Hate Crime Visits Pittsburgh, again.

April 28, 2000. I’m sitting in the lobby of the Gatwick Airport Hilton having a cup of coffee with colleagues. It’s early morning— it would be early afternoon back in my hometown of Pittsburgh. A co-worker walks over to me and says, “you need to call home right now”. I looked puzzled. She continued, “someone just shot up your synagogue. I just saw it on CNN”. What she heard was very much true. A white supremacist named Richard Baumhammers had gone on a shooting spree, driving to various locations around the city and killing people— a Jew, an African-American, two Indian-Americans, and two Vietnamese-Americans. On his very methodical and mapped out tour, he took time to stop at our little shul in the Borough of Carnegie and shoot out all the plate glass windows in the building entrance. No one was in the shul at that time of day. (Note: I prefer to use the Yiddish word “shul” instead of “synagogue”)

I have always held an opinion that this kind of crime was not really predictable or preventable (Baumhammers used a hand gun and had no prior interactions with police). To me they were like lightning striking. These horrific events were random in nature, occurring at various places around the country at various intervals. They’re horrific when they visit your doorstep, but you have no choice but to deal with it and move on. I subsequently argued against locking down the shul during services or having an armed guard. I’ve never wanted to live in a cage or avoid public life out of fear. After all, “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself”. But. But. But. In just the past week we’ve had pipe bombs sent to 14 people including two former presidents, two African-Americans were murdered for no other reason than they were black, and 11 Jews were murdered here in Pittsburgh at Tree of Life Congregation. (Tree of Life is in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh, not in my borough). White nationalist violence now clearly has a green light from President Trump and the Republican Party is solidly behind him. I’m afraid the violence is just getting started. Because the Tree of Life shooting occurred just two days ago, I don’t have a coherent message about what I expect in the future (other than more building security). But here are some thoughts that were going through my head this weekend.

  1. The shooter, Robert Bowers, didn’t just pick Tree of Life at random. He got the name from HIAS’ list of congregations participating in a special program to welcome and assist refugees. In one of his online postings, Bowers actually thanked HIAS for giving him a list of targets. HIAS is an old organization that does noble work. Living nearby to me are a young couple with a small child who are Syrian Kurd refugees. They are grateful to be here in America. I am a donor to HIAS and will continue to be.

2. Leaders of our neighboring Muslim community reached out to me immediately after the shooting. I value their friendship and camaraderie. Pittsburgh Muslims and Jews have a mutually supportive relationship. That might seem strange to some, but there are a lot of white supremacists in Western Pennsylvania. Jews and Muslims have learned to look after each other. Watch this clip to the end.

3. Too many Jews are under the impression they are white. Can we just stop that please? Just stop. If you know your history, then you know that “whiteness” was invented by the klan to establish the white power structure that we still live with today. Jews are not included, no matter how white your skin may appear. Robert Bowers obviously doesn’t think you’re white; that should be a clue.

4. Trump says he’s coming to Pittsburgh. I’m not sure that a white nationalist president will be welcome at a Jewish funeral. And Israeli PM Netanyahu says he’s sending Naftali Bennett to Pittsburgh as an outreach. I don’t think Israeli Trumpsters are any more welcome than Trump himself. But we’ll see.

5. The Tree of Life shooting reminded us that if you see news reports like, “active shooter. officers down. suspect under arrest.”, that means the shooter is white. Brown or black people do not survive shooting a police officer.

In peace and solidarity.

Most Republicans see nothing wrong with Trump’s collaboration with Putin–why?

It would be easy to say that the Republicans are “disloyal” to America, but I think the truth is much more complicated than that. Because the very meaning of loyalty has changed.

I remember back when the movement against the Vietnam war was in full swing, NIxon called on the “silent majority” to strike back and indeed there was a period when the majority did support the war, including some Democrats who later became “Reagan” Democrats. The silent majority regarded themselves as the patriots and many of them regarded the protesters as traitors outside the pale.

What has changed today is that the grassroots Republicans have a new definition of what it means to be an American, and hence of what patriotism, as well as loyalty, involves.

Many whites–not just the white working class but many who are college educated and in middle class jobs, as well as many small business people and farmers–have come to see THEIR America, white America, as under siege by hostile invaders: blacks, Hispanics, other nonwhite people, immigrants either undocumented or documented, the LGBT community, and women who refuse to be dominated and mistreated.

