The Mason Moment with John Oliver Mason, July 16, 2019

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Philly For Change, July 3, 2019

I hope you can join me for the next meeting at Philly for Change, at Tattooed Mom, 5th and South streets in Philadelphia, tomorrow, Wednesday, July 3, 2019. Speaking there will be Rochelle Bilal, candidate for Sheriff; Tracey Gordon, candidate for Register of Wills; and Dave Scholnick, speaking on on gun violence. We will also discuss the refinery fire in South Philadelphia, and the 2020 election. See you there!

Parshat Shelah-Lecha

We have recently studied the Torah portion Shelah-Lecha, Numbers 13:1-15-41. God tells Moses to send a team of spies to scout out the Land that was promised to the Israelites; these are to be leading men from each of the twelve tribes, men of respect in their communities, hat the people look up to.  Moses gives them their orders to scout the land: “What kind of country is this? Are the inhabitants strong or weak?  Are the cities open or fortified? Is the soil rich or poor?” Moses also asks for samples of the fruit of the land.

For forty days, the spies examine the land, picking up a huge cluster of grapes that they have to carry on a wooden beam. They return from their mission and tell Moses, “It is indeed an abundant land, but the cities are fortified,” and they speak of the various nationalities occupying the land. They continue, “We can’t attack these people, they’re stronger than we are,” and they claim to see the Nephilim, a race of beings mentioned in the sixth book of Genesis, “divine beings (who) cohabited with the daughters of men (Genesis 6:4).” The spies concluded, “(W)e looked like grasshoppers to ourselves, and so we must have looked to them.”

Two of the spies, Joshua of the tribe of Ephraim and Caleb of the tribe of Judah, insist that, if they maintain their faith in God, the Israelites definitely can take on and beat the inhabitants, and bring them to the abundant land; but the Israelites, listening to their leaders, the men they trust, fall into a panic, crying, “If only we died in Egypt! Let’s go back to Egypt!”

Moses pleads with God to tur His wrath away from the people, who lost faith in Him and in themselves. God agrees, but as punishment, the Israelites would remain in exile for another forty years, until the generation that experienced slavery-and the slave mentality it engendered-dies; the exceptions would be Caleb and Joshua, the two spies who have faith they could take the land.

The next day, the Israelites prepare for battle against the inhabitants of the land, and Moses warns them not to; “The Lord is not in your midst…the Lord would not be with you.” The Israelites engage in battle and the inhabitants defeat them.

The spies are leaders of their tribes, men the community trusts and listens to; they come back and tell the people, “We’re inferior to the people we’re up against, we’re little crawling insects compared to them.” THIS is what the leaders of the community tell them; but two of the leaders, Caleb and Joshua, say, “Yes, we CAN beat them and take the land!”  How many times have kids been told by adults they respect, parents, teachers, what have you, that you’re incapable of anything, you’re no good, you’re stupid, you’re useless? How many adults have told kids this stuff?

The Israelites go into a panic and scream to go back to Egypt, the land of their slavery and oppression; it’s no different from a battered spouse staying with their abuser, since they’re not confident in themselves in being out into the world away from their abuser. For their lack of faith in God and in themselves, the Israelites could not, would not enter the land of milk and honey that God promised their ancestors, the realm of prosperity and well-being. Ow often has our self-confidence prevented us from fulfilling our goals and dreams?

When the Israelites go into battle-after saying they could not take on the inhabitants and wanting to go back into Egypt-they are defeated; they went in, knowing they would be beaten, they only go through the motions; this has happened many times, when you know a project you’re compelled to do is going to fail.

The Haftorah portion is in Joshua, the second chapter; Joshua orders a team of spies to surveil the city of Jericho. The spies hide out in the home of the harlot Rahab, which is right on the city gates. Rahab tells the spies that the people of the city of terrified of the Israelites and for all that God has done for them-all the victories God has brought about for them. The spies tell Rahab to bring her whole family together into the house, and run a red cord on the window, as a sign of their safety-as long as she keeps their mission a secret.

A harlot, a woman supposedly looked down upon, is the hero of this story, protecting the Israelite spies and telling them of their power over their enemies. The cliché, “I didn’t know my own strength” comes to mind. Do we really know how powerful and strong we truly are?  How could we ever know? This portion deals with issues of self-image and self-esteem, which I have been working on all my life and that is why this is my favorite.

