting, whatever is left of our democracy will matter little.  Vote with your feet and hit the streets; organize; and be the change you want to see in the world.

POEM: Can She Be Eunuch?

She stated
No one else can do what I do
To witch
They rejoined
Realing in whore
Accept that you are a cog
You intractable wrench
Unfit for cloning round
And unstranded
She cut out
From the puppet tier
Knot to be
Am ployed
As if
She were eunuch

This poem is about breaking away from the artifice and inhumanity of the machine, aka, capitalism, which is designed to monetize you in any way possible.  When someone discovers the passion of their unique role and contribution to the world, the machine pushes back as it has difficulty incorporating one’s soul eccentricities into it’s standardized system and dehumanized algorithms.  Generous portions of creativity easily overwhelm “the way we have always done things” as well as distant, disconnected orders from big bosses.  Creativity is so unnatural to the machine that it ultimately creates huge inefficiencies, even amidst its seeming devotion to efficiency.  The machine typically finds it much more expedient to grind cows to hamburger than even milk them for all that they are worth.  Workers’ humanity routinely suffers the analogous outcome.  Creativity that cannot be easily plugged into the machine is ignored, discounted, or actively stifled.  In this poem, the sheer stupidity and foolishness of a system that fails to adapt to the unfathomable creativity of the human spirit is represented by the rhetorical question that is the title: Can she be eunuch?  Beside the overlayed meaning of the pun eunuch/unique, the definitional absurdity of a female being a eunuch (a castrated male) illustrates how the machine fundamentally misunderstands and misuses the very people it is alleged to serve.  The machine is indiscriminate in its castration!  Of coarse, such crudeness does serve some people, just not workers within the system.  Even though a system well designed to incorporate human creativity and eccentricities could unleash incalculable efficiencies and productivity AND be well aligned with the desires and needs of each of those working within such a system, the capitalist system is not intended to produce the greatest good, particularly the common good, but instead is geared and cogged to produce material wealth for an elite few who pull the levers of so-called industry.  Private profit at the expense of human potential and the common good is the only real order of the day in capitalism.  The common good is reduced to foolhardiness as it is wide open to being robbed by the capitalistic princes of virtue, greed being the organizing principle of capitalism.  Human attributes not easily monetized atrophy in capitalism.  Turning humans into cogs for personal profit may very well be one of the better definitions of evil.  Robbing others of their God-given creativity and eccentric passions for a few bucks and a cynical acceptance of a diminished humanity is a pathetic way of honoring the countless gifts humanity brings to the world.  Courageous creativity, the bold commitment and determination to find a way to be who you were created to be, is the answer to the dehumanizing capitalistic machine.  Reveling in the infinitely greater portion of life that is not easily monetized assures a home and hearth for your own humanity and all those who take the time to be present to such gifts.  May you find your unique passions and the courage to boldly follow them in their many serendipitous consummations.

POEM: What If Everybody Did That?

Such sophistry
Firmly on the bench
But
What if
Everybody did that
Judging propriety
Smudging property
An intolerable act
My conscience
He decreed
Must fall
Into line
With Kant
Where every reason
Reduced to rant
It’s the leash they can do
In such a fine whirled
Of ethical confinement
And duly deputized
Might be right
As I thought
With unparalleled infection
Of making love to my wife
Only to arrest my life
At the notion
What if
Every body did that
And the orgy in suing
As just us
Endures a courtly rendition
Sow evident
Out of the question
As signs everywhere
Of legal violation

This poem was inspired by my encounter this mourning with a Toledo Municipal Court judge.  I appeared in court to address putting address labels on light poles.  The labels called for justice for Danny Brown, a local man who has endured 32 years of legal violation, including 19 years in prison for a crime he did not commit [see Justice for Danny Brown].  Also not having committed that crime, I feel as a kindred spirit to Danny.  Putting labels on light poles incited a criminal mischief charge, a third degree misdemeanor.  I was definitely more guilty than Danny Brown for this crime.  I made a statement that whatever cost may be associated with label residue on poles, it pales in comparison to the outstanding injustice Danny brown endures.  In simply monetary terms, compensation for his wrongful imprisonment would be over $900,000.  Interest alone, at 3%, would be $27,000 each year.  However, since Lucas County Persecutor Julia Bates continues to hold Danny on a person of interest list, linking him to an “active” (sic) case, he cannot apply for due compensation.  Danny is living in this legal, yet immoral, limbo indefinitely.  I consider my stickering a simple act of civic responsibility, working for justice for Danny brown as a person of interest in this case.

In a stunningly predictable statement, the judge asked the rhetorical question, “What if everybody did what you did?”  My poem is one answer to this question.  I can sleep well at night meditating on the question: what if everybody took risks for one another in working to ensure justice for all?

The judge’s Kant do attitude, whether knowingly or unknowingly, is a reference to the German philosopher Immanuel Kant’s best known contribution, that of the moral imperative, of universalizing a proposition to see what would happen, and making a judgment informed by that perspective.  Of course, if everybody fined me for a low level misdemeanor, then I would be in financial ruin — hardly proportional to the so-called crime.  I am not mocking Kant so much as the poor application of such logic by the judge.  In any case, and there will probably be more, while the judge is firmly on the bench dispensing with justice, I’ll be in the streets addressing justice for Danny Brown.

P.S. the reference to “my wife” represents poetic license, not a marriage license.  My sweetheart of 17 years is still my official muse, though unofficial “wife.”

