Living Through a Nightmare “With a Little Help from My Friends”

by James M. Wall

A close friend took note of the scarcity of recent Wall Writings. I told him I was living in a nightmare in which two world figures hold the power to plunge us into an even darker nightmare. Their names are Trump and Netanyahu.

To keep describing that nightmare feels futile.

My friend wrote :

“the children are crying
the parents are crying
Rachel Maddow is crying
and I am crying.”

He continued:

“Never tell me again that Republicans are the party of family values.

Never preach to me from an evangelical standpoint and expect me to have any respect for what is said, since both Republicans and evangelicals currently lack sincerity, lack a moral compass, and fail as empathetic human beings.

They also seem to have great trouble with the truth.”

My reader makes this suggestion for a new post:

Wall Writings is on hold for the moment. I am unable to describe or analyze this nightmare because each nightmare emerges from an individual, personalized, dark experience.”

Good suggestion. 

I wrote another friend about pausing Wall Writings in a world dominated by Trump and Netanyahu. She responded:

“I agree, Jim, it’s wise to withdraw temporarily. This past week has proven that (even though it seems impossible) things CAN and HAVE gotten worse. The absence of morality is staggering…”

I must not pause without leaving readers with two suggestions for meditation during this nightmare.

First, read carefully a recent wise piece from New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, which demands to be read in its entirety. Click here to do so. Here is an excerpt:

America has long been a powerful nation. In particular, we emerged from World War II with a level of both economic and military dominance not seen since the heyday of ancient Rome. But our role in the world was always about more than money and guns. It was also about ideals: America stood for something larger than itself — for freedom, human rights and the rule of law as universal principles.

Of course, we often fell short of those ideals. But the ideals were real, and mattered. Many nations have pursued racist policies; but when the Swedish economist Gunnar Myrdal wrote his 1944 book about our “Negro problem,” he called it “An American Dilemma,” because he viewed us as a nation whose civilization had a “flavor of enlightenment” and whose citizens were aware at some level that our treatment of blacks was at odds with our principles.

The second suggestion for meditation during a nightmare comes from a column I wrote 41 years ago for The Christian Century, five years after I began editing and publishing that publication.

This article by me was published on November 23, 1977, and later reprinted on William Fore’s site, “Religion on Line”. That reprint may be accessed here. It was written a year after the election of President Jimmy Carter in November, 1976.

Here is the start of that column, written 41 years ago: 

A recent full-page advertisement appearing in major U.S. newspapers argues for support of the State of Israel and voices concern over “the recent direction of American foreign policy” in the Middle East. The signers of the statement “are particularly troubled by the erosion of American governmental support for Israel evident” in the U.S. decision to include the U.S.S.R. in planning for the Geneva talks.

Israel has many supporters in this country, and ads of this sort are frequently carried in major newspapers. But this one is different. It comes from persons describing themselves as “evangelical Christians,” including W. A. Criswell, pastor of First Baptist Church, Dallas; entertainer Pat Boone; Harold Lindsell, present editor of Christianity Today; Kenneth Kantzer, editor-elect of that journal; Hudson Armerding, a past president of the National Association of Evangelicals; and Arnold Olson, coordinator and president emeritus of the Evangelical Free Church of America. 

Four decades later, things are far worse, now that Donald Trump and Bibi Netanyahu have seized biblical literalism and turned it into a weapon of war for Satan.

These two monsters have transformed God and Country into frightful forces for evil. Pause with me to meditate on that fact. In time we may wake up. Or not.

The picture above at the border, is a Gregory Bull AP picture from the Independent, of a Mexican child clinging to his father’s leg.

Posted in Israel, Jimmy Carter, Middle East, Middle East Politics, Netanyahu, The Human Condition, Trump, USA | 7 Comments

This Bishop Is Not Finished With Us Yet

by James M. Wall

I first met E.J. Dionne, Jr. during my first stint as Jimmy Carter’s 1976 Illinois campaign chair. We huddled for lunch in a corner deli across the street from our Chicago campaign headquarters.

I was surprised and delighted to discover a young Washington Post reporter who was so knowledgeable about the significance of Carter’s religious faith.

Forty-two years later, after following his political coverage for more than four decades, I still trust E.J.’s sensitivity to the moral dimension of the murky world of politics. As one of my political colleagues puts it, “he gets it”.

Latest example of that sensitivity came this week when Dionne, now a columnist for the Post, captured the impact of a Royal wedding sermon delivered in London by the Most Rev. Michael Curry, the bride’s Presiding Episcopal Bishop.

Dionne began his column:

​​Maybe it takes a royal wedding to offer lessons in what a good sermon sounds like.

Maybe it takes one of the world’s most elitist institutions — a monarchy, for goodness’ sake — to provide a view of Christianity rooted not in conservative cultural warfare (or unrelenting support for President Trump) but in an egalitarian love that will “let justice roll down like a mighty stream.”

And the Most Rev. Michael Curry, who preached for a royal couple and the world last Saturday, isn’t finished with us yet.​

Next up on Curry’s calendar is a march in Washington, which the Bishop will lead.

E.J. Dionne, Jr. explains how Curry will follow his sermon, which cites Martin Luther King, Jr.’s call to action, “let justice roll down like a mighty stream”.

On Thursday, a group of Christians will march to the capital for a candlelight vigil inspired by a declaration titled “Reclaiming Jesus: A Confession of Faith in a Time of Crisis.”

The presiding bishop and primate of the Episcopal Church, Curry is a prime mover of a statement suffused with a sense of urgency about “a dangerous crisis of moral and political leadership at the highest levels of our government.”

While Trump lurks behind almost every paragraph of this passionate assertion of faith, he is never mentioned. This reflects the desire of the endorsers to focus on what it means to proclaim that “Jesus is Lord.” The opening paragraph makes this clear: “We believe the soul of the nation and the integrity of faith are now at stake.”

The nation’s soul is also receiving an extended examination by another author, Jon Meacham, whose latest book, The Soul of a Nation:The Battle for Our Better Angels is reviewed by Sean Wilentz in The New York Times.

The review begins:.

