Mic check? MIKE CHECK!

What a difference six years make.

In 2011 “Mic check?” was the call and “MIC CHECK!” the response in the Occupy Wall Street camps. Electronic amplification was against the law. Only the human voice remained to protest crony Capitalism. The Nation’s  We Are All Human Microphones Now reminds us how it was in the Occupy Wall Street protests of 2011.

How quickly things change. The “mic check?” call goes unanswered in the spaces that once attracted national attention. Instead the news is of a man named Mike whose voice was electronically recorded by U.S. intelligence while Mr. Flynn had a curious conversation with the Russian Ambassador during the presidential transition, and of another Mike, the Vice President-Elect, whom the first Mike “was not entirely forthcoming” about the contents of the conversation.

Some things don’t change.

In 2007-2008 Wall Street was big news. Time magazine and other media were asking “Is Capitalism Dead?” In 2011 Wall Street was back in charge, but Occupy Wall Street  continued to point the finger at crony capitalism, the deep tie between Wall Street and the Congressional Representatives and Senators whose elections depend upon the flow of capital into their campaign coffers. They do it without using microphones; they do it quietly through SuperPacs. No one has to tell them to turn off their microphones. they do it out of sight, very quietly. In the 2016 presidential campaign Wall Street was again the target of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. Both held the microphones. One was a phony. The one who was elected President appointed Wall Street billionaires to fill his cabinet, appointed a previously fired General named Mike his National Security Advisor, and loosened the Obama Administration regulations of Wall Street.

The one Mike misled the other Mike and the media are using their mics to amplify the story of the two Mikes. Now it falls to the people to use our voices. “Mic check?” “MIC CHECK!” “Mike check?” “MIKE CHECK!”

Many years before, following the Nixon Administration Watergate break-in of Democratic headquarters, the question was “Who knew what, and when did they know it?” “Trump check?”

Some things do not change.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Feb. 15, 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.


Tax Wall Street speculation

What we forget often hurts us. Sometimes remembering helps turn the tide.

Establishing a 0.03 percent Wall Street speculation fee, similar to what we had from 1914-1966, would dampen the dangerous level of speculation and gambling on Wall Street, encourage the financial sector to invest in the productive economy and reduce the deficit by more than $350 billion over 10 years.

Senator Bernie Sanders

Wealth for the Common Good, a movement of America’s wealthiest people with a conscience, is calling for the same:

Tax Wall Street Speculation

We, the undersigned investors, business owners and executives, call on the President and Congress to institute a modest federal tax on trades of stocks, futures, credit default swaps, and options. This modest levy would dampen speculation that threatens financial markets while also raising more than $150 billion annually in revenue for the US Treasury.

– See more at Wealth for the Common Good

In the run up to the 2016 national elections, citizen support for re-establishing the speculation fee is one specific way to register voters’ desire for economic fairness and democracy.

– Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, April 25, 2015.

The Race to the White House 2016

Ted Cruz, Ron Paul, Marco Rubio, and Hillary Clinton are taking their places in the starting gates for the horse race to the White House in 2016. Smiles and frowns all around, emails asking “Are you IN?“with a request for money from the partisan Yea-Sayers and Nay-Sayers. But the fact is that every horse they ride – conservative and liberal – is owned by Wall Street.

Painting of Governor Floyd B. Olson

Painting of Governor Floyd B. Olson

I’m not “IN” until a candidate rides a different horse into the starting gate. Until someone acts and sounds like Floyd B. Olson.

Click What would Floyd B. do? to find a candidate who puts them all the declared candidates to shame.

Floyd B. Olson was neither a Democrat nor a Republican. He was the first third party candidate elected Governor of Minnesota as the candidate of the progressive Farmer-Labor Party. Years later the Farmer-Labor Party joined with the Democratic Party to form the Democratic Farm-Labor Party (DFL).

I am not a liberal. I am what I want to be — a radical,” said Governor Olson to the 1934 Farmer-Labor party convention. A radical is not an ideologue. It’s a person who insists on going to the root of things. Olson was the nemesis of Wall Street, a champion of the people.

The Farmer-Labor party, a loose and, at times, tenuous coalition of farmers, workers, socialists, isolationists and progressives, coalesced around the idea that working together they would bring about a fairer distribution of income for themselves and increase social justice for the larger society. – Russell Fridley, Minnesota Law & Politics.

If and when someone like Floyd B. Olson rides a different horse into the starting gate for the 2016 White House horse race, I’ll be IN with both feet.  Until then, I’m not IN.

– Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, April 18, 2015.

In the Footsteps of Mary

A sermonic reflection on America today, Dec. 14, 2014.

Today’s texts speak indirectly to the national outrage over the deaths in Ferguson, Cleveland, and Staten Island and to the larger context of the economic Law – Capitalism – under which they’ve taken place.

The Spirit falls upon Isaiah

…to provide for those who mourn in Zion– to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit….They shall build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations. (Is. 61:2-4)

I am in mourning. Even in the midst of Zion. Though I already taste the fruit of the Kingdom of God which is yet to come in fullness, I am in mourning. In ashes. Faint in spirit. Living among the ancient ruins, the former devastations, the ruined cities, the devastations brought on by many generations including my own.

There is anger out there. Lots of it. There are calls for justice out there. There are “die-ins” on Interstate Highways blocking traffic, interrupting business as usual. And it’s good. It’s right. It’s an American thing to do.

But, like most movements, this one will pass in a few weeks or maybe months. It will go the way of Occupy Wall Street.

For while protesters were were being hand-cuffed for “die-ins”, Congress was taking the hand-cuffs off Wall Street and the “too-big-to-fail” banks. The Dodd-Frank restrictions enacted following the 2008 meltdown were being quietly removed by hidden-away paragraphs in the down-to-the-wire spending bill. There will be no more hand-cuffs. No more probation. No more accountability to the American people. The legal limits on dealing in the “derivatives” market were being deleted on Capitol Hill, and, perhaps worse, the Dodd-Frank provision prohibiting a second government bailout was replaced by a commitment to bail them out again.

While on Capitol Hill the Law was being re-written to deliver automatic bail to Wall Street, individuals protesting law enforcement tyranny on the streets were hauled off to jail hoping a friend would bail them out.

Only within the larger economic puzzle do the various pieces begin to make sense.

For all of America’s national wealth, we are among the poorest of nations. We are a classist society bordering on a caste society. Class has always been the issue in America. Race and class have always gone hand-in-hand, but classism has other hands as well.

The wider context surrounding the law enforcement racial divide is the classism embedded in a global capitalist economic structure.

We are living still amid the “ancient” devastations brought on by rich white slave traders who captured Africans like animals for a zoo to work their plantations for profit. Racism is a class issue, an ownership issue, an issue of economic privilege, before it is anything else. The coupling of race and class is as clear now as it ever was, despite the Civil Rights Movement and the election of America’s first African American president.

Capitalism is the issue. The accumulation of wealth. The increasing concentration of wealth. The hoarding of wealth. Wealth disparity, power disparity, racial disparity, electoral disparity, legal disparity; what’s enforced and what’s not; who’s in handcuffs and who’s not; who’s bailed out and who’s not; who’s charged and who isn’t; who’s in prison for what and who’s not; who’s on probation or parole and who’s not; who’s elected to Congress and who’s not; who owns what and who doesn’t; who can pay for an election and who can’t – are all about class, the control of the means of production and capital and the expropriation of cheap labor and natural resources that can’t talk back.

Enter now into this world the psalmist of today’s readings who dared to dream of a great reversal of fortunes:

When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream.

Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then it was said among the nations, “The LORD has done great things for them.”

“The LORD has done great things for us, and we rejoiced.

Restore our fortunes, O LORD, like the watercourses in the Negeb.

May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy.

Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves.”[Psalm 126:1-6]

The tears of weeping bear the seeds for sowing and reaping of the sheaves of the new economic order. It is no accident that the psalmist mixes the metaphors of weeping, seeds, sowing, and shouts of joy, and sheaves. It is, as it were, a vision for the Earth itself. Honest weeping is the beginning – the sowing – that leads to earthly transformation and shouts of joy.

Mary, the newly pregnant peasant girl, becomes the representative, singing her song amid the ancient devastations, announcing the hope that will engage the powers of class “to provide for those who mourn” [Is.61:1]:

My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.” [Luke 1:46b-55]

Put differently by Philip Clayton, Ingraham Professor of Theology at Claremont School of Theology, we are living

“…at the dawn of a new form of human civilization. Individuals, societies, and nations are now deciding whether to keep fighting to preserve the dying order, or whether to take leadership in building the new. It’s not a matter of waiting for more data; we already know what the old practices are doing to our planet, and we know what it takes to build a global society that is socially, economically, and environmentally sustainable. The ones who make the greatest difference are those who work and live with wisdom, with diplomacy, and with restraint, placing the good of the whole planet first.” [Philip Clayton and Justin Heinzekehr, Organic Marxism: An Alternative to Capitalism and Ecological Catastrophe, Process Century Press, 2014]

I’m still mourning. But I feel better. I know that the mourning is a holy thing, the hint of a coming “garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit” and so, I write. I pray. I sing. I mourn to the tune of Isaiah. I march to the dream of the Psalmist. I walk in the footsteps of Mary.