ELECTION POEM: We De-serve More Than One Date a Year

Even with
The sorry lack
He in the capitol arena
He refuse
To beg for change
As riddled with ballots
From a stone throne
Presumed in a sense
As the free mark it
To mock a difference
In hour damn nation
Weather staying qualm
Or carrying on
As beheading
The wrong direction
Right
That’s going to work
Like pulling jobs
Out of a hat
Railroaded
And Rand over
Take
You’re choice
Taking liberties
Wear ever
Whatever
Left
Dying
With boots on
Won’s neck
And arms flailing
In the heir
Violins playing
US again
And masses cry
Weight
For some guardian angle
Following-lite
30 seconds and never the goaled
Promising silver ballots
For the monster knock off of your choice
The leaser of two evils
Billed on platforms not worth one read assent
Rhetorical quests in
Skirting half the populace
Out flanking the body politic
And the only deliverance
Is backwards male junk
Ridden on drossy stationary
Acceding Stepford lives
Androids answering robo calls
Buy passing any hire power
Rebutting humanity
Like sum tally whacker
Awl to govern us
Violating our hides
Out ranking privates
Another poll taken
As nations pawned
And questions razed
From the dread
The answer
Lies
Before us
And incite us
The time is now
To re-wind
These vane choices
Truly bearing
As wee
Vote with our feat
And in-F-able arts
De-serving
More than one date a year
Arrest of our daze
Courting flaccid elections
Feudal proposals
And tickets beyond won’s means
Soully to forge more candid dates
And over power
Our faux
Never miss lead

It’s election day!  This election poem captures the perennially popular cynicism concerning politics, particularly electoral politics, and issues a call for a more encompassing path to redress our collective grievances and embody our shared hopes.  In short, this entails year-round civic engagement where citizens vote regularly by putting some skin in the game and pouring their hearts into public life.  This sort of direct democracy leads by representing ourselves boldly and honestly to one another, backed up by whatever integrity we have in our lives.  We get the democracy we deserve.  Or, in this case, we get the democracy we de-serve.  We stop serving power structures and start serving one another.   This saps the top-down power so fraught with abuse and alluring to those more interested in governing others than governing themselves.  There is no patchwork of half-truths that can stand without the consent of the governed.  Elections are largely contrived of narrow choices pandering to the powers that be and offering mere styles of the status quo.  If we settle for a democracy that only works a day or two a year, and barely that, then we should adjust our expectations commensurately.  Though this is not the only choice: hemmed and hawed candidates or non-participation, not voting.  Whether you vote or not — and I think you should make such a modest investment of time — the body politic is not formed in a day or two.  What we do the rest of our days is decisive.  Work, shop, consume, die may be one way to go, but what price do we pay for our “free” time.  Free people live and give freely.  Free people are the freedom the want to see in the world; they are not waiting for license from others.  I like the saying: activism is the rent I pay for living on this planet.  I occupy this planet first, am a member of the human race second, and a citizen of a particular political jurisdiction/shopping zone thirdly.  If we unabashedly order our lives according to our deepest values and priorities, the sheer existential force of our lives will champion our planet, give rise to a cherished humanity, and even create a firewall against bullshit politics mistaken for a fertile common-wealth.  Of course, like they say, freedom isn’t free.  Being change in the world will exact a price.  And while you may only get what you pay for, there are untolled pleasant surprises along the way.  The only real question is how much are you willing to pay, and how much are you willing to play?

POEM: The Game of Life

One day
I realized
The game of life
And going back
In the box
Only to find
The rules had been lost
Long a go
And still
The game goes on

This short poem plays with the notion that life is a game.  Of course, there are many different types of games, each with their own set of rules.  Even if there is one monolithic set of rules that defines reality, it appears that there are countless games that can be played within that set of rules.  A wise person realizes that each of these sets of rules, for whatever game chosen (or implied in one’s actions), possesses a certain arbitrariness.  Such arbitrariness lacks a full claim in ultimate reality.  Any such partial claim, when lifted to sacred status, deserves and invites mocking.  Such playfulness and mocking delves into the wondrous paradox that irreverence can be the highest form of reverence in a given situation.  Irreverence playfully invites us to a fuller and more sacred view of reality.  And such playful invitations can harness the awesome character of pointing out high truths without the downer of overzealously demanding obedience.  Such playful invitations abide by a sacred respect for higher truths as demanding obedience in and of themselves, without contrivance or brute force.  In the games of life, there is often a negative connotation with playing in the sense of “games people play” — when we treat other players as objects in the game, not an equal or full players.  I prefer a more positive connotation, as elucidated by Zen Buddhism’s nonseriousness, apparent foolishness under-girded by wisdom:

“There is a certain quality of foolishness in a real wise man. Why? Because a real wise man contains the opposite. He is both together. He is more comprehensive. A wise man who has no foolishness in him will be dry, dead. His juice will not be flowing. He will not be green. He will not be able to laugh; he will be serious; he will be a long face. A wise man who is just wise and in whose being the fool has not been integrated will be very heavy. It will be difficult to live with such a wise man. He will be very boring. He will be boring to you and he will be boring to himself. He will not have any fun; his life will not know any joy. He will be completely unacquainted with laughter. And when laughter is missed, much is missed.

And one can never know God without laughter. One can never know God without joy. One can never know reality just by being wise.

The fool has something to contribute too — the laughter, the joy, the nonseriousness, the quality of fun, delight. The fool can dance, and the fool can dance for any reason whatsoever — any excuse will do. The fool can laugh. And the fool can laugh not only at others, he can laugh at himself.

When the wise man and the fool meet together in a consciousness, then something of tremendous value happens. There are foolish people and there are wise people. The fool is shallow; the wise man is serious. The fool does not know what truth is, and the wise man does not know what joy is. And a truth without joy is worse than a lie. And a joy without truth is not reliable. A joy without truth is momentary, cannot be of the eternal.”