At the close of his First Inaugural Address, President Abraham Lincoln entreated the seceding slaveholders to “swell the chorus of the Union” until the nation was touched “by the better angels of our nature.” It is among the most eloquent sentences by our most eloquent president, and subsequent speechwriters and pundits have quoted it nearly to death.

But as Lincoln knew well, eloquence is not necessarily the same as efficacy. Five weeks after his inauguration, the secessionists fired on Fort Sumter and the slaughter of the Civil War began.

Jon Meacham is the latest writer to cite Lincoln’s plea, which helps suggest why his new book, “The Soul of America,” is at once so engaging and troubling. Appalled by the ascendancy of Donald J. Trump, and shaken by the deadly white nationalist rallies in Charlottesville in 2017, Meacham returns to other moments in our history when fear and division seemed rampant.

He wants to remind us that the current political turmoil is not unprecedented, that as a nation we have survived times worse than this.. . . .

Meacham begins his survey of our “worse” moments with our Civil War. Covering the century that began with slavery’s abolition, Meacham reminds us that recovery from these “worse” moments takes time.

He traces that century from the 1860s to the civil rights victories of the 1960s. To reach these victories, “the nation has required activist liberal presidents — above all Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman and Lyndon B. Johnson — to replace fear with hope and then to reverse injustice and expand equality”.  

Our better angels, Meacham implies, reside in that part of the American soul that inspired the Square Deal, the New Deal and the Great Society.

Meacham is a presidential historian who is currently a Visiting Professor of Political Science at Vanderbilt University.  A former Editor-in-Chief of Newsweek, Meacham was awarded the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography for his book, American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House.

Presiding Episcopal Bishop Michael Curry, preacher and activist, is not done with us yet. Journalist E.J. Dionne, Jr. is not done with us either. Nor is presidential historian Jon Meacham. They each know the need for morality in politics. They “get  it”.

In the darkness of the era of Trumpism, these three are bright lights giving us hope that the future need not be dark. Our task is to read, write, learn and act, from our unique platforms.

The picture of Bishop Curry is a screen shot.

Posted in Episcopal Church, Jimmy Carter, Martin Luther King Jr., Religious Faith | 4 Comments

A Child Dies In The Killing Fields of Gaza

by James M. Wall

History is filled with narratives about killing fields. This troubled writer looks at the killing fields of Gaza, and is driven to begin with a story:

“A man kills his mother and his father. Brought to trial, he begs for mercy because he is an orphan.”

There are times when two sides have legitimate claims to a side. The killer in this story does not have a “side”.

The story comes to mind when this troubled writer sees the deaths of Palestinians in the killing fields of Gaza and is driven to fury by the willingness of others to embrace the killer’s narrative.

I write, of course, of Bibi Netanyahu, grinning ear to ear, ordering Israeli soldiers to secure themselves behind safe mounds on the Gaza “border”, and fire into Palestinian crowds, who were protesting their imprisonment.  The New York Times, in its usual tepid “both sides” journalistic style, defends the slaughter.

On May 16, The New York Times ran a story with this headline, which on-line reads: A Child of Gaza Dies. A Symbol Is Born. The Arguing Begins.

The arguing begins?  The man who killed his parents has a side from which to argue? No, he does not. A judge who knows a phony plea for mercy when she sees one, can only utter the words, “take him away”.

And yet in this nightmare of Orwellian reality in which we live, Israel’s occupying military force continues its death-dealing ways and calls it a side.

Here is the start of the Times‘ “argument” story, written by Declan Walsh:

GAZA — Layla Ghandour, an 8-month-old girl with sparkling green eyes, was in the arms of her grandmother when a cloud of tear gas engulfed them at the protest in Gaza on Monday. The child inhaled a draft of acrid gas that set off a rasping cough and watering eyes. Hours later she was dead.

The story shot across the globe, providing an emotive focus for outrage at military tactics that Israel’s critics said were disproportionately violent. [“Israel’s critics”?, “disproportionately violent”?]

Yet within hours the family’s story was being questioned. Doctors said Layla had suffered from a congenital heart defect that, one suggested, might have caused her death. Then the Israeli military issued claims, unsupported by evidence, that it held information that disproved the family’s account. [Information that she died from tear gas sent from Israel’s “side”?]–emphasis added.

A 1984 film The Killing Fields examined deaths in the killing fields of Cambodia, an earlier story of brutal, hateful, human conduct evoked by another “complicated” colonialist conflict.

Do not look for a film about “The Killing Fields of Gaza”. But look to disperse the use of “complicated” excuses to kill those who stand in the way of empirical expansion. Search not for truth and wisdom about Israel in the pages of The New York Times.

Turn instead to independent non-corporate media outlets like Counterpunch where Saree Makdisi wrote his article on the Gaza killing fields, Kill and Kill and Kill.

He begins:

Two spectacles unfolded in Palestine on Monday, [May 14]. In Gaza, Israeli army snipers shot and killed 58 Palestinians—including six children—and injured almost three thousand others amid scenes of smoke, fire, teargas, dust, agony and blood.

At exactly the same time, to the tinkling of champagne glasses at a glittering reception barely fifty miles away in Jerusalem, Jared Kushner and an elegant Ivanka Trump oversaw the opening of Donald Trump’s new embassy there.

The juxtaposition of these two contemporaneous scenes encapsulates at a single glance the entirety of Zionism’s murderous conflict with the Palestinian people.

The Palestinians targeted and executed one-by-one by Israeli snipers had gathered to demand their right of return to their lands and homes inside the rest of Palestine, from the coastal plain up to and including Jerusalem. They or their parents or grandparents were driven from their homes during the Zionist ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1948 for the simple reason that they are not Jewish: too many non-Jews in the putative Jewish state would not make for much of a Jewish state after all.

“There could be no Jewish state with a large and hostile Arab minority in its midst. There would be no such state. It would not be able to exist,” the Israeli historian Benny Morris bluntly pointed out in an interview justifying ethnic cleansing with the newspaper Ha’aretz in 2004; “a Jewish state would not have come into being without the uprooting of 700,000 Palestinians . . . [therefore] it was necessary to uproot them”). They have been denied the right to return to their homes ever since for the same reason: they are not Jewish, and their presence would upset the carefully-engineered demographic tables maintained by the state to preserve its tenuous claim to an exclusively Jewish identity.