Over the eight years of Obama the lurking bigotry in the minds of Republicans turned hard and cruel–Obama became the symbolic focus of their hate, which was cynically brought to a pitch by skilled racist operatives. Now Trump’s Republican followers deeply feel that THEIR America is being taken away from them. This is far more important to them than any cerebral issue of national security, the Atlantic alliance and NATO as defined by the Washington “elite.” They want THEIR America back–the America they delude themselves into thinking they once controlled, as if the banks and the billionaires never had, or don’t still have, the upper hand.

The Christian Right feels the same way but they have a pop-theological overlay to it: They believe that not only is America being taken away from whites but it is being taken away from them AS Christians. They too want America back, they want THEIR Christian white America back, and many of them want Dominion over believers and nonbelievers alike.

So when they are told by the media “elite” that Trump is collaborating with Putin, that is not a negative thing to them. Trump is giving them what they want. And Putin is helping Trump to do it. Putin is supporting their patriotism (as they define it) by helping Republican candidates win elections. Putin is helping them keep their guns and he’s helping them outlaw abortion and gays, and he’s helping Trump stay in power. Thus many Republicans will say openly that Putin’s a great guy and others will think it privately.

Most of them are not going to change on this point. Supporting Trump and defending Trump’s collaboration with Putin is “patriotic” and “Christian.” It is the immigrants, the blacks, the gays, and the liberal women who support Planned Parenthood who are the REAL enemies of white America and of the Bible. Not some guy thousands of miles away in Moscow.

The Trump base has upended the traditional meaning of patriotism so that the Democrats and progressives, not Putin, are the true enemies of America.

Expect no help from the Republicans in taking steps to stop Russian interference in the November elections. Trump’s base will not allow it; indeed his base will regard doing so as the very OPPOSITE of protecting America.

Dan Rather said after Trump’s election that some day there will be better news. He didn’t say “soon,” he said “some day,” like we had entered an extended period of travail. But there is a window of opportunity to lessen that period. All Americans alarmed about the future of our country under Trump and his far right allies need to turn out this November (and make sure their friends and family turn out and get the ID they need not to be turned away at the polls) to help take back Congress. Likewise we should all donate to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and to groups such as the NAACP, Planned Parenthood and the labor movement that are rallying the public in support of the issues and values traditionally defended by the Democrats. And if you know people who are unable to get to the polls, either because of illness or because their boss won’t let them take time off to vote, make sure they send in a ballot by mail.

If we take advantage of this brief window of opportunity, we will have a fighting chance to take back at least the House. But this will require a turnout like never before, because the Russians and the Mercer family’s newest tech crew will be cherry picking districts for ballot deletion and the Christian Right will be mobilizing on a huge scale to kill Roe v. Wade.

If we do win back the House and make big gains on the state level, the other side will still have the White House, the Supreme Court, the Senate, the millions of assault rifle owners and the money of billionaires such as the Kochs, Mercers and Murdochs. But we’ll be able to start limiting Trump’s damage, in some policy areas, thanks to the Democrats gaining this toehold of power.

And toeholds, if they are held tenaciously (as in a rather obvious example from 1944), have a tendency to eventually burst the doors wide open.

Will the Russians help the GOP again this year? What can we do about it?

The Democratic lead in the race to control the House has lessened in recent months, and it is unclear if the Dems can mobilize core voters on a level that will compensate for the advantage the GOP has gained from recent gerrymandering and racially targeted voter suppression laws. I have a suspicion that the Christian Right, thanks to Trump’s Supreme Court picks, is going to mobilize its base this November in the most spectacular manner ever seen in midterms–the 20 percent asserting its Dominion over the 80 percent while the 1 percent laughs all the way to the bank.

As to the rest of the Trump base: even their idol’s appalling performance in Helsinki, operating like Putin’s lapdog, is unlikely to have a sobering effect. It is obvious from the performance of the crowds at recent Trump rallies that they will for the most part be unmoved by appeals to the national interest or to patriotism and the importance of the Western Alliance in the wake of Helsinki. For they have replaced national interest in their minds with the white nativist interest, patriotism with white nationalism, and the Western Alliance (insofar as they have any knowledge of the outside world) with the insurgent Putin-financed international movement known as “populism.” And most other Republicans stand and will continue to stand with Trump on the basis of an ersatz conservative ideology, desire for higher profits resulting from deregulation, or a cowardly conformism.

