Archive for November 2007

Tis the season

November 24, 2007

The hucksters are now in full bore. The Globe and the Star had full page ads gutting the holy story (Torah) and the 10 Commandments by having a robotic model, a real Stepford wife gazing vacuously at the camera as the text reads “THOU SHALT  NOT COVET THEY FRIENDS DESIGNER CLOTHING ” an ad for Holt Renfrew. Less than a subtle attack on the alternative biblical narrative which rejects consumerism as a worthy value.  Rabbi Michael Lerner sends this message out to readers of Tikkun: Give the Environment a BreakThis Year Don’t Buy Things For Holiday Gifts  Every year, Americans spend billions of dollars on holiday gifts that will quickly be discarded or put into a closet where it will be little used. Many will end up in a junk pile sometime in the next few years, further polluting our environment.      Meanwhile, the production of these goods will use up natural resources that could be used to help provide housing, furniture and clothing for the poor of the earth, or which could be preserved for future generations.      For years I’ve run “holiday stress” groups and heard first hand about the depression and despair that afflicts tens of millions of Americans, either because they can’t afford to purchase the goods that are advertised in the media and set a standard of consumption beyond their means, or because they purchase and deepen their personal debts, or because they don’t receive the quality or quantity of gifts that they’ve come to believe reflects how much they are really loved. But there are better ways to show love besides giving things.      The shopping frenzy between Thanksgiving and Christmas  effects everyone—I’ve seen it undermine Chanukah as well as Christmas, and afflict those whose only connection to the holidays is the purchasing of material things.  Ironically, buying things has never been part of the essence of this season. 

Reagan the Racist

November 23, 2007

In 1980 we started our vigil against nuclear weapons.

A bunch of religion teachers and students vigilled every Friday for about 5 years. If we knew Reagan was  a catastrophe for the poor what in hell were US Christians voting for a clown like this?

Ronald Reagan  we all knew would be a disaster for the world, the US and the poor. An illiterate electorate voted him in and the neocons actually attempted to put his face on Mt Rushmore. Incredible yet it happened. They tried to pawn a grade B actor and a predator on the local and global poor as a great president. His goofy smile and ah shucks manner hoodwinked so many Americans into believing this nice guy was for them instead of the corporate class whose puppet he was. One of the worst presidents in history—he stacked up a deficit bigger than his predecessors combined, piled the bodies up all through Central America—more blood on his hands than most of his predecessors.

In a brilliant recent column in NY Times,  Bob Herbert described his opening rally in his  run at the presidency in 1980. It was deep in Mississippi not far from where the civil rights workers Goodman and Schwerner were murdered by vicious crackers in 1964. The movie Mississippi Burning deals with this notorious case.

And here was Reagan pandering to the racist crowd with his his “I believe in states rights”—the not so obvious code word for white supremacy and segregation. The crackers ate it up and gave poor old Reagan his landslide victory in Mississippi. here was the same bigot who voted against ML KIng having a national holiday and regularly refused to condemn  apartheid.

Reagan was the classic creation of the corporate elite whom he enriched during his failed presidency. He sure hoodwinked people in the United States of Amnesia.

The Chintzy Tories

November 22, 2007

Always money for war as Canada’s military budget soars and foreign aid disappears.

According to a study, by Steven Staples, Director of the Rideau Institute and Centre for Policy Alternatives  Canada’s military spending will reach $18.24 billion in 2007-08—an increase of 9% over 2006-07—and will continue to rise to $19.418 billion by 2009-10.

“Military spending is higher now than it was in the peak of the Cold War, when Canada was at war in Korea,” says Staples.

This is staggering.who are we at war with?

There is no war on hunger or poverty though. One out of five Canadian children is still living in poverty.

And wow we’ve taken in about 3,000 Iraqi refugees. Are we ever generous!

Here’s “Steve” Harper who was gung ho for this catastrophic war and now that it is broken he refuses to help pick up the pieces. 4 million refugees and the poorest countries like Syria and Jordan are dealing with the worst refugee crisis since the Israelis drove the Palestinian out in 1948.


A government with all the wrong priorities .