The maintenance of that demographic balance and the suspension of their political and human rights are inseparable from one another: the one enables, produces and requires the other.

The demographer Arnon Sofer of Haifa University is the architect of the current isolation of Gaza. In 2004, he advised the government of Ariel Sharon to withdraw Israeli forces from within Gaza, seal the territory off from the outside world, and simply shoot anyone who tries to break out.

“When 2.5 million people live in a closed-off Gaza, it’s going to be a human catastrophe,” Sofer told an interviewer in the Jerusalem Post (11 November 2004); “Those people will become even bigger animals than they are today, with the aid of an insane fundamentalist Islam. The pressure at the border will be awful. It’s going to be a terrible war. So, if we want to remain alive, we will have to kill and kill and kill. All day, every day.” He added that “the only thing that concerns me is how to ensure that the boys and men who are going to have to do the killing will be able to return home to their families and be normal human beings.”

There is more, much more, in Markdisi’s essay. For even more background, see his 2010 book, Palestine: Inside and Out.

Our American government opened a new embassy in Jerusalem for the sole purpose of allowing our President to satisfy the wishes of his Jewish-American financial patron Sheldon Adelson, the American casino billionaire, who attended the embassy’s opening.

Of course, American presidents, when in campaign rhetorical mode, promised to “move” the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. They knew it would be an idiotic move.  Once in the White House, they ignored the promise.

The picture above of Layla Ghandour, an 8-month-old Gaza girl, appeared in the New York Times with this caption: Credit Haitham Imad/European Pressphoto Agency, via Shutterstock.

Posted in Gaza, Israel, Middle East, Palestinians | 9 Comments

“Surely Goodness and Mercy Shall Follow Me”

by James M. Wall

Paddington 2 is just the right film to share this Mother’s Day. To understand why, reflect back to the original 2015 Paddington film, a creative tale drawn from a British literary series. 

In the series and in two films, Paddington is a very realistic animated bear who travels to London from his native Peru.

Paddington’s Peruvian family had been persuaded by a British explorer, that London would be a welcoming location for bear visitors. In the original Paddington film, our trusting, very realistic, animated young bear travels to London by boat and train.

Arriving at London’s Paddington Station, he looks for friendly faces. He finds some in the station, a human London family, the Browns. The mother of the family is Mary Brown, played in her usual welcoming manner, by Sally Hawkins. She insists on taking Paddington home with the family.

Henry Brown, the father of the family, is played by Hugh Bonneville, who agrees, reluctantly, to welcome Paddington for what he presumes will be a brief, but helpful visit.

The family, which also includes two children, agrees that their visitor should be named Paddington, his London arrival-point.

Paddington 2, is a 2017 film sequel, following the original 2015 release. It provides further background to Paddington’s origin story. He was rescued as a young cub from near-drowning by two adult bears. 

Paddington was raised by a mama bear he calls Aunt Lucy. She teaches him the importance of “generosity of spirit and unshakable faith in the value of good manners”, according to a Guardian review.

In Paddington, the original film, young Paddington settles permanently into the welcoming Brown home. Infused with the goodness embedded in him by his Creator, then sustained, initially. by the Creator’s helpmate, Aunt Lucy, Paddington’s goodness encounters evil in the form of someone who wants to exploit him.

He preserves against that evil attacker and lives to visit us again in Paddington 2. I encountered the young traveling bear, now Londoner, while in search of a Mother’s Day film to show to a group of retirees on Movie Night, an occasion when we honor mothers.  

My apologies for getting word of Paddington 2 to readers so late in the week, but I have been distracted by a series of world events in which evil appears to be dominating.

I decided it was time for a break from those events and a good time to remember what the mothers I have known and loved over the years, taught me about the “generosity of spirit and unshakable faith in the value of good manners”. 

But no worries, there is still time to secure a copy of Paddington 2 to show to your friends and loved ones. If not this weekend, there are others ahead.

Here is all you need to know before seeing this delightful and wise film:

Paddington misses Aunt Lucy. Her birthday looms. He looks for the perfect gift to give her.  He finds it in a very special book store. Of course, life is never smooth for any of us, including in the life of our young bear from Peru. Evil arrives to lay claim to the book Paddington wants to give Aunt Lucy.

Phoenix Buchanan is a once-famous showman, now down on his luck. He is played by an insouciant, greedy Hugh Grant, who steals the book. He views the book as his map to riches. 

Paddington and his family go in search of the book, and along the way, Paddington is tossed in jail where his goodness continues to help others, including a chef who learns that goodness can be experienced and taught.

The film is enriched by the presence of Sally Hawkins, who also played a mother, a folk artist, in Maudie, a 2016 film, and Hugh Bonneville, who played Robert Crawley, Earl of Grantham, in the long-running PBS television series, Downton Abbey.

Atlantic critic David Sims concludes his review of Paddington 2:

“This is a film of such open-hearted joy and grace, which feels rare in an industry that often embraces cynicism and sarcasm. Paddington 2 is gorgeous to look at, smartly written, and gleefully funny.”

Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments

Fox News and the Division of America

by James M. Wall

President Donald J. Trump has held the U.S. presidency for 1 year, 3 months and 8 days, as of Saturday night, April 28, the night on which he chose to hold a political rally in Washington Township, Michigan, while skipping his second straight Washington Correspondents dinner. 

This is a President who divides. This is a President who shows not the slightest indication that he wants to unite this nation. He knows from polling that he has a “base”, a segment of the American public loyal to his worldview based on fear of outsiders, liberal government and dislike for non-whites.

That base, as measured in polls, hovers in the mid 30% of the public. The President gives every indication through his tweets, and his major television ally, Fox News, that he actually believes that through the force of his personality public opinion will come to his side of the national yard.

His actions this week confirm and underscore this. 

On Thursday morning, he called the Fox News television program, Fox & Friends. Gleefully, the three hosts, Steve Doocy, Ainsley Earhardt, and Brian Kilmeade, welcomed him.