    

The Mason Missile, June 27, 2019

Greetings!

Since this publication takes a good deal of work and time, I welcome any donations, and I am willing to discuss ad space. For $10.00 I will be happy to advertise your business on the Missile. Please contact me and we’ll talk about it.

Reminder-I will hold an author’s event at the new independent bookstore, A Novel Idea on Passyunk, 1726 E. Passyunk Avenue, on Tuesday, August 6, 2019. I hope to see your face in the place. (https://anovelideaphilly.com/)

This is one year after the Janus Decision; in June 2018, the US Supreme Court, in the Janus vs AFSCME decision, decided that public-sector workers are not required to pay even partial union dues-the “agency shop” fee, whereby if a person elects not to join a union, that person still pays a partial fee, since the person is still protected under the union contract. But, even without the fees, the union HAS to protect the nonunion person, thus laying a financial burden on the union. (https://www.huffpost.com/entry/supreme-court-issues-devastating-ruling-against-labor-unions_n_5af9ec8fe4b09a94524b2ae9)

This has been the dream and scheme of the corporate right for decades-after demonizing unions, they’ve always wanted to eliminate unions as a challenge to corporate power, to prevent corporations from oppressing workers in the pursue to a little more profit in the next quarter.  

Guess what? There has been an uptick in union activism, such as the teachers strikes in such “red” states as West Virginia, Oklahoma, Arizona, Kansas, Kentucky (are you sweating real good, Mitch McConnell?), and Colorado. Public sector union membership has been on the rise, thwarting the rightist scheme of weakening unions. (https://afscme.org/news/press-room/press-releases/2019/workers-chose-to-stick-with-their-union)

People all over the country are converging on the web with the hashtag “I’m sticking with my union.” (https://ucommblog.com/section/union/im-sticking-my-union) This harkens back to the old union song “The Union Maid,” popularized by the Industrial Workers of the world (IWW).  (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G-0lDKsXMb8) We need that kind of militancy to fight against those who would oppress us, whether we are workers, LGBTQ+ people, women, or people of color.

Are we edging closer to civil war in this country, as many pundits are warning? The Oregon state senate has been debating a “cap and trade” bill aimed at fighting climate change; eleven republican state senators ran out of the state, to prevent a quorum in the chamber for voting on the bill. (https://www.huffpost.com/entry/awol-gop-state-senators-oregon_n_5d0ec421e4b07ae90d9e32fa) Rightist paramilitary militia groups-The Three Percenters, designated by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group-has been protecting them from the state police, whom Governor Kate Brown sent to arrest the senators.  One of the senators, Brian Boquist, warned the police, “Send bachelors and come heavily armed. I’m not going to be a political prisoner in the state of Oregon. It’s just that simple.” 

(I remember the Republicans boasted of being the “law and order, tough on crime” party; but the question is, whose law and whose order? And if they commit a crime, like Nixon in Watergate, how can they get away with it? That’s a common idea, making a resurgence with trump: if you’re sufficiently wealthy, powerful and connected, you can get away with anything.)

The premise of American politics is that we can find some middle ground, some way we can work out a deal for the common good. Is that a reality anymore, if it ever was? Joe Biden, former Vice-President, thinks so. But, in finding a common ground and making a deal, how much do you give up on what you work for, and what? What does the other side want?

Biden, I’m afraid, is all too willing to give up something worthwhile to get along with the other side, even if the other side was a pair of segregationist senators- such old “Dixiecrat” senators as James O. Eastland of  Mississippi and Herman Talmadge of Georgia. “I was in a caucus with James O. Eastland,” says Biden, and “He never called me ‘boy,’ he always called me ‘son.’” Did Biden need Eastland’s approval?  Senator Cory Booker (NJ), also running for the Democratic nomination, demanded that Biden apologize, but Biden refused and demanded Booker apologizes. (It’s a common bully tactic, act like you’re offended because someone complains about being offended.)

Talmadge and Eastland were notorious segregationists, adamant about preserving the South’s Jim-Crow system, raving about the “inferiority” of African-Americans and about “mongrelization.” (But if a certain race is “inferior,” why are they so scary?)