– Rev. Gordon C. Stewart, Honorably Retired, Views from the Edge, Third Sunday of Advent, Dec. 14, 2014.

Wall Street and Washington

Click HERE to read what’s in the detail of the bipartisan compromise spending bill announced yesterday. A spending bill is necessary to prevent another government shutdown. This one will make your teeth itch.

The unregulated derivatives trading that led to the bailout of the “too-big-to-fail” banks and investment firms are back. Wall Street wins. The American people lose, again. Do I hear a veto coming from the White House? Or is every house in the Wall Street pocket?

Sen. Mitch McConnell, Sen. Harry Reid (with the turned-in left foot), and Speaker of the House John Boehner.

Sen. Mitch McConnell, Sen. Harry Reid (with the turned-in left foot), and Speaker of the House John Boehner.

Listening to the Stones from the Wall Street Wall

Last evening we published Susan Lince’s wonderful poem “Every Stone Shall Cry” and her accompanying art work. Thanks to Susan for permission to publish them.

Not everyone is familiar with this line about the stones. The poetry of the stones crying out has its roots in Hebrew Scripture in a poem from the Book of Habakkuk, later echoed by Luke as Jesus’ response to those who want to silence his disciples and protesters to Roman occupation – “I tell you,” says Jesus riding on an ass into the city occupied by the Romans, “if these [people] were silent, the very stones would cry out” (Luke 19:40).

The original Ode of Woe against the Chaldeans’ foreign interventions and military-economic occupation becomes, on Jesus’ lips, the ode against the Roman system of occupation and internal collaboration by indigenous leaders, and, on Susan’s lips, it echoes from the walls of intractable powers that nature itself will not long abide in silence. Nature will not be silent! Think of the stones in the wall of Wall Street. Even the stones cry out against the abuse. Here’s the text from the Book of Habakkuk where the reference to the crying stones first appears:

Woe to him who heaps up what is not his own—
for how long? —
and loads himself with pledges!”
Will not your debtors suddenly arise,
and those awake who will make you tremble?
Then you will be spoil for them.
Because you have plundered many nations,
all the remnant of the peoples shall plunder you,
for the blood of man and violence to the earth,
to cities and all who dwell in them.
Woe to him who gets evil gain for his house [society/empire],
to set his nest on high,
to be safe from the reach of harm!
You have devised shame for your house
by cutting off many peoples;
you have forfeited your life.
For the stone will cry out from the wall,and the beam from the woodwork respond.
Woe to him who builds a town with blood…

– Habakkuk 2: 6b-12a

The ode against the Chaldean Empire ends with a lovely line looking for the day when the most intimate knowledge of the Breath of Life will cover the earth “as the waters cover the sea” and the stones will no long cry.

Susan is a writer, painter, poet, composer, environmental and social justice activist. She and her spouse, John Lince-Hopkins, developed the movement Requiem2020. They will lead the First Tuesday Dialogues event on Climate Departure at Shepherd of the Hill Presbyterian Church in Chaska, MN Tuesday evening, March 4, at 7:00 P.M.

The World in a Tunnel

Can the whole world shrink to the size of a walking path tunnel in Chaska, Minnesota?

On our morning walk, while Barclay sniffs his way along the path for signs of smaller creatures who might not have made it through the night, my eyes were drawn to the graffiti on the both sides of the tunnel. Boldly painted in black or red, the logos belonged to gangs or gang wannabes.

Eight years at the Legal Rights Center in Minneapolis left me we a knowledge of graffiti and tagging. Our defense attorneys sometimes defended “taggers”, self-proclaimed creative artists who used public space as their canvasses. Other times the graffiti was posted by a gang member to announce the gang’s claim to a block or a neighborhood. Often the gangs were competing for control. In that case, there were at least two “tags” and sometimes many: Latin Kings, the Crips, or the Gangster Disciples. The graffiti meant, “Don’t mess with us. We own this neighborhood.”