For thirty minutes, with no commercial breaks, President Trump shouted out a rambling series of hostile comments aimed at his “enemies, the “fake news” media, Democrats and all others who had yet to enter his embrace.

His hosts guided him, as best they could, with quick questions that encouraged his rambling.

Two days later, this Saturday night, the President is skipping the annual traditional Washington Correspondents dinner. Instead, he is holding a political rally in Michigan, one of the three mid-western states that handed him the 2016 election.

Look carefully at the Thursday morning faces of the hosts for Fox & Friends above. Those are faces displaying complacent loyalty, the same look the President expects to see emanating from his entire staff.

These are not journalists. They are folks whose network is deeply invested in the success of this President. Fox News is owned and controlled by Rupert Murdoch, whose extreme conservative ideology and deep pockets are the driving force behind Murdoch’s media power center.

Murdoch uses that center, and his money, to reshape American society, its governments and its culture, in Murdoch’s ideological image.

Politico wrote about Murdoch’s expanding media power:

As the Australian-born mogul strips away his entertainment properties to create what he called “the new Fox” — essentially, Fox News, Fox Business Network, the national Fox sports networks, his broadcast network and local stations — several analysts suggested that the deal might provide more opportunities for Fox News to extend its footprint into the broadcast realm.

To be fair, and state the obvious, MSNBC tries to do the same thing for Progressives, though not nearly with the success of Fox.

Right now, however, in this dark hour in American history, we are looking at the Trump moment, as three Trump loyalists ask the Boss “questions” to highlight his favorite talking-points on a Thursday morning.

On this Saturday night two days later, the Trump Division Plan continues. The President is not in Washington engaging with a collection of journalists he calls “fake”. He is basking in the warm embrace of his voters in Michigan.

I close this posting by calling attention to the fact that this weekend marks the tenth anniversary of this blog, wallwritings.me. As I began the blog ten years ago on April 27, 2008, the Democratic party was involved in a heated campaign that pitted Hillary Clinton against Barack Obama for the 2008 Democratic nomination for president. 

The Clinton campaign was attacking the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, a leading Chicago preacher and the pastor of a UCC congregation where Barack Obama was a member. The Clinton campaign described sermons by Wright as “radical”, and by association with the church, Obama was also implicated as “radical”.

To celebrate ten years of this blog site, I reprint below my closing words for that first posting. To read the full first posting, click on Wall Writings.

The Rev. Jeremiah Wright spoke to an enthusiastic, supportive crowd of 10,000 at an NAACP dinner Sunday night. Earlier this weekend, on Bill Moyers’ Now PBS program Friday night Rev. Wright spoke calmly of his preaching style, which is anything but calm in the pulpit.

He noted, for example, that Psalm 137 was the text he used in his sermon right after 9/11. He says the children of Israel were in exile and they were angry at those who took them into exile. He used the text to trace the history of the US mistreatment of non whites, Native Americans, African Americans, and more recently, the people of Palestine and Iraq.

The writer of Psalm 137 wanted revenge against their captors and proclaimed that the Israelites were ready to smash the heads of children whose parents had brought such pain to them. (Look it up) Wright said he told his congregation that it would be wrong to respond to 911 by seeking revenge. Preaching a few days after 9/11 he spoke in prophetic language of what happens to a nation when it mistreats others and ended by suggesting that the attack was an indication that “America’s chickens have come home to roost”.

In an Associated Press story of Dr. Wright’s speech to the NAACP in Detroit he was quoted as saying, ‘I describe the conditions in this country,’” The story noted that despite what his critics say, he is descriptive, not divisive, when he speaks about racial injustices. “I describe the conditions in this country. . . “I’m not a politician. I know that fact will surprise many of you because many in the corporate-owned media made it seem like I am running for the Oval Office. I am not running for the Oval Office. I’ve been running for Jesus a long, long time, and I’m not tired yet.”

Another man who is not tired is Jimmy Carter. He is just back from peace missions to Nepal and Israel-Palestine. His op ed column on the trip is in today’s New York Times.

Thus endeth the first Wall Writings posting from ten years ago, April 27, 2008. Readers are invited to draw their own conclusions as to changes in American politics during the past decade, up to and including, April 28, 2018.

Posted in Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Jimmy Carter, Media, Obama, Television | 12 Comments

Syria Bombing Designed to Distract

by James M. Wall

After the Syria Bombing, did you have that pit-of-the-stomach feeling that you had been deceived about a military strike?

I offer here a suggestion to clarify that feeling. It will not cure it, but clarity does have a way of easing the pain.

Accept the Syria bombing as a Wag the Dog deceit, a pretense to deliver a largely harmless distraction for an ulterior motive, as in the manner of a Roman emperor staging a stadium show for the masses.

Media reports used the 1998 movie, Wag the Dog as shorthand for The Syria Bombing. In the film, Dustin Hoffman plays a movie director hired to create television news casts to distract and deceive the American public. Robert De Niro is the spin doctor who hires him.

Film critic Roger Ebert explained:

Barry Levinson’s Wag the Dog cites Grenada as an example of how easy it is to whip up patriotic frenzy, and how dubious the motives sometimes are. The movie is a satire that contains just enough realistic ballast to be teasingly plausible; like Dr. Strangelove, it makes you laugh, and then it makes you wonder.

Before last weekend’s Syria Bombing, Russia appeared to be forewarned. Putin grumbled but he did not shoot back. As feigned reality, the bombing served its purpose.

The media played its role. It hyped a dramatic news conference featuring our top military and civilian leadership. President Trump was at his presidential best, carefully following his script to announce he had ordered a U.S. military attack on Syria’s chemical weapons system.

A more recent movie, Argo, released in 2012, was neither satire nor feigned reality. It was rather, a Hollywood production of a very real event; no shooting and no buildings blown up.

The event was a rescue mission that freed six American diplomats from their hiding place in the Canadian embassy in Tehran, Iran.

The six had slipped out of the Tehran U.S. embassy on Nov. 4, 1979, before 66 other American diplomats were taken hostage by Iranian militants. The six were taken in by the Canadian ambassador and hidden in his residence.