The School of the Assassins

November 19, 2007

The Church below the Church is alive!

from Ft. Benning Georgia    The demonstration against the School of the Americas, the primary place training people from the armies of repression in Central and South America (and for all we know, also at Guantanamo and Iraq) to implement torture and “disappearance” or outright murder of dissenters (that would be you and me if we lived there), was an amazing example of what a Spiritual Progressive event could be.

    Organized by Catholic Priest Father Roy Bourgeious and a collectiveof amazingly wonderful young people who have become the active organizers, the School of the Americas Watch invites people to come to Fort Benning, Georgia once a year on the weekend before Thanksgiving to protest what they describe as “The School of the Assassins.” And they have the facts so masterfully organized that in some way one feels that if anything they are underestimating the evil done by the U.S. government through the School of the Americas. The facts are there to be seen: that the leaders of the military juntas, the torturers, the people identified as leading or organizing mass slayings in Chile and Argentina, in Colombia, Peru, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Mexico, Honduras, Venezuela, had been trained at the School of the Americas (which periodically changes its name so that it can appear as though it is something different, though it still continues doing the same thing).

    The weekend began with workshops, with a teach-in, with great musicians, and with a very impressive Catholic mass attended by several thousand at which the major focus was on the 6 Catholic priests and their housekeeper and her daughter who were slaughtered by troops under the control of one of these murderers, though all the others were also remembered. It was a very moving experience.

    Sunday, there was a mass rally at the gates of Ft. Benning, which had been surrounded by new fences and barbed wire and heavy contingents of police and helicopters overhead. After short talks by Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, Congressman Dennis Kucinich, Rabbi Michael Lerner, Sister Mary Waskowiak (President of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, Father Roy Bourgeiois, and music from Holly Near and the Indigo Girls, and the crimes of each country’s School of Americas graduates were mentioned by people from those countries (many in Spanish with English translators) the real focus of the day began: a solemn procession of the close to 30,000 people in attendance, in which many of the names of the disappeared or slaughtered were read one by one, and after each name, the entire throng would call out “Presente” (“here”—meaning that we would not let their spirits and their memory die). The overwhelming sadness gripped us all, as people who had lost their families grieved publicly and all of us wondered how the U.S. could still be training and doing this kind of murder and torture

    There were other aspects of the day—music, puppeteers, and joyous affirmation of life. But what was so impressive was that almost everything was kept within the confines of the spiritual meaning of the day. Absent were anarchists trying to escalate the struggle into violence, or people arguing that this or that speaker wasn’t good enough or that the organizing was screwed up for reason a, b or c. The normal sniveling and picking on each other and on the leadership just wasn’t happening. Instead, people were able to transcend the typical “how does this event feel to ME?” focus and put their energy on grieving and affirming the lives of those who had died (not all of the hundred thousand or more who have been killed by the graduates of the School of the Americas were called by name, but several thousand were). The music was lively, but there were rituals that were familiar to the mostly Catholic participants, most of whom raised little wooden crosses that had been distributed them, tens of thousands of them, each time someone’s name was responded to by the call “presente.”    This has become a stirring annual gathering of the Catholic Left in the U.S.—probably the largest such gathering that ever takes place each year. And though the Catholic Left is not the dominant voice in the Church, its presence here was a beautiful embodiment of what such a Catholic Left could look like were it to have more power in the church. There were students from Catholic high schools and colleges from all around the Eastern U.S. (not much presence from the West, lots from the Midwest)—so there were thousands and thousands of young people aged 15-27, making this gathering far more representative of a cross section of the age range of Americans and Canadians  than any I have attended since the war in Iraq began. 

