Different Shutdowns

Featured

Edward_Hicks_-_Peaceable_Kingdom

Edward Hicks — Peaceable Kingdom

There are shutdowns that make us cringe and there are shutdowns that bring us to our better selves. This year the two kinds overlapped. Both shutdowns are about economics, i.e., how we live together in the one house in which we all dwell for a speck of time on a small planet in a vast universe. The English words ‘economy’ and ‘economics’ derive from the Greek word for ‘house’ and the management, or governance, of the one house in which we live.

In previous essays on Views from the Edge and chapters of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness, we have sought to point to this saner view of life together in the nation and the planet. Saying it again feels like banging my head against a wall, but the coalescence of the government shutdown date and the Jewish Sabbath commandment to shut everything down — Shabbat — prompts this reflection.

shabbat-at-home-header

Shabbat meal

 

The Hebrew word ‘Shabbat’ comes from the root Shin-Beit-Tav, meaning to cease, to end, or to rest. The shutdown in Washington, D.C. and the Fourth Commandment shutdown could not be more different. The one is a product of control; the latter is about ending the illusions that come from production.

“Remember the day, Shabbat, to set it apart for God.  You have six days to labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Shabbat for Adonai your God. On it, you are not to do any kind of work — not you, your son or your daughter, not your male or female slave, not your livestock, and not the foreigner staying with you inside the gates to your property. For in six days, Adonai made heaven and earth, the sea and everything in them; but on the seventh day he rested. This is why Adonai blessed the day, Shabbat, and separated it for himself.” — Exodus 20:8-11 [Complete Jewish Bible].

39e6500a2edd6ce45c6defb8e9551e10

Migrant workers in someone else’s field.

You don’t have to be a seven-day creationist to “get” the meaning of the Hebrew Scripture’s call to stop and think. Step back. Pause. Respect your son, your daughter, your workers, the animals, and the foreigners within your national borders. Shabbat is not just the owners of the means of production but for ALL who labor under the yoke — an enduring sign and call of a better household management (economics) yet to come in the one house (the economy) in which we all live.

Practicing his Jewish faith, Jesus of Nazareth kept Shabbat and aligned himself with the laborers when he invited would be followers to join him in a kind of revolution that would turn the tables on the money-changers and lift up the have nots: “Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn of me, for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

yunta-25761277748430ofqz

Oxen laboring under a heavy yoke

 

Jesus was comparing the landless poor to oxen in the the fields of production, driven hard under a yoke that chafes and cuts into the oxen’s neck and shoulder, the yoke of economic cruelty and the burden that is anything but light. Rabbi Jesus was invoking the substance of the Fourth Commandment: the vision and practice of Shabbat economics.

Could the juxtaposition of the different shutdowns be clearer than when they are invoked on the same day of the week?

Shabbat Shalom,

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, January 22, 2018

 

 

 

 

Elijah asks Grandpa about taxes

taxreformGrandpa, do we like taxes?

Why are you asking about taxes, Elijah?

‘Cause they’re all over the news. I don’t get it. Are taxes bad or are they good, Grandpa?

It all depends, Elijah.

You always say stuff like that! Depends on what? I wear Huggies!

We’ve already talked about that. I don’t mean that kind of Depends. I mean it depends on what kind of taxes.

Yeah, like the tax of Caesar Augustus that made Joseph and Mary go to Bethlehem. Mom’s been getting me ready for my first Christmas. Look at this picture of Caesar Augustus, Grandpa. He did the same thing with his hand president You-Know-Who does! And he didn’t care about that little baby. Maybe that little baby is Jesus!

Statue-Augustus

And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed. (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.)

And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.

And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) to be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.

And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. – Gospel According to Luke 2:1-6 KJV.

Yes, Elijah, it was because of a Roman census for purposes of levying Roman taxes on the country they occupied. The tax system wasn’t fair.

Hmmm. So taxes are bad!

No, they’re not. Like I said, Elijah, it all depends.

On what?

On whether the taxes are fair. Taxes are good so long as they fairly distribute the financial burden for maintaining life together in a good society: things like health care, roads, fire-fighters like the ones battling the fires in California, and economic assistance for the disabled, children, the poor, and retired people like Grandma and Grandpa who depend like Social Security.

So fair taxes are good? Unfair taxes are bad?

Yes, sort of. Tax systems that don’t require the wealthy to pay their fair share are like Roman taxes and like the British taxes that caused the American Revolution. The tax wasn’t fair. And tax systems measure what a country values. So even if the tax burden is fairly distributed, they can be bad if the money is used badly.

Yeah, just like Mary said, “He lifted up the lowly, and the rich he has sent empty away!” Liddle Bob Corker is lowly but he just voted for tax reform that Marissa says isn’t fair.

Yes, he did, Elijah. Senator Corker was a hold-out who agreed to vote for the tax bill after it was amended in a way that favored his real estate interests so he wouldn’t be so little anymore.