Knowing that the six could not remain hidden long, President Jimmy Carter directed his chief of staff, Hamilton Jordan, to pull together a White House team working with the CIA. 

A CIA operative, Tony Mendez, in the film by played by Ben Affleck (who also directed the film), concocted a plan in which he would pose as a Hollywood producer traveling to Tehran to oversee the making of a science fiction film.

Bringing with him six fake Canadian passports, Mendez “recruited” the hidden six to be his film crew. Back in Hollywood, news of the upcoming Tehran film-shoot was announced. Soon Tehran’s movie-loving public was in a tizzy over having its very own science-fiction film.

Mendez and his “film crew” scouted locations and then announced their “return to Hollywood”. They flew home on an Iranian airliner, after using their fake Canadian passports to leave Tehran.

Argo was based on real events. It was neither a satire nor a bit of feigned reality. It was, rather, a creative subterfuge which saved the lives of six American diplomats.

This was one of Jimmy Carter’s finest leadership moments as president. To protect the remaining 66 American hostages from retaliation, the rescue was announced as a Canadian secret operation, dubbed “The Canadian Caper”.

The story of the rescue was not fully declassified until 1997, 17 years after Carter left office.

During Carter’s four years in the White House, not a single American was killed by enemy fire, and not a single enemy combatant was killed.

After Carter’s successful secret 1979 rescue mission, this cannot be said of any succeeding U.S. president. Deceit, lying, and military ventures have become the prevailing modus operandi of succeeding American governments. 

Ronald Reagan, who succeeded Carter as president, set the new deceit tone. Negotiations to release the 66 hostages were kept secret by Reagan until after Carter left office, allowing Reagan to pose as the great savior of the hostages.

Having known Jimmy Carter when he was Governor Carter, I was not surprised to  read in The New York Times that he is still teaching Sunday School in Plains, Georgia. 

That story reminds me again of the high moral character of the man, his ingrained modesty, and the positive impact he has had, and continues to have, on the nation and the world.  

Wag the Dog was a satire, The Syrian Bombing was feigned reality, and Argo depicts a creative subterfuge orchestrated by an American president, a subterfuge meant to save, not to kill nor destroy.

Carter’s choice of a peaceful solution saved the lives of American diplomats. All these years later, he knows he chose the right path. 

Keep teaching it, brother. 

Posted in Uncategorized | 7 Comments

50 Years Ago They Failed to Shut Him Down

by James M. Wall

The first time I almost met Martin Luther King, Jr., would have been at his father’s Ebenezer Baptist church, in Atlanta, Georgia. I was one of three Emory University seminary students assigned to visit MLK, Sr.’s church. We were part of a class called Race.

After the Sunday morning worship service, MLK, Sr., took us to his office for an interview. As we were leaving, Dr. King invited us to return the following Sunday, adding,  “My son Martin will be delivering his first sermon after receiving his Ph. D. from the Boston School of Theology.”

None of us returned. That missed opportunity remains at the top of my personal list of Bad Decisions While Growing Up.

I told that story to MLK, Jr., when, as editor of the Christian Advocate, a United Methodist pastor’s magazine, I interviewed him more than a year before his assassination.

He was killed fifty years ago this Wednesday, April 4, 1968, shot by a lone gunman from a window in a nearby boarding establishment.

What prompted my request for an interview in Chicago, was the publication of an essay which had focused on King’s decision to broaden his movement’s civil rights focus to include opposition to the war in Vietnam and the issue of poverty.

Were Vietnam and poverty the issues that prompted that evil moment when King died? King had long faced powerful forces that wanted him shut down. James Earl Ray fired the shot that ended the life of a civil rights icon.

What the shot did not do was end the movement King inspired. 

King was in Memphis to fight for a wage increase for the city’s garbage workers. This fight was part of King’s effort to broaden his civil rights movement to include poverty as part of his Poor People’s Campaign initiative.

In his final speech The New York Times recalls King’s words that continue to inspire us to action.

In the speech delivered the night before his death, Dr. King declared: “The issue is injustice. The issue is the refusal of Memphis to be fair and honest in its dealings with its public servants, who happen to be sanitation workers.

It was King’s Dream to lead this nation toward peace and justice. His life ended on April 4, 1968, but one half-century later, Penn State’s Joshua Inwood insists, “With over 43 million people living in poverty in the United States today, King’s ideas still hold much power.”

As Inwood wrote in his essay, King was a leader who understood the necessity of taking the long view:

In the last three years of his life and ministry King had grown frustrated with the slow pace of reform and the lack of funding for anti-poverty programs. In 1966, for example, King moved to Chicago and lived in an urban slum to bring attention to the plight of the urban poor in northern cities. His experiences in the South had convinced him that elimination of poverty was important to winning the long-term battle for civil and social rights.

Were King still with us in body as well as in spirit, I have no doubt that he would wage his struggle for peace and justice on the issues that plague us in this week’s anniversary of his death, issues like Israeli IDF snipers killing at least 17 Palestinians on the northern border of a  colonial-settler line that separates Gaza from Israel.

Or issues like the movement among high school students to bring an end to mass shootings like the one at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. In that tragedy, the number initially reported killed was also 17.

The issue is still injustice.

*********     *******

Audio of King’s final speech

Posted in Gaza, Israel, Martin Luther King Jr., Religious Faith | 9 Comments

White Evangelicals Stifle Own Values For Trump

by James M. Wall

The Rev. Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas, the Susan D. Morgan Distinguished Professor of Religion at Goucher College in Baltimore, posed a question in an article she wrote for Sojourners:

“What values were really at stake for the 81 percent of white evangelicals who voted for a presidential candidate {in 2016} who uses crass language and admits to engaging in coarse behavior, and whose campaign was marked by vitriolic hatred of various people, particularly people of color?”

Brown Douglas served as Professor of Theology at Goucher College from 2000 through 2018. She gave up this post this month and is now the first African American woman to become Dean at an Episcopal Divinity School (EDS). 

The new dean is also the author of Stand Your Ground: Black Bodies and the Justice of God (book cover above). Her book was written in the aftermath of the racial upheaval following the Sanford, Florida murder of teen-ager Trayvon Martin, on February 26, 2012.