Lest we forget…indeed

November 18, 2007

  1. The usual blather on Remembrance Day…always disconnected to the slaughter of today.

Thanks to John Pilger for staking out the insincere Labor government in the U.K. On 25 October, Dai Davies MP asked Gordon Brown about civilian deaths in Iraq. Brown passed the question to the Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, who passed it to his junior minister, Kim Howells, who replied: “We continue to believe that there are no comprehensive or reliable figures for deaths since March 2003.” This was a deception. In October 2006, the Lancet published research by Johns Hopkins University in the US and al-Mustansiriya University in Baghdad which calculated that 655,000 Iraqis had died as a result of the Anglo-American invasion. A Freedom of Information search revealed that the government, while publicly dismissing the study, secretly backed it as comprehensive and reliable. The chief scientific adviser to the Ministry of Defense, Sir Roy Anderson, called its methods “robust” and “close to best practice.” Other senior governments officials secretly acknowledged the survey’s “tried and tested way of measuring mortality in conflict zones.” Since then, the British research polling agency, Opinion Research Business, has extrapolated a figure of 1.2 million deaths in Iraq. Thus, the scale of death caused by the British and US governments may well have surpassed that of the Rwanda genocide, making it the biggest single act of mass murder of the late 20th century and the 21st century. 

Catholic students witness at SOA

November 15, 2007

The School of the Americas (SOA), in 2001 renamed the “Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation,” is a combat training school for Latin American soldiers, located at Fort Benning, Georgia. 

Initially established in Panama in 1946, it was kicked out of that country in 1984 under the terms of the Panama Canal Treaty. Former Panamanian President, Jorge Illueca, stated that the School of the Americas was the “biggest base for destabilization in Latin America.” The SOA, frequently dubbed the “School of Assassins,” has left a trail of blood and suffering in every country where its graduates have returned. 

Over its 59 years, the SOA has trained over 60,000 Latin American soldiers in counterinsurgency techniques, sniper training, commando and psychological warfare, military intelligence and interrogation tactics. These graduates have consistently used their skills to wage a war against their own people. Among those targeted by SOA graduates are educators, union organizers, religious workers, student leaders, and others who work for the rights of the poor. Hundreds of thousands of Latin Americans have been tortured, raped, assassinated, “disappeared,” massacred, and forced into refugee by those trained at the School of Assassins.

Rev. Don Coleman a 70-year-old co-pastor of University Church, a Chicago congregation associated with the United Church of Christ and the Disciples of Christ. Last year he attended the protest and was arrested with 15 others after trespassing onto the school’s grounds in hopes of attracting attention to the institution.

After his arrest he spent two months in a Chicago correctional center.

”I am very committed to trying to get this school closed, and my experience is that this is one way to pressure (the government) to do it,” Coleman said.

Pickert believes that Congress has not closed the institute because it has a separate agenda.

”The school functions as a tool for our country’s corporate interests in terms of the exploitation of labor and natural resources in Latin America,” Pickert said. “By training Latin American soldiers to oppress their own people, it allows the U.S. to officially stay out of those countries.”

Several teachers and students in the Dufferin-Peel Catholic school on Toronto’s western flank board will be witnessing there from Nov 16-18,2007. One wonders why Catholic schools exist if we do not take time to educate our students as “ doers of the truth” rather than spectators in life’s great dramas.

Bravo to all who journey south. The spirit of the nonviolent Jesus will be among you.

Shame on a country which continues to disregard its highest values.

Blackwater pt.2

November 14, 2007

According to two friends in the media business, the days of journaIistic crusaders, those on fire for feretting out corruption and creeps are a dying breed. Too many are showing up at journalism schools in every media hoping to get close to the stars, do puff pieces on celebrities. How pathetic. No more comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable.
A lovely exception is Jeremy Scahill who cut his teeth at the Catholic Worker in New York city. He left there and worked for Amy Goodman’s show Democracy Now before going to Iraq. All this is a run up to Scahill’s scalding book on Blackwater. the hired guns who recently were exposed for running roughshod over ordinary Iraqis and killing 21 Iraqi citizens.

It is fascinating to see the former Catholic Worker, Scahill values grounded in the nonviolent Christ and social justice. demystify the world of another Catholic, Erik Prince a convert who runs Blackwater. Prince a former evangelical with close ties to the Christian right sports a theology that beggars the imagination.

The inheritor of a family fortune, Prince has given huge sums to far right candidates like Ollie North, Jesse Helms but he could not abide Pat Buchanan’s office where he served as an intern.”Homosexual groups were let in” said Prince. Egads what next!. He was shocked that Buchanan supported the “Clean Air Act . Probably new age. Prince also is a rabid promoter of school vouchers. A real “market” Catholic. A guy who makes no connections with the oppression he supports while he sprinkles holy water on “family values.”