Nonseriousness and humorlessness are linked to fundamentalist religious faith and militancy.  Militancy — including militarism — and violence are anathema to good humor:

The overarching difference is between the mental rigidity of religious faith and the mental flexibility of humor.

1. The first contrast is between the respect for authority in religious faith, and the questioning of authority in humor. In faith-based religions, people believe what they are told, and do they do what they are told, by a leader, typically a patriarchal leader. God himself is pictured as the ultimate patriarchal authority, the Lord, the King of the Universe.

The psychology of humor, by contrast, involves questioning authority. The humorist’s role, from the court jesters of ancient China to today’s standup comedians, has been to think critically about people’s language, about their reasoning, about their actions, and about the relations between all three. From the days of ancient Greek comedy, the creators of humor have looked for discrepancies between what political and religious leaders say and what they do. Aristophanes poked fun not only at political leaders but at intellectual leaders like Socrates, and even at the gods.

2. The second contrast is between the simple, often dualistic, conceptual schemes of religious faith and the more complex conceptual schemes of humor. Faith-based religions offer believers simple concepts with which they can classify everything they experience. Master categories include “good and evil,” and “us and them.” Osama bin Laden’s speeches and George W. Bush’s speeches are full of name-calling based on such simple dualistic categories. As Bush has admitted, he “doesn’t do nuance.”

Comic thinking, on the other hand, is more complex and messy. The world doesn’t separate neatly into a few categories. In comedy, there aren’t any all-good people, nor any all-bad people. Even the best person involved in the best kind of action is likely to be tainted by some selfishness, foolishness, and maybe even hypocrisy. When characters appear in comedy promoting simple conceptual schemes, they are often satirized as fanatics or fools.

3. The third contrast is between the militarism of religious faith and the pacifism of humor. Religions based on faith tend to feel threatened by other world views and so tend to want to eliminate the proponents of those views. And so they often justify violence against “the heathen” or “the infidel,” as General Boykin and Osama bin Laden do.

From the beginning, however, comedy has been suspicious of calls to eliminate those who think differently, and has been suspicious of violence as a way to solve problems. Aristophanes’ comedy Lysistrata satirized the insanity of the constant fighting between the Greek city states. In modern times, the futility of war has been the theme of dozens of comedies, which have lampooned the willingness to kill or die on command. Comic heroes are usually good at talking their way out of conflicts, and when that fails, they are not ashamed to run away. The comic attitude here is captured in the old Irish saying “You’re only a coward for a moment, but you’re dead for the rest of your life.”

4. The fourth contrast is between the single-mindedness of religious faith and the willingness to change one’s mind in humor. The person of faith treats alternative viewpoints as possible sources of doubt, and so something to be suppressed. Once they make a divinely sanctioned choice of action—as in George Bush’s decision to invade Iraq, they “stay the course” no matter what happens. They do not look for mistakes they might have made, they do not try to think of how they might proceed differently, and they tend to be defensive when they are challenged. Faith-based religions tout what Conrad Hyers (1996) calls “warrior virtues”: courage, loyalty, duty, honor, indomitable will, unquestioning obedience, stubborn determination, and uncompromising dedication.

In comedy, by contrast, the person who has an idée fixe is portrayed as foolish. Comic heroes do set courses of action, but they are adaptable after that. As situations change, they can too. Their plans are not set in stone but are contingent and reversible. Often, the comic hero has not even determined in advance what will count as success or failure.

5. The fifth contrast is between the idealism of religious faith and the pragmatism of humor. The rhetoric of faith-based religions is full of abstractions like Truth, Faith, and Freedom. On the enemy side are those who love Evil.

Comedy, on the other hand, is based not on abstractions but on concrete things, people, and situations. Comic heroes are concerned not about Truth and Freedom but about their next meal, and getting the one they love to love them in return. Not longing for some utopia, they are at home in the world as it is.

6. The sixth contrast is between the convergent thinking of faith-based religions and the divergent thinking of humor. Convergent thinking aims at reaching the correct answer. In divergent thinking there is no single correct answer, but dozens, maybe hundreds of possible good answers. A standard exercise in divergent thinking is to think of thirty uses for a building brick.

With their simple conceptual schemes and their emphasis on thinking in traditional ways, faith-based religions do not encourage creativity or cleverness. A good example is George W. Bush and his wife Laura. On a TV interview program, Laura Bush was asked if she and the President had pet names for each other. She said, “Oh Yes.” “What is your pet name for him?” the interviewer asked. “Bushie,” she answered. “What is his pet name for you?” “Bushie,” she said again.

Unlike such unimaginative plodders, people with a rich sense of humor are creative. The master skill of the comedian is to look at something familiar in a new way.

7. The seventh contrast is between seriousness and playfulness. Faith-based religious visions of life are paradigms of seriousness, and humor is a paradigm of nonseriousness. It is persons, I take it, who are serious in the basic sense of the word. Issues and problems are called “serious” because they require persons to be serious about them. For us to be serious is to be solemn and given to sustained, narrowly focused thought. It is also for us to be sincere in what we say and do. We say only what we believe, and act only according to our real intentions.

Seriousness is contrasted with playfulness. When we are playful, we are not solemn and are not given to sustained, narrowly focused thought. We are not bound to sincerity in what we say and do. We may say something outlandishly false for the mental jolt it gives us and others. We may impersonate someone, or feign some emotion, just for the fun of it.”

I suspect that an accurate reading of reality would call out for more Irreverends than Reverends.  Religion, institutionalized spirituality, must perpetually wrest with its own laughableness.  For any institution branding itself with any given set of “authoritative” creeds, must be able to laugh at itself, and accept mocking in good humor, to even hope for greater authority — an authority forever lying outside any gaming.  Yet, the show must go on!