Alice Woodson described the Brown Douglas book for Religious Studies Review as “a thoughtful and provocative analysis of the Trayvon Martin story and subsequent deaths of other unarmed African Americans at the hands of police brutality”. Woodson writes:

Douglas, a mother of a teenage son, “highlights a mother’s perspective” throughout the book while contrasting her pain with a sociohistorical analysis of what she has named America’s stand-your-ground culture.

Brown Douglas does just that in her Sojourners essay, noting that the value proposition of the Trump campaign “was made clear in the campaign’s ‘Make America Great Again’ vision.  This mantra tapped into America’s defining Anglo-Saxon myth and revitalized the culture of white supremacy constructed to protect it”.

She continues:

The Anglo-Saxon myth was introduced to this country when America’s Pilgrim and Puritan forebears fled England, intent on carrying forth an Anglo-Saxon legacy they believed was compromised in English church and society with the Norman Conquest in 1066.

These early Americans believed themselves descendants of an ancient Anglo-Saxon people, “free from the taint of intermarriages,” who uniquely possessed high moral values and an “instinctive love for freedom.” Their beliefs reflected the thought of first-century Roman philosopher Tacitus (quoted above), who touted the unique superiority of an Anglo-Saxon people from the ancient woods of Germany.

In his treatise Germania, Tacitus describes these Germanic tribes as a people for whom “good [moral] habits” were more effectual than “good laws” and argues that they possess a peculiar respect for individual rights and freedom.

Brown Douglas notes that Germania has been called “one of the most dangerous books ever written.” His words were used, she writes, ” to undergird horrific movements, such as the Nazis’ monstrous program for ‘racial purity’.” She continues:

Considering themselves descendants of these mythic Anglo-Saxon people, the Puritans and Pilgrims crossed the Atlantic with a vision to build a nation that was politically and culturally—if not demographically—true to their “exceptional” Anglo-Saxon heritage.

They saw this as a divine vision. They traced their Anglo-Saxon heritage through the ancient woods of Germany back to the Bible. They considered themselves the “new Israelites,” carrying forth a godly mission. Central to this mission was building not simply an Anglo-Saxon nation but a religious nation—one that reflected the morals and virtues of God, which in their minds were synonymous with the unsullied ways of their freedom-loving Anglo-Saxon ancestors.

It is  unlikely that Donald Trump has read Tacitus’ Germania, but his “border wall” is straight out of Tacitus’ play book.

Mexicans are not white Anglo Saxon. They are a people of color from a different ancient community, a people invaded and colonized by white Anglo Saxons.

Trump lies when he describes Mexican immigrants as dangerous criminals. He employs lies which connect to the fears of white Americans who have been exploited through fear since their ancestors killed the first native American after the not-so-pure Puritans brought their “white superiority” to these shores. 

Kelly Brown Douglas’ Sojurner essay is entitled “How Evangelicals Became White“, with an added subhead,  “For much of American evangelical history, spreading the gospel meant spreading whiteness”.

This is a harsh conclusion, but “spreading whiteness” is clearly the hidden message in Donald Trump’s political modus operandi. Building the utterly-insane, useless wall, is the racist “dog whistle” Trump knows his “base” will hear.

Brown Douglas found a recent bit of history to “spreading whiteness” spelled out in the writings of the 19th-century church historian Robert Baird, who wrote, “our national character is that of the Anglo-Saxon race.” She adds that Baird argued further that “essentially Germanic or Teutonic [are] the chief supports of the ideas and institutions of evangelical Christianity.”

From that linkage, Brown Douglas concludes that:

Christian Anglo-Saxon whiteness has subsequently served as the criterion, spoken or unspoken, for determining who is a ‘real’ American, who is entitled to the rights of ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,’ and who has the right to cross borders and occupy certain spaces. Essentially, whiteness provides the measure for what it means to be a legitimate citizen.

This “sacred witness” ushered this nation into the violence and hatred of slavery and segregation right on down to Charlottesville and racist laws like the “Stand Your Ground” Florida law.

And so it continues each time this President speaks or acts.

Brown Douglas is not condemning all White Evangelicals. She qualifies her analysis:

 To be fair, white evangelicals were not alone in their significant support of Trump’s campaign. Fifty-eight percent of nonevangelical white Protestants and 60 percent of white Catholics did the same. Researcher Robert P. Jones argues that the 2016 presidential election represented the “death rattle” of white Christian America’s attempt to protect the country from the consequences of a nonwhite America.

No one made this case more sharply than [former Congresswoman and presidential candidate] Michele Bachmann, who said to a gathering of “values-voter” evangelicals, “It’s a math problem of demographics and a changing United States. … [T]his is the last election when we even have a chance to vote for somebody who will stand up for godly moral principles. This is it.” The implication is clear: The more threatened the white demographic, the fiercer the defense of Anglo-Saxon white supremacy.

The bottom line is that in their support of Trump, much of white Christian America opted to support a white supremacist vision for the country. As for white evangelicals, far from abandoning their role as “values voters,” they simply made clear what they value above all else.

At the annual 2017 Values Voter Conference, Trump knew he had come home to his “base” as he became the first sitting president to address the annual Values Voter Summit.

The British-based Guardian reported on October 13, 2017:

Trump entered a ballroom at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington to applause, cheers and chants of “USA! USA!” He proceeded to cast himself as a man of God. “Everyone here today is brought together by the same shared and timeless values,” said the thrice-married socialite and reality TV star who was once recorded bragging about grabbing women “by their [private parts]”, yet who gained strong backing from Christian evangelicals in last November’s election.

“We cherish the sacred dignity of every human life.

“We believe in strong families and safe communities. We honor the dignity of work. We defend our constitution. We protect religious liberty. We treasure our freedom, we are proud of our history, we support the rule of law and the incredible men and women of law enforcement. We celebrate our heroes and we salute every American who wears the uniform. We respect our great American flag.”

This last point brought conference delegates to their feet amid whoops and whistles, making clear where their sympathies lie in the dispute between Trump and football players who “take a knee” during the national anthem in protest over racial injustice and police brutality. 