In Chaska this morning the tunnel walls were filled with gang symbols, most likely by kids who are gang “wannabes”, kids in a small city pretending to be gangsters the way my generation used to play cops and robbers or Cowboys and Indians. You couldn’t be both a cop and robber. You couldn’t be a cowboy and an Indian. You were either in the one gang or the other. We’re all in some kind of gang where we get our sense of identity and the security that comes with belonging to something.

Walking through the tunnel was like living for a moment in a microcosm of the world where the small town folks’ claims of ownership and the threats of violence mirror and replicate the power of greed, the lust for power and “the good life” that filters down from The Boss, Trump’s Tower, Wall Street, the Mall, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Washington, D.C. where the will to security and power is the motive force.

Meanwhile, six-month-old Barclay, the 10-pound puppy on my leash ignores the walls and sniffs the macadam for a mouse that has already died, unaware of handwriting on the walls of the superior species of his master.

– Gordon C. Stewart, Saturday morning, November 16, 2013

Wall Street Man

Missing Something

Missing Something

Stone cold bronze age
Man sits stone cold still
In clothes no ape would wear
Living inside his business suit
Even when alone.

His faceless head retains
the slivered brain of stone-cold
Men who wage the wars
And capitalize on capital
And Capitols.

There is no logic, no capacity
For reason or self-assessment,
Where air blows through the
Empty space a left brain
Might fill.

What’s left is all right and
would still feel and leap
For joy or bow with sadness
Had it not been turned to
Bronze or gold.

His fingers touch left to
Right and right to left
In prayerful hope for the
Missing mind and face, and
Heart of flesh.

– Gordon C. Stewart, May 10, 2013, Chaska, MN

“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” – The promise for the bones in the Valley of the Bones (Ezekiel 36:26).

“The Birth of Freedom” and the NYSE

The New York Stock Exchange was closed down. For two full days the trading bell on Wall Street did not ring. But on Main Street the bells that mis-identify American freedom with Wall Street were ringing in our living rooms, flooding the airwaves with campaign ads about freedom and the loss of it.

In front of Westminster Presbyterian Church on the Nicollet Mall at the heart of downtown Minneapolis stands an eye-catching sculpture called “The Birth of Freedom.”. The figures are naked, emerging from primal slime, evolving, reaching toward the heavens.

The Birth of Freedom, Paul Granlund

The late Paul Granlund was the sculptor. Westminster commissioned him to give visual expression to the words of the Apostle Paul:

“For freedom Christ has set you free; stand fast therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”  (Galatians 5:1)

There is a freedom from and there is a freedom for.

“For your were called to freedom; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love be servants of one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ But if you bite and devour one another take heed that you are not consumed by one another.” (Letter to the Galatians 5:13-15)

I listen to the campaign speeches. I hear the freedom talk. I see crowds cheering. I hear loud applause. And I wonder…what kind of freedom is being cheered? What kind of slavery is feared?

The advertisers who write the ads for the candidates and the PACs know the answers to these questions. They know that the psyche of American generations that grew up in the Cold War defines freedom as freedom from “Communism” or “Socialism.” They also know that the Christian Right fears submission to the “godless” whom they believe threatens their religious freedom.

But no one can take away my freedom or yours, and it is misleading to paint one’s political opponent as intending to take it way. For me, as a Christian, the freedom for which we are released (set free) is not freedom from but freedom for communion with my neighbors. It applies not only to personal relationships. It applies equally to the political and economic systems.

This morning the bell rang again at the stock exchange. The biting, devouring, and consuming of each other becomes a way of life again, the adored substitute for freedom. To condone it is to submit again to a yoke of slavery, the most widespread violence where, to quote Jacques Ellul,

“in this competition ‘the best man wins’ – and the weaker, more moral, more sensitive people necessarily lose.

The violence done by the superior may be physical (the most common kind, and it provokes hostile moral reaction), or it may be psychological or spiritual, as when a superior makes use of morality and even of Christianity to inculcate submission and a servile attitude; and this is the most heinous of all forms of violence.”

– Jacques Ellul, Violence: Reflections from a Christian Perspective, Seabury Press, 1969.

Meanwhile Paul Granlund’s “The Birth of Freedom” still stands silently in downtown Minneapolis, calling for the birth of something as yet beyond our imagination.  “Stand fast therefore [in the freedom for which Christ has set you free], and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” The Apostle Paul often wrote his letters from jail cells, charged with disturbing the Pax Romana.