POEM: We Won’t Be Food Again

I would rather
Be Job
Less than
Renounce
A living wager
And know place to lie
My head
My heart
Made homeless
In loo of
A fast fooled nation
For going
The beast
Wee
Can due
Hitched to number one
Number too
As on the line
For given debts
In place of
Solemn assemblies
And last riots
As wreck we him
For the masses
Left too
Starve
As a full groan man
Eschewing
A distended belly
And infantile grimace
Dis gorging
To which I object
A single finger
And vomiting
A sour second
Relative to the toil it evacuates
As vying a bowel inconsonance
And those who are but in
Fringe benefits over doo
Be rated by privilege takers
Of a hollowed hire power
Pro claim
There is no Black day for employment
The unanswered trump it
As if
Falling flat to some honky
Reveres discrimination
As dark daze per severe
The fecund material bound
Now a mushrooming clerical class
Beaten too
A bully pulp it    
Copious crumbs and the blest whines
Offering salivation
Like no me
Biblically
Throwing the book at me
Showing me the works
As if in some fooled court
Taking out
On me
Sum type
Of contract
Know labor
No food
Nor time travel to
’79 sense
For every dollared earn
Or as a payday loan
Cash here
Slipping through my fingers
Each day
For another till
My dreams standing still
Idoling money changers
On short order
Cooking the books
Serving as sum batterer
Or fry guy
Who is just
Greased
At the end of the day
Pain
You less
Than what
You learned
With respect to
Meat grate people
Seriously toying
“Be the happy meal”
As if
I whir
To halve a cow
And go to town
Drug by sum ferry tale
A bout
Worshipping some magic beings
Stalking skyward
As some giant rumble
To expose my hide
Wont to grind my bones
For their bred
My blood smelt
As iron away
From their golden cuffs
Razing my shackles once again
I will only ax once
As you know not jack
Weather the heavens fall
Either I am
Udderly fed up
Or my last words herd
Eat me
As I will only be
Food once
It’s just
Awe in a daze work

I wrote this poem today, all in a days work!  This poem was triggered by my experience last night at a community meeting, “Faith Conversations on Income Inequality.”  I was somewhat disappointed that of the two hours, less than 15 minutes was conversation.  The meeting was mostly didactic, with two detailed presentations, a short film well documenting the existence of actual poor working people in our very state of Ohio, and a short small group exercise (where some conversation occurred).

The kicker for the evening was after the meeting when conversing with a woman who I had never met proclaimed the disproportionately too-often cited and familiar, “If a person doesn’t work, then they don’t deserve to eat” (see 2 Thessalonians 3:10).  Of course, the key word and concept in this passage is an unwillingness to work.  I might add dignified and humane work.  Either way, it certainly doesn’t apply to people who can’t find work.  Further, in the previous verse, the apostles speaking about their own self-support when visiting the Thessalonians, say, “We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you to imitate.  This seems to state that they did claim a right to such help (food), but were modeling an additional value of not being a burden on others.  If the apostles accepted help, when they were able to pay their own way, and this caused a burden to another, then they shouldn’t take such a necessary resource from another.  The higher way modeled by the apostles seems more apt as a critique of people unjustly benefiting from paying poverty wages, thus causing a burden to others, than as a critique of food as a human right.  Perhaps a less sophisticated yet more easily understood response to worrying about hungry people getting too much food is Uggghhh!

I had really hoped for an opportunity to share personal experiences and perspectives on faith and poverty, or income inequality.  For better or worse, I’ve thought about such things my whole life.  Still, I am actually eager to learn more, as I continue on my journey.  The story of dealing with poverty seems to me to be full of good news-bad news.  In my case, the bad news is that technically, I have lived in poverty most of the last decade — technically, meaning that my average income has been under the federal poverty guidelines.  The good news is that I am the wealthiest person I know — of course, I don’t get out much!  Such a conundrum has provided much experience and raw material upon which to meditate regarding what is true wealth.

One main point that I believe could help bring a more balanced perspective in our dealing with poverty is this: from a spiritual perspective, we must give equal time to spiritual poverty.  This is perhaps most succinctly captured by Mother Teresa, “It is a poverty to decide that a child must die so that you may live as you wish.”  I see Jesus as quite clearly spelling out the dividing line: “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” (Matthew 6:24)  And, of course, serving God is inextricably linked with serving our neighbors: ” ‘The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.’  ‘What should we do then?’ the crowd asked.  John answered, ‘Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.’ ” (Luke 3:9-11)

A corollary of this spiritual view of poverty is that we must not stigmatize the poor, or dishonor God’s special relationship with them.  I half-jokingly put this under the moniker of: “You say poverty like it’s a bad thing!”  A couple of generations ago, Latin American theologians developed the concept of God’s “preferential option for the poor.”  In part, this refers to the special relationship that the poor, disenfranchised, and marginalized have with God.  Their vulnerability manifest by oppression in the world creates an openness to God’s way.  This openness fosters a greater intimacy, deeper understanding, and easier access to living in harmony with God’s laws (ultimate reality).  Of course, harmony with God’s laws is counter-cultural to the status quo and the powers that be.  Intriguingly though, the oppressed already stare down the brutal realities of the powers that be every day; so, being counter-cultural is much less of a leap “of faith” than those who benefit from the status quo.  This is perhaps the most simple reason why top down change rarely, if ever, benefits the poor more than the rich.  Thus, the poor are already primed to adopt God’s ways, as the world’s ways sure as hell aren’t working for them.  Jesus is a striking example of acting in accordance with this reality.  Jesus spent the vast majority of his time with the dispossessed, and “regular” folks, the 99% if you will.  In a stroke of spiritual genius, Jesus planted his message among people who were both most open to God’s message and had their material interests aligned to move in a direction parallel to God’s ways, including, of course, justice.  No doubt, Jesus played a prophetic role, in directly confronting the powers that be, whether religious, political, or economic elites.  Such confrontations were likely inevitable.  Even so, Jesus brought an unwavering dignity, intimacy, and authority (street cred) to such encounters.  Jesus did not shy from his fully humanizing ways, even in the face of dehumanizing forces.  This was a palpable measure of how Jesus loved his enemies.  This is God’s ways manifest.  The poor have fewer barriers to accessing such ways. Let’s learn from the poor!