You own real estate, right? Are you going to vote for the tax bill, Grandpa?

No, Elijah, I really don’t own any real estate. The bank owns Grandma and Grandpa’s condo. We still make mortgage payments. And I don’t get to vote on it. Members of the House of Representatives and Senate represent us in Congress. Only they get to vote, and the president can then sign it or veto it.

Hmm. So you’re going to be liddler than liddle Bob Corker. But in my eyes, you’ll always be big, Grandpa. Remember Joseph and Mary and Jesus in liddle old Bethlehem.

I will, Elijah. Here’s a more hopeful picture for you to remember. Mary and the baby Jesus are at the top. At the bottom are prophetess named Sybil and Caesar Augustus, but it doesn’t look anything Caesar. It’s the Byzantine emperor Manuel II from the 15 Century that the artist viewed as the new Caesar. Every empire has its emperor, and every one of them is soon forgotten, but the story of Christmas is eternal.

©Photo. R.M.N. / R.-G. OjŽda

— Grandpa Gordon, Chaska, MN, Dec. 20, 2017.

 

Trump’s Paris betrayal: the stupidest decision of the 21st century.

SERENDIPITY re-blogged Sean Munger’s post on the president’s decision to abandon the Paris accord on climate change. Here’s a taste:

“Fighting climate change is not about choosing ‘helping the Earth’ over job security or economic prosperity for Americans. Fighting climate change is job security and economic prosperity for Americans.”

Serendipity - Seeking Intelligent Life on Earth

I don’t often write blog articles with the sole purpose of commenting on news items, but as a decision today by President Donald Trump deeply implicates climate change–without a doubt the most serious problem facing every American and every person on earth right now–I felt I couldn’t let it go by without at least a few words. My academic expertise is in the history of climate change, I’ve taught courses on the history of climate change (and wrote about them, here and here), and most post-academic career involves climate change, so I believe I’m qualified to speak on the subject.

Trump’s decision to abrogate the Paris climate change accord, at least where the United States is concerned, is not merely a strategic misstep (though it is), a betrayal of American trust and power…

View original post 544 more words

The Post-Soul Alt-Right World

The post-soul alt-right budget proposal of Presidency of Donald Trump and his chief strategist, Steve Bannon, forgets – or never knew – what most people know:

Empathy is the most mysterious transaction that the human soul can have, and it’s accessible to all of us, but we have to give ourselves the opportunity to identify, to plunge ourselves in a story where we see the world from the bottom up or through another’s eyes or heart. – Sue Monk Kidd

The White House budget proposal fails the soul test. But it does makes us ponder something else about the human soul’s potential for darkness:

Everywhere the human soul stands between a hemisphere of light and another of darkness; on the confines of the two everlasting empires, necessity and free will. – Thomas Carlisle

Say “good-bye,” America, to Meals-on-Wheels. Say “good-bye” to empathy. Say “hello” to the post-soul alt-right world that forgets or never knew.

It’s enough to make an old soul cry.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, March 17, 2017.

 

 

REAL Men Smoke Camels

America was a different place in the ’50s and ’60s. Posting the ’50s “Alka Selzer” ad this morning took me back to this ad for “Camels” on which my generation grew up.

7-camels-more-doctors-smoke-camels

Some things have changed for the better. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) stopped this kind of real men ad, but only after real science researched the truth about cigarette smoke and cancer, resulting in successful lawsuits against the tobacco industry’s faux science. Is there a lesson here for today? Is faux science again trumping real science

  • Gordon C. Stewart, former real man(1966-1985) now looking to real doctors for treatment and the EPA and FDA for real  environmental protection in America, March 4, 2017.

 

 

Goldman Sachs . . . again

Goldman Sachs former partner “Steven Mnuchin, a financier with deep roots on Wall Street and in Hollywood but no government experience, is expected to be named Donald J. Trump’s Treasury secretary . . . .”. – NYT, Nov. 30, 2016.

Here’s a memory jogger about Goldman Sachs from 2012.

“THE WALL STREET TATTLER” – Gordon C. Stewart — March 15, 2012
How could he do this? Is Greg Smith a tattler? Or, perhaps, Judas?

How could one of Wall Street’s own go to the New York Times (“Why I am leaving Goldman Sachs”) to publicly denounce the company’s culture? “He just took a howitzer and blew the entire firm away,” said Larry Doyle of Greenwich Investment Management.“ (“Wall Street Exec Quits with Public Broadside“).

According to the LA Times article, Goldman Sachs’ CEO Lloyd Blankfein suggests that Mr. Smith – Goldman’s executive director and head of the firm’s United States equity derivatives business in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.- is a “disgruntled employee.” William Cohan, author of Money and Power: How Goldman Sachs Came to Rule the World, says that “there are lots of disgruntled people who leave Wall Street, and they don’t do this” (i.e. open their mouths.) “What I’m hearing (on Wall Street),” said Cohan, “is sour grapes. You just pigged out at the trough for 12 years and you don’t have enough sense to keep your mouth shut.” (underlining mine)

Keeping one’s mouth shut is the name of the game on Wall Street.