White Evangelicals who voted for Trump  had to stifle their evangelical values and their Republican belief in “personal character and moral integrity”.

As New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote Friday,

“It has not always been this way”. Brooks added that “In the decades before Trump, the Republican Party stood for an idea: character before policy.”

Where does this leave us? 

Donald Trump has desecrated Teddy Roosevelt’s “Bully Pulpit” by preaching hatred and bigotry. He has found Satan’s key to the door of racism. He has opened it and won an election which gave him enormous power to do evil. 

What are we going to do about it? We must fight back with what we have at our command to stem this tide of evil. Look around and you see people who are already fighting.

I see high school students forcing a reluctant Florida legislature to act against unbridled gun violence.

I see Ahed Tamimi, a Palestinian teen-age girl in an Israeli jail cell defying an Israeli military occupation force which fears her because she exposes their evil actions.

Whom do you see? What will you do? And when will you act?

Posted in Religion and politics, Religious Faith | 8 Comments

U.S. Politicos Embrace Israel’s Big Lie, “Oy Vey”

by James M. Wall

Lying to gain and keep power, is now officially the Order of the Day. The American voting public approved lying as an established form of governing, when it elevated an established liar as President in 2016.

The man’s name is Donald J. Trump.

Oy Vey.

Oy Vey is a Yiddish expression indicating dismay or grief. It derives its meaning from the German “ach weh”, which in English, is “oh pain”. 

I know, I know, lying has long been a staple of American politics, a staple which came in with the Constitution. But when we elected someone who made lying the Order of the Day, it went from being a dark shadow over American politics to a total eclipse. 

Those Americans who had any hope that peace in the Middle East might be possible with the support of the progressive/liberal wings of the Democratic Party, will not be encouraged to learn of the lineup of speakers arranged for the annual 2018 AIPAC Policy Conference, March 4-6.  

In a year when Trump’s election has provided Israel greater freedom to step up its oppressive military occupation of Palestine, AIPAC expects “more than 18,000 community and student activists from all 50 states, and more than half of the Senate, a third of the House of Representatives and countless Israeli and American policymakers and thought leaders”.

A partial speaker’s list is always released a week early. Take careful note of these expected AIPAC speakers. Click on this Mondoweiss link to read the full story.

Adam Schiff  is speaking, the big Russiagate congressman from California. So are Jake Sullivan, Hillary Clinton’s former top aide; Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota; Jane Harman of the Wilson Center; Tamara Cofman Wittes of Brookings; Ilan Goldenberg formerly of the Obama administration; Elizabeth Rosenberg ditto; Dan Shapiro ditto; Brian Katulis of Center for American Progress; Steven Cook of CFR, Ann Lewis the political heavyweight; Rep. Brad Sherman; Claire Shipman of ABC News; Yehuda Kurtzer the Jewish particularist; Emily Shire the feminist Zionist; Bakari Sellers the cable TV liberal; Michele Dunne of Carnegie; Yosef Abramowitz who is married to Rabbi Susan Silverman; and up-and-coming antiwar congressman Seth Moulton. (bold face added).

On February 27, 1968, CBS anchor Walter Cronkite broke with the standard Viet Nam War series of lies.

He did it by telling the truth in one dramatic moment.

Mark Bowden wrote an account of that Cronkite moment under this New York Times   headline,

“When Walter Cronkite Pronounced the War a Stalemate”

One of the enduring myths of the Vietnam War is that it was lost by hostile American press coverage.

Exhibit A in this narrative is Walter Cronkite, the CBS News anchor, billed as the nation’s most trustworthy voice, who on Feb. 27, 1968, told his audience of millions that the war could not be won.

. . . when Cronkite aired his bleak but decidedly middle-of-the-road assessment of the war 50 years ago, immediately after the Tet offensive, it was a significant departure.

It struck like revelation. From the pinnacle of TV’s primetime reach, he had descended to pronounce:

Below is the text of the statement above:

“To say that we are closer to victory today is to believe, in the face of the evidence, the optimists who have been wrong in the past. To suggest we are on the edge of defeat is to yield to unreasonable pessimism. To say that were are mired in stalemate seems the only realistic, yet unsatisfactory, conclusion.”

Mark Bowden notes that Cronkite’s words were not “radical”, but they resonated with President Lyndon Johnson, who “a few weeks later announced that he would not seek re-election and would devote the reminder of his term to reducing hostilities and moving ‘toward peace.’ Not victory, ‘peace’.”

Bowden continues:

Cronkite’s report was significant. It contributed greatly to the shift in public opinion against the war. But there was no immediate, radical turn. Most polls would continue to show narrowing but clear public support for the war for years to come. Richard Nixon was elected later that year, and vigorously prosecuted the war for six years more.

If Cronkite was wrong, if the war was in fact being won and winnable, there were ample resources, time and commitment to prove it. In fact, Cronkite was right. The war was not being won, nor would it be.

It took time, but Cronkite’s 1968 moment of truth-telling, and President Johnson’s decision not to run for another term, played major roles in ending the Viet Nam war.

Could it happen again?  We do not know. What we do know is Walter Cronkite was on a routine reporting trip to Viet Nam, when he “became convinced that he had been misinforming the public about the war’s progress.”

Cronkite might have ignored his doubts. Instead, he told his national audience, “It seems now more certain than ever that the bloody experience of Vietnam is to end in a stalemate.”

All the more reason we must not lose hope, as we remain alert to signs, large and small, signs like a single television broadcast 50 years ago.

The picture of Walter Cronkite at top, is a screen shot.

Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Friedman Visits and Vouches for Israel

by James M. Wall

 

Church of the Holy Sepulchre Jerusalem Lithograph

by Louis Haghe from an original by David Roberts.

 

 

When New York Times’ columnist Thomas Friedman travels to the Middle East, he brings with him a deep devotion to the state of Israel, and a longing for what he thinks ought to be.

In a recent column he addresses that longing in these opening paragraphs:

At the Syrian Border, Golan Heights — Who knew that the future of warfare would present itself with such serene beauty — like one of those warm 19th-century David Roberts landscapes of the Middle East.