I have lived among affluent people of faith most of my life.  For the affluent, the vast majority of us in the so-called developed world, I am convinced that voluntary poverty and simplicity is the most powerful tool to transform our world, God’s creation, into ways friendly to abundant life.  I have drawn this conclusion from my profound failure to convince rich westerners to truly care about the world’s poorest.  I am a formidable debater, both informed and with heart.  Still, the misery of my failure to convince others with words is exceeded only, and greatly, by the misery of the world’s poorest.  I cannot escape the weight of my experience that the affluence of westerners, including myself, and the material conflicts of interest we are embedded in, is the single most important factor preventing such a conversion.  Better aligning our material interests with the poor, through voluntary poverty and simplicity, can unleash a cascading journey where the soul’s force begins to flow more freely, as water invites gravity to do its work — and the most grave law unbroken, that of love.  This poem of mine alludes to the freedom gained by simple living:

Dining with Kings and Queens
Courtly balls
Knightly duels
And priestly indulgences
You can avoid it all
If only you are happy
Eating beans

Probably the greatest illusion humans face is seeing wealth (and its companions, status and power) as an answer to all of their problems.  Surely, people have material needs, and those needs going unmet is a tragedy.  However, once one’s basic material needs are met, wealth becomes a disability to the individual and a disease to society.  There is a great body of psychological and sociological evidence that increasing wealth makes us less compassionate and less generous.  In short, wealth serves as a wedge between people and God.  Science confirms the truth of not being able to serve two masters.  People can, and do, argue about the role of material scarcity in the problems of poverty — just witness political wranglings about budget-busting social programs in the richest nation the world has ever known.  Nonetheless, there is one pervasive and undeniable fact: there is, and has been for at least centuries, enough physical resources to more than meet the material needs of every human on the planet.  In this light, spiritual poverty is exposed.  We can solve material want; we choose not.  It is not a close call!

Poverty worldwide is endemic.  Billions of people live on $2 per day or less.  Those most likely to be the poorest are women and children — so much for family values.  People of color are also at much greater risk.  Those most likely to go hungry are those who grow food, our farmers.  The only way this can happen is to literally steal food from their hands.  The rich claim a hugely disproportional share of the world’s resources, including the productive labors of billions.  All the wile, pawning sham scarcity as an excuse for their hoarding and ravenous ways.  Gandhi captured it well when asked what he thought of Western civilization.  He responded, “I think it would be a great idea.”  I concur.

With untrammeled globalization, poverty can only be adequately viewed as a global problem.  The causes of poverty cannot be isolated within one country.  We, as a world, are in the same boat — though, undoubtedly, there is an increasing chasm between the accommodations of first and third class.  Debt, just as in biblical times, is used to enslave people.  We are told that the world is in great debt, accepting it as gospel truth.  Yet, to whom exactly are we are in debt?  Pay no attention to the money changers behind the curtain.  Exploitation and robbing of natural resources unjustly enriches the wealthier.  Such profitable cleverness is called business.  Meanwhile, non-prophet organizations stand by impotent to counter this unseemly necessity.  And governments suffer from electile dysfunction. The good news is that the cancerous idol of endless economic “growth” may not destroy creation, with such abundance and ingenuity.  Praise be to God!  If only, God forbid, the dream of a worldwide “middle class” can be averted.  Work.  Buy.  Consume.  Die.

Less poetically put, the “powers that be” work on a global scale.  This juggernaut of globalization reduces humans to economic beings in a consumer culture.  People become means to ends, not being of sacred worth and inherent dignity.  To enforce this state of affairs, wars are waged as “needed.”  These wars, unsurprisingly, do not serve the interests of the dispossessed.  This global reality is rooted in a distinct worldview: poverty is not the problem; poverty is the solution.  While a tsunami of rhetoric speaks of jobs, unemployment serves to lower wages, not just of the unfortunate unskilled, but of skilled labor too.  More unemployment is good for (someone else’s) business.  And if you missed that memo, perhaps the desperation of unemployment and wage slavery has you occupied.  Such desperation can serve as a distraction and thwart a healthy, functioning civil society (see electile dysfunction).

There is an African proverb which says: where there is no wealth there is no poverty.  This ancient wisdom emanates from the experience of humans over many generations and cultures that concentrated wealth creates poverty, that is, depends on poverty. There is a powerful illusion that wealth brings wisdom, that the rich must really know something that we don’t.  Well, if they do, it’s most likely occult or a cult.  I cite the incisive lyrics of “If I were a rich man” from the play, Fiddler on the Roof:

Posing problems that would cross a rabbi’s eyes!
And it won’t make one bit of difference if I answer right or wrong.
When you’re rich, they think you really know!

The truth is much simpler, and more stark: the rich need the poor; the poor don’t need the rich.  For those who might cite the droll biblical retort, “the poor will always be with us,” have you pondered this: if you think the poor are hard to get rid of, try the rich!