The race will probably be close. All Democrats should therefore be concerned that Russian government hackers will find a a way to influence the outcome in swing districts by just enough to maintain Republican House control and even help the GOP increase its majority in the Senate. Already the Russian GRU intelligence agency has attempted to hack the computers of  Sen. Claire McCaskill (D., Mo.), who is one of the chief targets of Trump and the Republicans in their fight to maintain control of the Senate.

Our intelligence community keeps warning that Russian cyber warfare in this country continues on a massive scale, but no one is doing much about it. The majority of states are expressing little concern over the possibility of new electoral attacks. And in many states there are no paper ballots, so no easy way to challenge suspicious results.

The Russians may do the hacking directly or provide cover for the Mercer family to once again use its own mercenaries with a little outside help. The hacking may eventually be discovered (or may not, as in the case of the suspected ballot machine tampering in the 2000 Presidential election) but before that the Republican candidates who benefited will be safely occupying their seats–and no one will be able to unseat them (or indict those in the United States who were involved) since the Republicans, flush from victory and continuing to control all three branches of our government, will support Trump in firing Mueller and dismantling the Russia investigation, and in dismissing questions about the November results as “fake news” or a deep-state “witch hunt.”

The GOP leaders may already anticipate that Putin will bail them out, but they don’t frame it as unpatriotic or treasonous to accept Russian support, because they think the Democrats are FAR WORSE than Putin. Same with the Christian Right, which has been allying with Russian Orthodox rightists (backed by Putin-linked oligarchs) for years.; it is more concerned with taking away a woman’s right to control her own body and the right of LGBTQ people to marry–issues more important to them than any abstract and relatively trivial (as they see it) national security or integrity of the ballot issues. For both the Republican legislators and the Christian Right fanatics, the enemy of our enemy is our friend and the Constitution is to be interpreted as whatever keeps the Trumpublicans in power.

The federal government under Trump is not going to ride to the rescue on ballot security this November. Nor will Jeff Sessions’ Justice Department. Nor will the intelligence community. And certainly not Kirstjen Nielsen’s Department of Homeland Security.

The hour is late, but perhaps not too late for the following measures:

1. The Democratic National Committee and/or civil rights groups should file suits in every state without paper ballots, demanding immediate steps to protect the integrity of the computerized elections in those states; and where a state board of elections is not moving in an aggressive manner on this danger, the plaintiffs should ask the court to appoint an outside trustee to manage the election process.

2. The DNC should encourage computer scientists and highly skilled programmers, specially those with expertise in security issues, to join in a volunteer Save the Vote Corps to help any state board of elections in protecting its computer system. (Something similar is already being done to help protect the computers of Democratic congressional candidates.) Microsoft, Google, Facebook and other tech giants should be asked to provide experts for this volunteer corps.

At the least, these measures would help us to accumulate more knowledge of the background of any suspicious results, and thus make it easier to challenge such results in the courts, in the media, and in the streets.

God and Socialism

My “God and Socialism” article has been one of the best read of the articles on my blogs. Unfortunately the initial article was not all that well written. About two months ago I re-edited, rewrote,  and posted it on the “Social Democracy for the 21st Century” web site.   Please click the links to read the revised version of God and Socialism within this blog at  http://socialistcurrents.wordpress.com/page/2/. or at my own Cooperative Socialist Perspectives at  http://ladyofjustice.wordpress.com/category/bible/

Glenn

God and Socialism

“God and Socialism” was originally written by myself and posted on my own “Cooperative Socialist Perspectives” blog. The article obviously  represents my own private beliefs about the relationship of God and socialism. This article  and many of the other articles I plan to post here  will not necessarily represent the official positions of the Social Democrats USA. They may at times represent some of the thinking of some of the membership within the party.
Glenn

God and Socialism? | June 22, 2009

What has God to do with  socialism? Within  contemporary political and theological discussion God and socialism do not mix. In fact socialism does not mix well in any of the usual forms of contemporary thought or language. Socialism in the popular imagination is assumed to be a  political economic system which was  discredited fully with the fall of the  “communist” societies of Eastern Europe. And of course everyone  including many self described socialists who should know better, “know” that socialism is only about either protecting the welfare state, or  extending the power of government into the economic life of societies. Liberals and progressives believe that this extension of government is needed in order to meet human needs.
Conservatives believe that it is ultimately about the suppression of human autonomy and freedom. Since conservatism has been winning the propaganda warfare of the last forty years  socialism has been relegated to outside the norms of “realistic” and “civilized” conversation. Thus one of the surest ways a potential political leader can be marginalized  is to be  tinged with the label of “socialist.”

