Catholic Conservatives and Their Prodigal Brothers

A recent interview on YouTube reminds me that the main concern of Catholic Conservatives is not so much the sex abuse scandal but the Church’s teachings about marriage. I don’t have a stake in the marriage debate but this interview reminded me of certain realities that I have come across in my studies. And I have to say, the struggle between Catholic Conservatives and the Church’s leadership is getting old.

The interviewee is concerned that changes in the Church’s teachings make God look like a trickster who handed down a set of difficult rules only to change his mind two thousand years later. He is concerned that it might begin to look like the rules never really mattered. He is also concerned that a changing church makes it difficult to know how to behave.

I wonder about his reasons. Lately I get the impression that conservatives know better than the Pope how to behave. Perhaps the real problem is that they feel their own rewards are diminished if other people who don’t follow the rules are allowed to be members in good standing. That’s how the brother of the prodigal son felt (Luke 15:11-32). The moral of the story: the brother got it wrong.

Penitents and Cynics: Are We Seeing a Civilization in its Death Throes?

I’ve found more English language videos on the proceedings of the conference on the protection of minors, and I think I had the wrong impression. I was working off of a liturgy that was not in English.

Green New Deal Mass Action

Young people from Kentucky, Mitch McConnell’s home state, are confronting McConnell in DC today. Anyone who is close to DC is invited to join them. Everyone else can join today’s effort by flooding the Senate with calls. You can watch today’s action here:

Tomorrow will be a National Day of Action. “…[Activists] will be storming into offices, singing, dropping banners, rallying outside and making it clear that young people are ready to hold our politicians feet to the fire if they don’t co-sponsor the Green New Deal.”

If you have a plan for the 26th, you can put it on the map, here.

Venezuela Update

The Venezuelan military has again rejected the Trump administration’s offer to join the forces of Juan Guaidó. The military is an important part of the government in Venezuela and its show of support for Nicolás Maduro is a bad sign for Trump’s regime change plans. Some readers may think the following video is too unapologetic in its support for Maduro, but there doesn’t seem to be a middle ground in this conflict. There are a few exceptions however, including Bernie Sanders .

As I said, this video is extremely pro-Maduro, but even Sanders’ more moderate analysis was met with screams of anguish from Democrats who support regime change in Venezuela. Here’s Bernie’s Univision interview with Jorge Ramos. The questions concerning Venezuela are toward the end.

The most vocal criticism of Sanders’ stance on Venezuela has come from members of Congress who represent Venezuelan communities in the United States. However, it’s important to be aware of the makeup of these communities, as a 2018 editorial in the Houston Chronicle makes clear.

This editorial is not sympathetic to Maduro, but it expresses concern about the effects of sanctions on the Venezuelan people. One problem is that sanctions hurt the country’s main source of revenue, which directly affects the people. Another problem is that the Trump administration’s sanctions ignore Venezuelan oligarchs who are living in the United States, largely in Houston and Miami. The majority of Venezuelans living in the United States have nothing to do with the oligarchs, but law enforcement officials believe that some of them have made fortunes by scamming the government and its oil company, PDVSA. The Justice Department only started prosecuting them in 2015.

Sanders calls for a fair election in Venezuela rather than sanctions and military action. In his view, the choice of president should be left to the Venezuelan people.

Roast AIPAC #3

You may have already seen these videos and articles, but because this week is Roast AIPAC week I’ll take the opportunity to list them here together. They make it clear that Ilhan Omar’s criticism of the Israel lobby was too mild. AIPAC’s reach goes further than we would like to think, and AIPAC is not the only organization that influences American opinion and policy in favor of Israel.

The Washington Post published an informative article as well. This seemed surprising at first, given the Post’s previous support of the lobby, but maybe it wasn’t so surprising after all. The article did not criticize AIPAC. It praised the Democratic Party for supporting a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict–a stand that had a negative impact on Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. Netanyahu’s ‘wedding’ together of Israel with the Republican Party has hurt the prospects of peace in the Middle East, the article claims. As for Reps. Ilhan Omar (Minn.) and Rashida Tlaib (Mich.), it identifies them merely as the new members of Congress who have attracted attention with ‘toxic tweets’ and support for boycott and insists that they represent a minority of Americans. Not only that, they have both endorsed the BDS movement. The Post argues that this behavior is not representative of the majority of Democrats who think the United States should support Israel.

I think the Post’s criticism of Netanyahu merits a place here, but US support for Israel was not the point of Omar’s tweet, was it? She was making a comment on the undue influence of AIPAC. She was right too. Shortly after Omar’s tweets, The Nation Magazine published an article outlining the extent to which AIPAC has been able to influence American politics.

We do, in fact, have a growing anti-Semitism problem in America. But Omar and Tlaib are not a part of it. They are allies of mine and of Jews across this country who are fighting for peace, racial justice, immigrants’ rights, and the defeat of fascism. The anti-Semites are the Nazis and white supremacists who marched and murdered in Charlottesville, whom Donald Trump called “very fine people,” and the MAGA supporter who massacred worshippers at a Pittsburgh synagogue.

The last video ends with Sam Seder wondering why it was left to the new Muslim members of Congress to call out AIPAC.

Seder’s point is appreciated, but by now we have a pretty good idea why the Democratic establishment keeps its collective mouth shut about AIPAC.


Rep. Illhan Omar (D-Minn) has been under pressure since she suggested that US support for Israel has something to do with money from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). Although AIPAC’s influence in the United States is no secret, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi demanded that Omar apologize. Omar did apologize, but she remained firm on her criticism of the lobby. She has subsequently been harrassed by journalists and politicians alike. However, I’m not writing to join the ranks of her defenders. It is increasingly clear that she can handle the pressure. I’m writing because I was personally offended that so many people felt free to dole out this treatment on an elected member of the Congress of the United States.