How so? I’m traveling along the Israeli border road at the intersection of Lebanon, Syria and Israel, and off in the distance there’s a freshly snow-capped Mount Hermon, begging for skiers. It’s framed by Lebanese and Syrian villages nestled into terraced hillsides, crowned by minarets and crosses. The only sound you hear is the occasional rifle burst from Lebanese hunters.

With his quiet opening of what ought to be, Friedman sets a mood designed to lure his readers into a quiet David Roberts painting. As frequent travelers know, Roberts was the Englishman who captures a tranquility from the 1800s, a tranquility which Friedman quickly dispatches:

But this is no Roberts painting. It’s actually the second-most-dangerous spot on the planet — after the Korean Peninsula — and it’s the idyllic backdrop to what 21st-century warfare looks like.

Because hidden in these villages, hillsides and pine forests you can find a state — Israel — trying to navigate a battlefield with a rival state’s army (Syria), a rival regional superpower (Iran), a global superpower (Russia), super-empowered mercenaries and maniacs (Hezbollah and ISIS) and local tribes and sects (Druse and Christians).

Hold up there, Brother Thomas, do you expect us to buy this one-sided Friedman word- portrait that describes the state of Israel as a peaceful neighbor forced to live in “a tough neighborhood”, a favorite Friedman phrase?

Parse that “hidden in these villages. . . ” paragraph. View it “realistically”, as Reinhold Niebuhr should have done when he was alive.

The “battlefield” Friedman describes is filled with a “rival states’ army (Syria), [and] a rival regional superpower (Iran)”, two “rivals” that were established as states within borders drawn by the British. They were there long before invading Zionist colonialists arrived in the neighborhood and moved in with their peaceful Jewish villagers.

Friedman sounds like Donald Trump when he identifies Hezbollah and ISIS as “super-empowered mercenaries and maniacs”.  As for the Druse and Christians, they are tossed aside as “local tribes and sects”.

Come now, Thomas, “tribes and sects”? 

I have labored under the impression that the Christian community has a pretty strong religious claim on land where Jesus was born, lived, died and was raised from the dead, to save the world. 

Christians of the world provide Israel with tourist profits, and many of them deplore the treatment of Christians in Palestine by Israel’s occupation army.

Show a little respect, Thomas. 

I would also advise you, Thomas, that by lumping Hezbollah and ISIS in the same list of undesirables, you are exposing your Zionist bias. Hezbollah has a legitimate role in Lebanese politics. ISIS is a dangerous force distorting Islam in a quest for political power. 

Israel would have the world, with your help, see the Middle East as a potentially peaceful region, but only with the modern state of  Israel as its unchallenged power center. 

Your description of the players in your “tough neighborhood” omits one major player, Palestine, whose land Israel seized by force and on which it has grown into a world military power.

In your column, you tell us you rode “along the Israeli border road at the intersection of Lebanon, Syria and Israel, [where] off in the distance there’s a freshly snow-capped Mount Hermon”.

Brother Thomas, you looked at Mount Hermon, and referred to skiers, but you did not tell your readers that the state of Palestine is located just down from the heights of that famed Mount, which is on Syrian land.

You did not tell them that your beloved Israel has held on to that Syrian mountain land for “security” reasons. And you did not mention that the Palestinian people have lived in the grip of a military-enforced occupation for more than a half century.

During the visit which took you along the Israeli “border”, you would have benefited from an interview with a Palestinian peace negotiator who could give you a more realistic view of the state you ignored in your column.

Saeb Erekat (right), the leading Palestinian peace negotiator, is the secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organization. On Tuesday, he wrote an Op Ed for The New York Times under the headline: “Forget Trump’s U.S. as the Mideast’s Mediator”.

It is safe to assume Friedman has read the essay. It is also possible that he arranged for its publication.  But did he really read it. Here are a few pertinent parts of that Op Ed:

The Trump administration, which blames the Palestinians for the recent stalemate, does not mention that our president, Mahmoud Abbas, tried to constructively engage with the [Trump] administration. Last year, between Feb. 7 and Nov. 30 we had over 30 meetings with administration officials, including four between the two presidents. Throughout that period, a Palestinian team took initiatives in presenting detailed and thought-out positions, maps and responses to the other side’s positions.

It brought us little. Instead, President Trump broke with decades of American policy and stopped criticizing Israel’s human rights violations and continuous settlement construction. The administration’s excuse for not endorsing a two-state solution — that it would make Americans biased — changed quickly to a possibility of approval if both sides accepted one. But that was no concession; it gave Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, veto power over the two-state solution.

Further along, Erekat offers details for a brighter future:

[W]e support making Jerusalem an open city with free access for all, and a sovereign Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem. Instead, President Trump decided last month to take Jerusalem “off the table” — a step that encouraged Israelis to pursue policies in occupied East Jerusalem that seek to forcibly transfer the Palestinian population out of the city. 

President Trump, for the wrong reasons, has put the issue of Palestine back on the international agenda. If his administration’s inability to be an honest broker opens the way for other parties to become mediators, Palestine can engage in meaningful discussions on a just and final peace.

This must begin with a time frame for ending the Israeli occupation and establishing a sovereign Palestinian state on the 1967 border, with East Jerusalem as its capital — a proposal offered and reaffirmed often by the Arab League. Palestinians would attain their inalienable rights, and Israel would enjoy normal relations with the region.

Only such an international effort can address the unequal power balances, uphold international law and present a clear future of hope, freedom, justice and peace.

While in Israel, Thomas Friedman had to be aware of the pending trial of 17-year-old Ahed Tamini, who along with her mother, are in an Israeli prison for reasons related to the incident in which a frustrated Ahed tried to push Israeli soldiers from her front yard.

The family trials are being postponed for unknown reasons. The latest trial date is scheduled for March 11. 

From what we know, the only threat the Tamini family poses for Israel is the damage to Israel’s standing as a democracy. That so-called democracy is already on international bad paper for its continued occupation of Palestine. 

Are you listening, Brother Thomas?

The David Roberts watercolor is from Wikipedia. The picture if Saed Erekat is from Facebook.

Posted in Israel, Media | 4 Comments