Blackwater pt.1

November 12, 2007

It was only after a group of thugs dressed in black like fugitives from Rambo movie (Peter Jennings, ABC) were caught in a deadly ambush in Fallujah, Iraq that people woke up to the name Blackwater, Since then the notoriety of these mercenaries has made the world news when they opened fire and killed 17 Iraqi civilians. And then the kicker—there was no way they could be prosecuted!

It was a deal made by the US Proconsul Paul Bremer with his own government. Imagine a free ride to act beyond the law. Bad enough that military security is outsourced to an independent contractor!

God love reporters of integrity. Author Jeremy Scahill (more on him in future)has written a scathing indictment of this outfit in his must-read book Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army.

These pathetic soldierts of fortune whose salary was trtple of those who should have been doing security, those in the US Army, were killed and two of their burned corpses hung from a bridge. A video of the scene made its way around the world, and many commentators compared it to the footage of dead American soldiers dragged through the streets of Mogadishu in the Black Hawk Down battle.

Atr first they were described as “civilians” on a humanitarian mission. When reporters dug in the nefarious deeds of Blackwater were exposed. Scahill’s book is must reading for anybody who wants to understand that the Ugly American and its creators are symptomatic not only of empire hubris but of how religion gets bastardized in the name of the same.

Erik Prince the founder of Blackwater and Paul Bremer the arrogant proconsul are right wing Catholics.

The “Burned over” district in NY

November 11, 2007

On July 19, 1848 in the Methodist Church in Seneca Falls, New York a convention was held to discuss the “ Social, Civil, and Religious Condition of women. Led by abolitionists Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott (along with many other largely Quaker women), the assembly wrote its now famous Declaration of Sentiments, a cri de coueur about the obvious bondage of women.. 100 men and women signed this brave stateement which of course let loose the usual cries of patriarchal reaction still in evidence.

The convention was a historic moment, a kairos an authentic “sign of the time”, a deep insight whose time had come—but not totally—that women indeed were less than equal in American sociiety.This injustice had brooded for ages , an often hidden wound which had done untold damage to one half the human race.

When one analyses this striking movement and where it really took shape it was not by accident that it germinated and erupted in what was called “the burned over district”, an area of New York Stae which had been “burned over” by the religious crusade which linked the gospel with liberation.The leaders were all women who had cut their teeth on the abolitionist movement—the subjugation of black people as chattel.

They then “connected” one oppression with another and the religious among them (no Catholics in sight) correctly divined that this movement was “of God” and God’s liberative power.

Seneca Falls inspires pt.1

November 9, 2007

Seneca Falls, New York is one of those great little towns in upper New York state.

Many years ago I saw the great documentarian Ken Burns’ show on the genesis of the women’s movement and the the town played a prominent role. It was here in the Methodist church there that the noted document the Declaration of Sentiments, based on the Declaration of Independence was first proclaimed.

I returned there on a blustery morning on our way home from the Big Apple, NYC. I knew my wife would love the place. A few years back on a PONY league baseball trip I dragged some boyhood friends through…and even they dug it!

The beautiful town, set on a river is a grand setting for the museum dedicated to Women’s Rights—and it still inspires.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton and her husband, devoted abolitionists had been to London in 1840 at the World’s Anti-Slavery Convention. Here she met Lucretia Mott. Both were angered at being denied official standing at the convention. They were women in a patriarchal society. It was here they plotted the women’s rights convention to be held in Seneca Falls, about 100 miles east of Buffalo.

In the town there is a delightful statue commemorating the meeting of Stanton and that other feminist dynamo Susan B Anthony.

Stanton was a serious Quaker, already devoted to abolition when she made the obvious connection with the bondage of women. She devoted her life then to women’s suffrage, women’s rights within marriage, etc. Much of the time was spent writing speeches and raising her 6 kids. Her Quaker background is evident in this quotation:

“The moment we begin to fear the opinions of others and hesitate to tell the truth that is in us, and from motives of policy are silent when we should speak, the divine floods of light and life no longer flow into our souls.”

More next time.