 
 Even those individuals  who secretly in their heart of hearts believe that a little socialism might be a good thing will never admit it publicly due to fear of the consequences. Further more because everyone believes that socialism has no future in the real world it is considered an act of folly for any one, who wishes to be taken seriously, to suggest it as a real alternative for society. One may discuss socialism only in the smallest of private circles. However any attempt by individuals to discuss socialism outside of these circles is to risk being seen as naive, out of touch, or perhaps  being even morally diseased in some way. So why talk about God and socialism?
 
God and socialism should be discussed because the moral character of God and God’s kingdom and justice can not be understood in the modern world without talking about socialism. The very nature of the justice teachings of the Bible as manifested in the Torah, the Prophets, and Jesus’ teachings on the kingdom of God can not be separated from the political ideals and values of socialism. I know how outrageous this sounds to most people. So by way of explanation I will begin by stating what socialism is not.
 
Socialism is not the equivalent to the failed communist systems of the old Soviet Union and of the other “communist”  regimes of Eastern Europe. The fact is that communism’s support of dictatorial, one party states, atheism, and the repression of political and religious freedoms is based on a perversion of the teachings of Karl Marx. The fact is that communist totalitarianism was no more socialist than  the Crusades and the Inquisitions of the Middle Ages were authentically Christian. Socialist values in fact are  the opposite of the values that have become associated with  communism. In deed socialist parties such as the old Socialist Party of America and the Social Democratic Party of Germany have been some of the harshest critics and implacable enemies of communism. These parties  which historically have seen socialism as being about the progressive fulfillment of human freedom have always recognized that communism has been the enemy of the freedom which they  espouse.
 
So if socialism is not about communism and the worship of the state then what is it? While it is not possible in this article to discuss all of the concrete structures of a socialist society, a few points  need to be made. Most modern democratic socialists believe that such socialist values as solidarity with the oppressed, economic  equality,  the protection of meaningful human community, democracy, freedom, and human justice will best be developed in societies in which businesses and the other economic institutions of society are democratically managed directly by workers and people in general. Socialism is about economic democracy and economic institutions that are governed democratically by worker owners. It is about the empowerment of people both individually and communally. It is not about government ownership and control over society’s economic life. In other words it is more in line with the biblical vision of economic justice and the liberation of the poor and oppressed.
 
But of course many  people will shake their heads at what I have just said. According to the various forms of Protestant fundamentalism and many other forms of fundamentalist religion, the kingdom of God is all about the afterlife, heaven, hell and an other worldly salvation. Thus what relevance can socialism have to these concepts? The question of course is over the  issue of biblical interpretation. Are the biblical concepts of justice (judgement), sin, salvation, etc all descriptive of exclusively  supernatural realities or do they have a strong relationship with real human life as it is lived in this world and in human history. The evidence of both life and the Bible supports the latter view. That being true human activity plays a central role in the movement toward  salvation and the kingdom of God. If this is true then the ideas of socialism are of great value in interpreting the meaning and direction of that kingdom.

 
 
What then is this value? Without the ideas of socialism the vision of kingdom of God or of “restoring the world (tikkun olam)” a central concept within Judaism   becomes cramped within the confines of capitalist restriction. Socialist values such as  democracy, liberty, and fraternity (community) were also values of the great French and American Revolutions and can thus not be viewed as being unique to socialism.  However  it has been the socialists who have used these values to radically critique the  structure of the capitalist economic system. It  has been socialism’s contention that in the economic life of capitalism  these values are in fact suppressed particularly in the economic life of work. Therefore  socialists desire to create a political movement that will make human justice, equality, and democracy the real  and not just the fictional basis of the economic life of societies and nations. 
 
What socialism can do for religions such as Christianity, Judaism and Islam is to revivify symbols and ideas such as the kingdom of God,  and judgement in ways that make of them real motivating ideals of life as opposed to being purely otherworldly banalities. The real God is a God of all of reality and not just of some otherworld reality only.
 
Glenn King