The diseased worldview of consumerism and capitalism has at least on Achilles’ heel.  This rests on the utter inability to answer a fundamental question in life: how much is enough?  Capitalism thrives on convincing you that you never have enough, you are perpetually lacking something (which we happen to be selling), and by extension: you are lacking.  This turns the Gospel’s worldview upside down.  The good news is that you are enough; God made you that way.  Return to this truth, and capitalism recedes to a perfunctory process describing the nominal exchange of goods — and the goods are actually good!

The meeting on faith conversations about income inequality focused on the United States.  While poverty extends far beyond, and is rooted in, the larger world, the U.S. can serve as an enlightening case study.  The U.S. just recently observed the 50th anniversary of the “war on poverty” as declared in 1964 by President Lyndon Johnson.  [For poetic versions of lessons learned from the “war on poverty,” see my poems, Hungering for Answers, and War on Poverty]  The “war on poverty” is about the same age as me.  During my lifetime, the U.S. has grown about three times wealthier in material wealth.  Nevertheless, more Americans work, and they work longer hours.  Some gains were made in reducing poverty in the early years.  However, the overall trend since the late 1970’s has been stagnating or declining wages, especially when compared to skyrocketing worker productivity.  Income inequality is higher now in America than in the last hundred years.

For those with biblical commitments, we are long overdue for a Year of Jubilee (Leviticus 25).  The year of Jubilee is a Sabbath of Sabbaths.  It prescribed forgiveness of debt every seven years.  In the fiftieth year — after seven cycles of seven years, not only was all debt forgiven, but all slaves were freed and all land returned to its original owners land.  This is the biblical prescription for preventing large concentrations of wealth and persons from being permanently dispossessed from their land and/or forced into servitude through debt.  Let’s make it so!

POEM: State of the Union – Barack Obama

The State of the Union

In come in equality
Barack Hussein Obama
Raising a question
Of will he deliver
His second state
Of the union
Different than the first
Shot from Chicagoland
Now addressing
From 1600 sumpin’
Pennsylvania Avenue
A White House
Supremely courting
Separate but unequal
Early childhood education
Ivy league schooling
Whether constitutionally a lawyer
Or a product of a miscegenation
A black community organizer
A white Harvard lawyer
Finessing Goodwill industries
Racking the Gap™
Lust but always found
His customary locution assured
In custom HeartMarx suits
In trademark blue
Navy blue
Projecting power
No longer caught
In the wrong hoodie
Or his name isn’t Hussein
And what race winning
Between time and money
Soul and intellect
Vulnerability and power
Weather fair skin in the game
Or black ass on the line
Given the can
And the will
The eternal questioning
Lying in the fold
The gap
Between Barack and Obama
In-creasing
And yes
De-spite the rhetoric
We can
And we will

I heard on the news that President Barack Hussein Obama will address income inequality and early childhood education in his state of the union speech today.  Given Obama’s presidency thus far, that’s all the rhetoric I needed to launch this poem.  This poem is a play on the tensions between who we want to be, who we think we can be, how others view us, and what expectations others may have of us.  From many angles, the inescapable tension present in the body politic and the body of Barack Obama is a race question.  For a long time now, I’ve found it puzzling that a biracial person in America is quite universally identified as the minority race.  In America, if you are half black and half white, you are black.  Is being black some type of pollutant that defines someone?  Is this some type of white fear that black is actually stronger than white, posing some inherent threat?  No doubt, culturally, for bi-racial people, it makes sense to identify with one’s minority status, since this defines ones external reality quite pervasively; thus framing to a large degree one’s own experience.  Of course, this is really a cultural question because the genetic foundation for racial differences is as flimsy a foundation in science as profoundly dangerous a reality on society.  Put simply, race is a social construct.  Race is a lazy and prejudicial classification of humans feeding our own biases.  Racism distracts us from the deeper realities of our oneness as a human family.  Racism is a tool to divide and conquer others.  Racism can no more be won than war can be won — it only creates more lost human potential.  I empathize with President Obama who must daily face the many powerful contradictions or tensions in his life and America.  However, I see class trumping racial identity.  I find it a much more coherent view that Obama is a Harvard lawyer than a black community organizer.  His high social and economic class seems a much better explanation for his actions than his racial and ethnic heritage.

Fortunately, my aim in human relations is infinitely higher than merely explaining, or even predicting, human behavior.  We can, and likely will, argue about the extent of human freedom, for any particular individual or “class” of humans.  Still, we are always at least somewhat free.  And it is in this space, whether narrow or wide, that we define our humanity.  This is true for the President of the United States of America, the presumed leader of the “free” world.  This is true for me and you.

If you follow politics at all, you cannot escape that even the most powerful person in the world, presumed to be the President of the good ole USA, is plagues by limits on his freedom, or perhaps more appropriately, his ambitions.  Personally, I revel that lowly me can do things that the President could not fathom; such as living without an alarm clock, or truly taking a week off.  Politics is said to be the art of the possible.  I’d like to think so.  However, it seems that politics is captured much more accurately as being the art of the probable.  The art of the possible is about acting out of an idealism ever-appreciating the stark reality that we can choose to act freely within reality present or looming.  Shrewdness is not well served by fixating on mere probabilities at the expense of our freedom, that defines us as human.

Of course, in this poem, I hope to raise the “race” question to a higher level, not bound by mere particularities, especially racial identity.  Ah, yes, the quest of a poet to tease out eternal themes and universal truths from our particular lives.  In this poem, this is framed as various races: between time and money, soul and intellect, and vulnerability and power.

Still, I am not, nor wish to be, immune from particularities.  I relish in the deliciously punny and serendipitous particularity that Obama wears custom Hartmarx suits.  I have taken the liberty of spelling this brand (probably trademarked!) with my own trademark style: HeartMarx.  The tensions and irony run deep as it can imply a (hidden) heart of Marx for Obama, or the pinnacle of a personal capitalistic brand perhaps too well-suited to speak authentically of income inequality.