Conscience may have its place so long as you keep it to yourself. You can have a conscience on Wall Street, just don’t exercise it. You’re part of an elite gang. Whether on the Street corners of impoverished neighborhoods like Watts in LA and Bedford-Styvesant in NYC, or in the center of crony capitalism that is Wall Street, gang members don’t rat on other gang members. If you don’t like it, swallow hard and keep your mouth shut.

Goldman’s rebuttal to Mr. Smith’s statement -“It makes me ill how callously people talk about ripping off their clients,” referring to their own clients as Muppets – hardly has the ring of strong denial. “We disagree with the views expressed, which we don’t think reflect the way we run our business.”

Hmmm. “…don’t think…”? Why not “don’t”?

It’s a rare thing for a spokesperson for a corporation with the best legal counsel in the world to say anything than a flat-out denial. “We don’t think” sets up the issue as a matter of perception, not fact. It’s Goldman’s perceptions of itself versus Mr. Smith’s disgruntled perception.

Mr. Smith’s refusal to live by the Wall Street gang code of conduct will lead to a barrage of attacks on his character calculated to divert the public’s attention from an institution that eats people’s investments and life savings to the Judas who is without integrity.

Goldman understands that for most of us the world is personal, not institutional. We don’t like tattlers and turn-coats, disgruntled employees who never learned the lesson of kindergarten that you never tattle on your friends. You don’t go running home to tell momma. Part of the code of the playground is not to tell.

What’s even more unusual in this case is that Greg Smith dealt in derivatives. Remember them? Derivatives – a complicated form of financial market gambling so convoluted that even the people who manage them can’t explain how they work – were at the center of the Wall Street meltdown in 2008. They were legal then. They are legal now. Goldman Sachs and the rest of the Wall Street gang of crony capitalism are still calling the shots with the highest paid Washington lobbyists money can buy.

Greg Smith is a Wall Street Judas who betrayed his gang not with a kiss but with a howitzer.

How could he do this? Why didn’t the guy who ate at the pig trough for 12 years just kiss and say good-bye? Why did he make his money and then break the code? Unless…unless…unlike so many of those who were taught not to tattle, Greg Smith couldn’t live with himself and decided not to run home to tell momma but to run to the New York Times. He’ll never again be allowed on the playground.

POSTSCRIPT, November 30, 2016: So much for the howitzer. Like Jimmy Stewart in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” in 1939, Greg Smith was a hero. Donald Trump is no Mr. Smith. So much for “draining the swamp.”

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, November 30, 2016.

 

Poverty and Opulence

“Blessed are you who are poor ….”

“Woe to you who are rich [i.e., opulent]. . . .”

According to the 2015 U.S. Census Bureau Report, 43 million Americans lived in poverty (e.g, annual income below $13,ooo for a one-member household).

Membership fee for Trump National Bedminster – location of presidential transition meetings over the weekend – was $200,000 according to LINKS Golf Magazine.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, trying hard to follow Jesus, November 21, 2016.

 

President Obama in Cuba

President Obama’s decision to visit to Cuba and his call to end the U.S. embargo bring me joy. It’s time to “normalize” relationships between our two countries.

But what does normalizing mean between the capitalist super power and tiny island socialist republic 90 miles from the Florida coast? A return to normal or a new kind of normal?

The President’s speech this morning is disappointing. I couldn’t help thinking of Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to the United States when he poked the President in the eye in a speech aimed at the American people. This morning Barack Obama did the same in Havana.

The President says he knows the history. He may. But the history he knows is different from the one the Cubans know. When he talks about opening up Cuba, opening up Cuban markets so that Cubans can buy goods and have 21st century jobs, he ignores the reason for the Cuban revolution. The Batista regime was a U.S. puppet. Havana and Veradero Beach were playgrounds for North American capitalists, elites, and businessmen who gambled in the casinos and vacationed on the white sands few Cubans – except for the table-servers, maids, bartenders – ever got to touch.

Cuba was not a democracy under Batista and his predecessors. It was a dictatorship – AND its economy was free-market capitalism with egregious disparities of income and wealth. The majority of Cubans were as poor as the masses in other Latin American banana republics.

An article in The Independent provides the history of the challenges and successes of the post-revolution Cuban government’s literacy campaign and Cuba’s highly praised universal education system.

Will normalizing relations return Cuba to the pre-socialist inequalities that caused the revolution in 1959?  Will it mean a return to “normal” – in which the superpower calls the shots while the little brother watches our president embarrass him from center stage?

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, March 22, 2016

 

 

 

 

Elizabeth Warren Speaks

As presidential candidates scramble to win Iowa, Senator Elizabeth Warren, in this opinion piece in the New York Times, reminds voters why the choice is so important.

Click “For whom does the government work? Presidents decide.”