Thursday, December 11, 2014

"The poor be with ye always"

But that's only because the Xians are greedy, condescending, lacking empathy, and generally acting like massive assholes.

I have been hearing this bastardization of  Mark 14:7 (and Matthew 26:11 and John 12:8) for years as some kind of excuse for refusing to do the proper thing about the poverty-stricken.  Rick Perry recently trotted it out, and that was the straw that broke the camel's back.  For me and for Slacktivist.

The reference there is to a story in the Bible, one repeated in three of the Gospels. Matthew and Mark both tell us the story happened in the house of Simon the Leper. John’s Gospel says it happened in the home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus. But they all agree it happened in Bethany — in the house of the poor. 


The bit Rick Perry was attempting to quote is from verse 11 there: “For you always have the poor with you,” or, in the King James Version, “ye have the poor always with you,” or in the NIV, “The poor you will always have with youa.”

People love to quote that bit. Christians especially love to quote that bit — Christians who claim to have read and understood their Bibles.

And, like Rick Perry, they all get it wrong.

Completely and utterly wrong. Backwards wrong. Perversely, cruelly, anti-biblically, priggishly, prickishly, sinfully, hellishly wrong.

Hearing someone say this has made me grit my teeth for years.  Literally.

Almost every time you see someone citing this passage, they’re invoking it the same way Gov. Perry is there — a shrugging acceptance that poverty is just the way it is and that there’s nothing we can do about it.
And that’s not what Jesus was saying at all.

You see that little superscripted “a” at the end of that phrase in the NIV translation? That’s a footnote. Scroll down to the bottom and you’ll see that footnote reads “See Deut. 15:11.”

That’s important. Jesus was quoting from the Torah. And you can’t understand what he said – or what his disciples heard him saying — unless you understand what it is he was quoting.

So let’s do that. Let’s “see Deut. 15:11.” Here it is:
Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, “Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land.”
Already you can see that Jesus’ statement can’t be made to mean what Rick Perry et. al. are trying to twist it into meaning. The passage Jesus was quoting is not a complacent description, but an if … then statement. “Since … therefore …” Deuteronomy 15:11 says. Jesus only quotes the “since” part because he didn’t need to quote the “therefore” — he knew that his disciples knew the rest of that verse: “I therefore command you, ‘Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land.’”

That is what “The poor will always be with you” means in the Bible. In Deuteronomy and in Matthew, Mark and John. It means, therefore, we are commanded to open our hands to the poor and needy.

One of my New Year's resolutions is to cease quietly and nicely putting up with bullshit.  I'm getting an early start on keeping fast to that.

And that’s the same message Jesus is delivering to his disciples in all three versions of that Gospel story.

But that’s the exact opposite of what ignorant Christians misquoting Jesus are trying to say when they babble about “the poor will always be with you.” Those Christians are perverting that verse in order to deny all culpability and responsibility for or to the poor.

That’s wrong. That is, according to Moses and to Jesus, evil.

Maybe it's all the Christians who have gone Old Testament on torture lately.  Or who like to blame the unarmed young black victim for being gunned down by police, who consistently avoid being held to account for their crimes.  The Prince of Peace just doesn't seem to be having the greatest influence on his followers lately.

Whether he knows it or not (and he clearly doesn’t know it), this is what Rick Perry is accidentally affirming when he tries to quote that passage from the Gospels. All of this.

Whenever you say “the poor will always be with you,” you are also saying “At the end of every seven years you must cancel debts.”

Whenever you say “the poor will always be with you,” you are also saying “do not be hardhearted or tightfisted.”

Whenever you say “the poor will always be with you,” you are also saying “be careful not to harbor this wicked thought.”

Whenever you say “the poor will always be with you,” you are also saying “do not show ill will toward the needy.”

Whenever you say “the poor will always be with you,” you are also saying “give generously and do so without a grudging heart.”

Whenever you say “the poor will always be with you,” you are also saying “be openhanded toward the poor and needy.”

And if — like Rick Perry or countless other lapdogs for the rich and powerful — you try to say “the poor will always be with you” without also saying all of that, then be warned. Because the poor may then appeal to the Lord against you, and you will be found guilty of sin.

It sure is a fucked-up world we live in when the atheists have to remind the Christianists how they are supposed to fucking live their lives.

The architects of the US torture program

So here's the deal.

There are at least these five things Barack Obama can do to address the national disgrace that the Senate Intelligence Committee's executive summary of the CIA's torture program has revealed.

If he does only the first one -- appoint a special prosecutor -- then that will be a good start.

'With justice for all', it says somewhere.  No one is above the law.

Torture is a war crime under Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, and there are no exceptions.  There are specific penalties for those who torture, and for those who conspire to commit torture.

There must be accountability, or else there will certainly be more protests -- and worse -- against those placed in authority for abusing their power, and for those who let the criminals walk free.