May your state of union with reality be harmonious and joyful.

POEM: War on Poverty

War on Poverty

In our nation’s capital
We are drowning in think tanks
Our chief armament
In the war on poverty
And for all of their business
They have made up their mine
Poverty is not the problem
Poverty is the solution
Yet the war ever undertaking
Congress versus progress
Commander-in-chief of CEOs
Backed by supreme courts and county jailers
Triune bosses super intending won
Until six feet under
With nary a heart
The only pauper resting spot
From their holey canons
Granting fiats where one can scarcely ford
Pronouncing victory
In their own dialectical weigh
Emptying their echo chambers
Buy and buy
Only saying
Let them eat ordnances

This poem is in honor of the 50th anniversary of the “War on poverty” declared by President Lyndon Johnson in 1964.  Of course, there is war and poverty aplenty still.  Sometime in the 1980s, during the inglorious Reagan regime, I heard a phrase which has stuck with me ever since: Poverty is not the problem; poverty is the solution.  Fortunately, this phrase was uttered as a biting critique of the implicit assumptions of a capitalistic plutocracy.  The war on poverty is about the same age as me. The material wealth in the United States of America has more than tripled during this time.  Further, for at least centuries, there have been enough material resources to meet the basic needs of every human being on this planet.  Answering the question of why there is widespread poverty worldwide and within the fabulously wealthy U.S. is perhaps the most important inquiry humans on this planet can address.  The only real scarcity on this planet is within the human heart.  Talk is cheap, and rhetoric is not very nutritious.  Surely, Man does not live by bread alone.  As surely, Man does not live by focaccia alone.  Mother Theresa perhaps said it best: “It is a poverty to decide that a child must die so that you may live as you wish.”

POEM: Unemployable

I am unemployable
Partly because no one can afford what I’m worth
Partly because I prefer to give it away

This short poem harkens to a more organic way of relating to one another than contractual relationships.  What if people did what they love in life and gave freely?  I suspect that the world would be much better off.  Love unleashed is much more powerful, and synchronous with the deepest reality, than any personal profit or “earning.”  Giving freely is an invitation to escape the binds of the quid pro quo of contracts.  Contractual relationships are bound by a reciprocity that is defined by a limited payback.  The best that a contractual relationship can offer is an equal, reciprocal exchange or payback that ends when the direct participants/contractors get what they bargained for — it’s largely a closed system.  Of course, many would be quite satisfied with such a fair exchange.  I am not.  I yearn for an open system of unending streams of acts of kindness where little time and effort is spent on trying to guarantee that the giver gets back a commensurate, proportional return in a specific way. How about paying it forward?  Many will cry out, “Life is not fair; if you act that way, then you will get shortchanged.”  My answer: you are right, life is not fair — life is excellent!  My life is a gift that I can never repay, except in kind!  What is fair in life is that what we sow is what we reap.  The means produce the ends.  And the kinds produce new beginnings.  As Gandhi, a man well accustomed to the darker and lighter sides of humanity, proclaimed, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” People convinced that mutual exchange negotiated by two parties is the best we can do, will likely not do much better.  I, for one, would like to participate in a much bigger party!  And like John Lennon said, “You may say I’m a dreamer. But I’m not the only one. I hope someday you will join us. And the world will live as one.”

Us dreamers don’t deny that people can treat you badly, worse than you treat them.  What dreamers don’t deny, but affirm, and live into, is that people can treat each other better than they are treated.  Within this blessed inequality is a sacred space where forgiveness, grace, and gratitude flourish.  I view this as the most fundamental and appropriate response to the existential reality that I did nothing to deserve my life; or, as John Paul Sartre and Paul Johannes Tillich would join in saying, “We are not the ground of our own being.”

The fright of giving freely is easily identified, and it is commonplace.  Interestingly though, perhaps more illustrative is the odd reality that receiving freely is also very difficult and scary for many people.  The fright that binds these two conditions is not the fear of not getting enough, but rather the fear of not earning one’s way.  If I receive freely, then I might owe someone or something.  This may trigger an even deeper fear of being controlled, having this debt being used against you.

I suspect that this fear of being controlled, having a debt being used against you, may be the most basic fear contained within false religion, that is, religion which controls rather than sets free.  Perhaps ironically, this fear of having a debt that one cannot repay may be a frightening undergirder of atheism (a rejection of a giver?).  The modern scientific atheist betrays this worldview by a singular focus on scientific reductionism, the world of causality where each individual party has a proper accounting (hmmm…sounds a bit like a religion).  In this world of causality, that paradoxically is proclaimed to exist without a cause (“it just is” — like God?), there is no room for generosity or forgiveness, only ever finer engineering and accounting.  Mystery becomes simply ignorance, a hubris-ridden assumption about what lies beyond the veil.  Humility and hubris seem as one.  Is it any wonder that scientific atheists may find their attitudes vacillating from extreme causality and exacting control to impenetrable absurdity.

Back to the basic theme of this poem, which challenges a worldview dominated by “earners.”  Humans and humanity are too valuable to be monetized for the convenience of more efficient commerce.  Human rights are not for sale, but arise out of the sacred worth of human life.  Perhaps the best illustration of how far we have strayed from this is by the fact that you can substitute “the market” or “the economy” with the word “God” and you would find that it all makes sense, in a strangely perverse way.  We must bow to the false god of Mammon, or worldly wealth and power, but it will never set us “free.” As Jesus adroitly put it, “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” (Matthew 6:24)   Reflecting on this basic pivot point in life may give rise to a more modern take on truth and freedom: The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off!