Plus there is the fundraising among wealthy donors; corporate-plutocratic campaign cash is the crack cocaine of American politics, and it will kill all of us. Biden himself appeared at a fundraiser at the home of Comcast executive David Cohen ( https://www.huffpost.com/entry/joe-biden-2020-campaign-lobbyist-money_n_5cc111dce4b0764d31dc8586), and has called for donations of $100,000 for people joining his financial committee. (https://www.cnbc.com/2019/06/04/joe-biden-calls-on-financiers-to-raise-up-to-100000-to-join-committee.html) Is it absolutely necessary to sell your soul to the plutocratic devil to get yourself elected to office? Here is another sign of the inability for a working or low-income person to have any effect in the political system.

I don’t believe that Biden, or others calling themselves “liberal,” really want to see minority, low-income, or working people in charge of society; they do want to advance their rights and well-being, but they want to remain in control-that’s how it looks. Like so-called “conservatives”, they don’t want the social-political system disrupted, so they make small accommodations to those challenging the system, even bringing some of the members of the out-groups into the system.

Moreover, I notice the tendency of SOME (not all, let’s be fair) “Liberals” trying to accommodate conservatives, asking as if they are addressing a serious concern; but their only concern is to impede and real social reform. Conservatives or others on the right act as if they are the real masters of America, and minorities, workers, and their liberal abettors are usurpers, taking control of the nation from its rightful owners-calling that “communism,” back in the Cold War day; plus, whenever someone stands up to them, and works to advance social reforms, the conservatives act as if they’re the oppressed minority, as if liberals must ask the permission of their conservative superiors.

I plan to discuss such issues at the next meeting of Philly for Change, which meets every first Wednesday-July 3-at 7:00 PM, and Tattooed Mom, 5th and South streets in Philadelphia. Political change begins and ends at the grassroots, the streets, and the neighborhoods.

Bye!  

Bernie Sanders to propose cancelling $1.6 trillion in U.S. student loan debt, wiping slate clean for 45 million people — National Post

WASHINGTON — Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., will propose on Monday eliminating all $1.6 trillion of student debt held in the United States, a significant escalation of the policy fight in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary two days before the candidates’ first debate in Miami. Read More

Bernie Sanders to propose cancelling $1.6 trillion in U.S. student loan debt, wiping slate clean for 45 million people — National Post

We absolutely MUST eliminate student loan debt. In this economy the nice juicy jobs you’re promised on graduation don’t always pop up, and college graduates also have to take care of families, mortgages, utilities, etc. This would be no different from, in a developing country, a land reform, where poor peasants are allotted portions of a big landowner’s land to farm privately. And, alas, we ARE damned close to becoming a third-world country.

Behaalotecha

We are now on the Torah portion Behaalotecha, Numbers 8:1-12:16.

8:5-22; God instructs Moses on the ritual for consecrating the Levites as the priestly tribe-the washing of the clothes, the laying on of hands by the Israelites, the sacrificing of the bulls. God selects the Levites, instead of taking the first born, for performing the rites at the Mishkan.

8:23-26; God tells Moses that the Levites would begin their service at the Mishkan at age 25, and retire at age 50 and serve as a sort of ‘honor guard” at the Mishkan. A new generation must be developed to take over after the older generation, but the older people must be on hand to advise the youngsters. (Youth and age each have their virtues; it’s not either-or.)

11:1-9; the Israelites complain to Moses about not having any meat to eat, but having nothing bot the manna; they talk about the vast array of food they had when they were slaves in Egypt. (this is one of the times they show a lack of faith in themselves, believing they can’t handle being a free people; also, the idea of nostalgia comes up, the glorifying the “good old days” whenever there are difficulties in the present. The liberation of Israel from bondage was a revolution, a serious social upheaval, and such events create a beautiful picture of the old regime, which does not match reality.)

11:10-25; Moses gets upset with all the complaining he hears from the people, crying “I can’t take care of all these people!” God tells Moses to assemble 70 of the Israelite elders, experienced leaders, so that God;s spirit would descend upon them and share Moses’ burden of leadership. (This shows that one individual, no mater how talented and gifted, cannot do everything in running a tribe or an organization; they need other talented people to help them with leading the tribe or other body.)

11:26-30; Two lay Israelite, Eldad and Medad, have the spirit of God in them, and they “spoke in ecstasy.” Joshua urges Moses to make them stop, but Moses says, “would that all the LORD’s people were prophets, that the LORD put His spirit upon them.” God, spiritual development, and participation in any body, is the right and responsibility of all of the community, not just an elite.