The rule of law, or the rule of the lawless.

How much angrier can pro-torture Republicans and conservatives get, after all?  Are they going to march in the streets and protest in favor of hypothermia and forcing people to stand on broken legs?  Carry signs that say "I support rectal feeding"?  Are they going to openly carry their guns to their protests while the police -- not dressed in riot gear, mind you -- look on and grin?

Are they actually going to do anything except what they already do -- screech loudly?

Honestly, maybe we should find out if they will or they won't.  Perhaps a special prosecutor appointed to investigate the allegations of war crimes by George W Bush and Dick Cheney is exactly the thing this country needs at this time.  And then let the chips fall where they may.

If torture has -- astoundingly, I might add -- now become a partisan issue, then take it out of the hands of the partisans and have a non-partisan special prosecutor decide whether crimes should be prosecuted.

Just like Watergate.  Just like Iran-Contra.  And just like the Clinton-Lewinsky matter.

Now would be a great time to clear up this issue once and for all.  Weigh the legal interpretations of John Yoo and David Addington against the international and US laws specifically written to address circumstances like these.  Do it, do it now, and then -- if necessary -- move on to the trial at The Hague, the verdict, and the punishment.

History is judging the United States of America either way.

Update: Juan Cole, and why the Founding Fathers thought that banning torture was fundamental to the US Constitution.  And Antonin Scalia, demonstrating that his "expertise" in interpreting the Constitution is a myth.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

It's not Republicans vs. Democrats

Still trying my best to ignore jockeying for 2016, but a few items earned comment.

-- Elizabeth Warren says no, again, to White House draft petitions.  This is just wasting their time and ours once more.  Their biggest 'get' looks like it's going to be Democracy for America hopping on their bandwagon.  I would simply note that you can find little to no mention of the progressive option who is more serious about (possibly) running, Bernie Sanders, by either MoveOn or DFA.  Obviously they don't think he has a chance, or else they don't like him because he's too old or too socialist.

Speaking of geriatrics, both of these organizations are too old, too tired, and not all that progressive enough any longer to be taken seriously.  Do yourself a favor and stop signing their petitions.  I have unsubscribed myself.

Update III: They are also much too white to be relevant.

-- Rick Perry, on the other hand, doesn't have tens of thousands of signatures beseeching him to run for president, but will of course do so anyway.  Because people expect him to.

"People think we're going to run, and that's not necessarily a bad thing," Perry said in an interview with The Associated Press...

-- Joe Biden "honestly doesn't know yet".

Vice President Biden said Tuesday he’ll make up his mind about whether to run for president “at the end of the spring or early summer.”

"I honest to God haven't made up my mind,” Biden said at a ‘Women Rule’ event hosted by Politico. “I'm confident I'd be in a position to be competitive."

"The one thing that moves me — I think that I have the ability to bring the sides together,” he added.

Biden’s daughter Ashley appeared on stage with him at the event, and called his potential presidential aspirations a “family decision.”

-- Update II: For all you pro-torture Republicans out there, Marco Rubio is your guy.

“We need to have the ability to interrogate people outside the realm of what you do in a criminal justice system,” he says.

Finally, your Oligarch Update from the NYT.

Dozens of the Republican Party’s leading presidential donors and fund-raisers have begun privately discussing how to clear the field for a single establishment candidate to carry the party’s banner in 2016, fearing that a prolonged primary would bolster Hillary Rodham Clinton, the likely Democratic candidate.

The conversations, described in interviews with a variety of the Republican Party’s most sought-after donors, are centered on the three potential candidates who have the largest existing base of major contributors and overlapping ties to the top tier of those who are uncommitted: Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida and Mitt Romney.

All three are believed to be capable of raising the roughly $80 million in candidate and “super PAC” money that many Republican strategists and donors now believe will be required to win their party’s nomination.

But the reality of all three candidates vying for support has dismayed the party’s top donors and “bundlers,” the volunteers who solicit checks from networks of friends and business associates. They fear being split into competing camps and raising hundreds of millions of dollars for a bloody primary that would injure the party’s eventual nominee — or pave the way for a second-tier candidate without enough mainstream appeal to win the general election.

What's wrong with this picture?  A lot, but it's really bad news for the way-too-early frontrunner, Ted Cruz, who already lost the Sheldon Primary.

Robert Reich has the last word.  If the ruling party and the minority party ever snap to being played for suckers, we might make some progress in this nation.  I'm not counting on it.

The biggest political divide in America now and in years to come isn't between the Republican and Democratic parties. It’s between the establishment and the anti-establishment -- between a rich minority of top corporate executives, denizens of Wall Street, and billionaire moguls, all of whom have been fixing the economic and political game for their own benefit, and the vast majority of Americans who, as a result, are in a fix.

Update: Chuck Todd via Egberto Willies explains this as well.