There are few things in modern American politics that will piss people off more than confronting “a sense of entitlement.”  Conservatives more typically take offense at a “sense of entitlement.”  Liberals more typically work to protect “entitlements.”  I think that this liberal desire to protect “entitlements” springs from a sense of human rights which transcend market valuations.  Unfortunately, the debates about “entitlements” pays too much homage to economic worthiness than sacred worthiness.  I view conservatives’ objections to “entitlements” as springing from this worldview that holds “earning” as sacrosanct.  Such a worldview rejects both “giving freely” and “receiving freely.”  Conservative religious rhetoric aside, the dubious conservatives’ claim that giving should be done freely (without government involvement) is perhaps best debunked simply by their giving behavior.  Feeble claims that government robs them of enough resources to give is easily countered by the fact that the more people have the less they give proportionally (whether conservative or liberal).  The urge to give must spring from some place different than having a lot of stuff to give.  If this sacred place from which giving arises is to become incarnate in this world, then we must behave congruously with the reality that each human is more valuable than any employer can pay, and we must prefer giving over earning.

May you resist the temptation to monetize your humanity, or anyone else’s, and may you give freely, centered in that sacred space where what is most valuable is experienced.

POEM: Government Listening

I’d like a government that listens
More than listens in
And NO, I don’t want fries with that!

We need to truly listen to one another, in order to create together a democracy that represents us.  Democracy is an open dialogue, not one-sided surveillance.  Listening is not the same as listening in!  State secrecy always poses a threat to true democracy.  Secret state surveillance on its own citizens always poses a threat of privacy violations and abuse of power.  State secrecy threatens the ability of we the people to hold our government accountable.  In fact, state secrecy puts the power of government in somebody else’s hands — and who that is exactly is well…a secret!

The last line of the poem is a stab at the automatic rhetoric that is often employed by government and corporations in a reactionary manner to any request — always trying to up-sell you to some predetermined agenda.  In the politics of state secrecy and spying, terms like “terrorism” and “way of life” are bandied about.  In the politics of our everyday economy, the truth on the ground is “would you like fries with that?”  When our government listens to us, it will actually answer our questions, not just spit back inane questions.  May we continue to work to assure that this becomes a fuller reality each day.

FREE POSTER: MLK I Have a Dream, Obama I Have Drone

To celebrate the legacy of peace and justice of Martin Luther King, Jr. this upcoming MLK Day 2013, I have designed this free downloadable poster: “MLK I Have a Dream, Obama I Have Drone”

You can download this free 8-1/2 X 11″ Martin Luther King Poster – “MLK Dream, Obama Drone” here

Download Free Martin Luther King Obama Poster

This Martin Luther King Jr. design is a little edgier than many of my MLK designs.  However, in meditating upon our upcoming local MLK celebrations in Toledo, Ohio, I recognize that the profound edginess of MLK’s body of work for peace and justice is often turned into some kind of namby-pamby niceness and abstraction of pure intentions.  Of course, this overlooks the hard-core and often very unpopular work that MLK conducted.  I was extremely disappointed, as were so many others, when President Obama gave his acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize.  While Mr. Obama typically finely targets his fine rhetoric to his audience, his speech to the largely pacifist aficionados of the Nobel Peace Prize was nothing less than crude apologetics for violence.  Unfortunately, Mr. Obama’s rhetoric has been fully incarnated into deadly policy with his escalation of killer drones initiated by Pres. George W. Bush.

I plan on passing out free buttons to participants of our local MLK celebration.  I expect that many people will be a little reluctant at the harsh juxtaposition of Martin Luther King Jr. and his idealistic and famous “I have a dream speech” with President Obama’s droning on with killer strikes, raining death on mostly civilians and often children. Mr. Obama’s killer drone strikes is perhaps this millennium’s best example (so far) of a blatant violation of international law and national sovereignty.

The timely and timeless question: what would MLK do?  Is appropriate especially for MLK Day, and every day in 2013.  What say you?

View Martin Luther King, Jr. designs (available on buttons-pin, T-shirts, stickers, bumper stickers, caps, mugs and more)

Obama Shifts Military Defense Cuts to Domestic Programs

George Zornick blogs in The Nation about Obama’s Plan to Save the Military From Cuts—at the Expense of Domestic Programs.  Here is an excerpt:

“As budget wonks comb over President Obama’s outline for fiscal year 2013, a startling White House plan has become clear: the administration is seeking to undo some mandatory cuts to the Pentagon at the expense of critical domestic programs. It does so by basically undoing the defense sequester that kicked in as a result of the Congressional supercommittee on debt.

…This is a dramatic shift in priorities, and one that not many people are discussing. Given the massive lobbying potential of the defense industry—and the comparably weak advocates for things like Head Start funding—it’s a virtual certainty that, under the White House proposal, these strict spending caps would be met by raiding nonsecurity spending heavily in years to come.”

Defense spending is a long-standing sacred cow.  Military defense is the closest thing we have to a religion in our secular society, coming in a close second to money, only because the value of military defense eventually is reduced to a derivative of our love of money and resources.  Of course, an overwhelmingly high level of vague threats to our national security, meaning military security, is necessary to successfully beat the drums of war and get the general population to act against its own self-interest in providing for domestic security, meaning health, housing, education, meaningful work, etc.

Pres. Obama, commander-in-chief, reigning over the most powerful nation in human history, not surprisingly, places his pinch of incense on the altar of Caesar, which conveniently happens to be him, and pours untold billions into the sacred cow of so-called defense spending, which has financially and morally bankrupt our government and society.  Ignore the prestidigitations of rhetoric.  Pay attention to the other hand which is quietly creating accounting devices to rob us of our birthright, our own government by the people and for the people.  No, wait, doesn’t he have a Nobel Peace Prize in his other hand…