Some assumed that Democrats were pressured by Republicans to discipline Omar, but it’s more likely they were pressured by AIPAC directly. Maybe the rumors of Israel’s influence in our elections are true. Is it possible that both Domocrats and Republicans know that if they offend AIPAC they could lose their next election?

I propose that we exact a cost for AIPAC’s arrogance. Progressives who object to the undue influence that AIPAC demonstrated this week should spend next week criticizing Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians. This would inform AIPAC that there are costs for bad behavior.

Support Venezuela with Buycott

Greg Pallast has linked the situation in Venezuela to Koch Industries.

The Koch oil refinery was set up to refine the type of oil that Venezuela produces, and this has forced the company to cooperate with the Maduro government in order to assure a steady supply of oil. This is the motive for the Trump Adminstration’s sanctions on Venezuela and its support of Juan Guaido in his attempt to take over the presidency of that country. If you believe the Kochs are being treated unfairly you should be happy with the way things are going for Maduro, but if you disapprove of US meddling in Venezuela, and if you are tired of Koch money controlling domestic policy in the United States, I have a suggestion. Use the Buycott app to boycott Koch products. At the least, it might convince the Trump administration that diplomacy is not such a bad idea in Venezuela.

Download the app to your phone, join the campaigns that oppose GMOs, fracking, and factory farming, for starters, and then use the app to scan barcodes before you purchase items at the store.  

We Are Not Seeing a Battle between ‘Two Segments of Society’ in Venezuela

Sorry oligarchs, but we’re on to you. You do not represent a segment of Venezuelan society, although that is the claim of a 2017 article in the Independent (  

The article explains that after Venezuela became a democracy in 1958 the power sharing agreement between the country’s three leading parties unraveled. Their pact, meant to preserve democracy came to dominate it. party elites picked candidates and blocked outsiders, making politics less responsive. The agreement to share wealth fostered corruption. (Sound familiar?)

Chavez ran for president in 1998, and his populist message of returning power to the people won him victory. But the parties, now reduced to two, still dominated government institutions. Chavez made judicial reforms to reduce corruption and abolished the legislature’s upper house. The latter reform is cricized in the Independent article, although the author admits there were problems before the economic crisis that brought Chavez to power, summed up by ‘personalism and petroleum’. Personalism tends to consolidate power under a single leader and petroleum leads to corruption.

Chavez’s struggles with the business and political establishment are said to be due to his executive decrees and populist self-righteousness. In other words, if he had played nice with the oligarchs everything would have turned out ok.

When the establishment elites removed Chavez from power in 2002, the people protested and he was returned to power. The coup leaders, who suffered from a serious case of overreach, had dissoved the constitution and legislature, yet Chavez is criticized for acting as though politics is a zero-sum game. This is based on the fiction that he was fighting a legitimate part of Venezuelan society. His treatment of the unions gets a similar treatment.

When courts challenged Chavez, he gutted them, suspending unfriendly judges and packing the supreme court with loyalists. The result was intense polarization between ‘two segments of society’ who now saw each other as existential threats, destroying any possibility of compromise.

Two segments of society? Really? This strike was actually an ‘oil lockout’ organized by the Venezuelan Workers’ Federatio (CTV); the Venezuelan Chamber of Commerce (Fedecamaras), a right-wing coalition known as the Democratic Coordination (CD); and other sectors of the Venezuelan opposition. It was aimed at overthrowing the President of theRepublic, but meanwhile it caused scarcity of basic goods. More serious for Venezuela’s economy in the long-run, it inflicted damage to the state-owned oil company, Petroleos de Venezuela (Pdvsa). The country lost $14.4 billion in oil revenue during the lockout, which lasted 63 days and inflicted damage to Pdvsa that has not been overcome to this day. Over a thousand wells were broken during the lockout, and cannot be repaired. (

There were four stoppages called by the opposition within a year: December 10, 2001; February 9, 2002; October 21, 2002; and the April 2002 coup. The coup included acts of violence and an attempted takeover of the Venezuelan Armed Forces. Yet today, the damage to oil infrastructure is one of the talking points of the corporate media in the US, which supports the administration’s sanctions on the Maduro government.

Unfortunately, oil stoppages were only part of the sabotage. Since 1979, the information technologies of Pdvsa have been controlled by SAIC (Science Applications International Corporation). No one knew that its members included ex-military officials and former directors of the CIA. According to Minci (the Venezuelan Ministry of Communication and Information), during the oil lockout this company exercised its ability to control the Ministry’s computers by paralyzing the charge, discharge, and storage of crude at different terminals within the national grid. It also altered the functionality of most oil substations, compressing and processing plants, etc. The manipulation was only possible for those with access to secret internal codes. The scheme included the use of hidden modems installed in desks and office walls, the use of phone and internet systems to paralyze Pdvsa operations, and the destruction of databases needed to keep operations running.

Some segment of society! Now what does the Trump administration do? It sanctions the oil company that provides the majority of Venezuela’s revenue.

This December, 2018 article paints a more hopeful picture of Pdvsa.

Nicholas Maduro’s Message

He’s right, this is a unique moment in history. Maduro joins Andrés Manuel López Obrador as an ally of the American people. Let’s discuss how we can best take advantage of this opportunity. We would need to put pressure on the US administration, obviously, but we also need to find ways to counter the tactics of global finance. In our role as consumers we might start by decreasing our spending and boycotting specific products. Anything else?