Today’s liturgy of the word is about the moral imperative to choose good over evil. It presents the capacity to do so as the fundamental characteristic distinguishing humans from animals. In its culminating reading, it offers Jesus as the prime example of rejecting the world’s values over God’s. The two are always 180 degrees opposed to each other.
Here are my “translations” of the day’s readings. They urge a kind of anarchistic antinomianism on us all. The originals can be found here. Please check them out for yourself; they are quite interesting.
Genesis 2: 7-9: God breathed his own life into the unevolved Earth Creature who lived in a lush jungle filled with everything the animal needed, except the human ability to judge right from wrong. But then the Creature having divided in two, saw its heroic “better half” listen to the Wise Serpent (the Goddess symbol for 50,000 years) who disclosed the dreadful secret that human choice between good and evil might make her and her man like gods who know everything – even their damned mortality. Thus, they became human and (alas!) ashamed.
Psalm 51: 3-6, 12-13, 17: That false shame has made us feel guilty, dirty and offensive. It has caused us to desperately and repeatedly beg forgiveness for simply being what God has made us – embodied spirits called to joy by the one who is great, compassionate and present within each of us as our very Self.
Romans 5: 12-19: [Frankly, I don’t know how to translate the passage just cited. Its complex, circular, rabbinical reasoning is impenetrable to outsiders. (It makes one wonder why such readings are chosen. Who can understand them?) Nevertheless, taking account of the wider context of Paul’s letter to the Romans, a translation might come out something like the following.] Indeed, like the heroic Eve, Paul of Tarsus identified false ideas of God and religion’s guilt-inducing Law, as the sources of human shame, self-reproach and unhappiness (what he called “sin.” Meanwhile, he said: Jesus – the long-awaited New Man – has delivered us from all of that. Freed from legal restrictions, Jesus revealed the real autonomous choices everyone must make.
Matthew 4: 4B: This teaching is as nourishing as strong nutritious bread.
Matthew 4: 1-11: Paul’s teaching was confirmed during Jesus’ vision quest in the desert. Forty days and nights of heat and cold, prayer and fasting, brought the visions sought – of seductive devils and ministering angels with fevered dreams inviting Faustian bargains to exchange his soul for bread, suicidal fame, and magnificent kingdoms. Instead (and following his Mother Eve) Jesus chose Original Goodness over the world’s Primal Sin prostrating itself before personified pleasure, power, profit, and prestige.
They’re at it again – red-baiting Bernie Sanders. Because the senator from Vermont has (like President Obama) recognized the educational achievements of the Cuban Revolution, he’s being attacked as an apologist for brutal dictatorships everywhere. The syndrome played out in yesterday’s episode of “The View,” and last night in the South Carolina debate.
It’s all so tiresome – so 20th century, so chauvinistic.
It also contradicts my own personal experience of Cuba over many years of visiting the island, where Fidel Castro remains as revered as George Washington here in the United States. By most on the island, he’s considered the father of his country. (I remember a U.S. embassy official in Cuba lamenting to my students that if free and fair presidential elections were held there, Castro would win “hands down.”)
However, more recently still, such demonization of Cuba and Fidel Castro flies in the face of an experience my daughter and her husband had of the Cuban healthcare system just two weeks ago. I want to share that story with you. It sheds light not only on Cuba and Castro, but on Medicare for All.
But before I get to it, consider the attacks on Mr. Sanders.
According to the simple-minded received wisdom here in the U.S., no one is allowed to tell the truth about a designated enemy. That is, you can’t say anything good about any government that refuses obedience to U.S. empire. And that’s true even if, like Cuba, the said government provides enviable education and childcare, or if health services are free there for everyone.
Meanwhile, to say anything bad about a “friend” – apartheid Israel for example – is absolutely forbidden. As an international outlaw, Israel can transgress UN resolutions against its illegal occupation of Palestinian territories. It can even kill with abandon peaceful protestors including Palestinian children, the elderly and disabled. However, to criticize it for doing so – to propose boycotting, divesting, or sanctioning Israel’s internationally proscribed occupation of Palestinian territories – is not only unacceptable but actually forbidden by law.
(In case you haven’t noticed: no debate participant has or will ever accuse anyone on stage of supporting a “brutal dictatorship” in Israel – or in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Brazil, Honduras, Hungary, Turkey . . .)
I mean, instead of thinking critically or just recognizing undeniable facts, U.S. citizens and candidates for public office are virtually commanded to see and describe the world in terms of good/bad, black/white, friends/enemies, vendors/customers. To make even unsubtle distinctions in those regards is beyond the pale. In terms of electability, its’ the kiss of death.
To put it kindly, such thinking is not only simple-minded; it is childish. It’s insulting. It dumbs us all down and makes us stupid pawns of publicists and propagandists supporting reflexive U.S. ideology.
As a result of such stupidity, Bernie Sanders had to limit his “defense” of Fidel Castro to acknowledging the virtues of teaching people to read and write. He could easily have added points about free education through university level and praise for Cuba’s medical system that provides healthcare for everyone on the island – including visitors from other countries. However, to do so would have opened him to attacks alleging that his free college tuition and Medicare for All programs will inevitably lead to the Cubanization of America.
Not even Bernie Sanders has that much courage.
Healthcare in Cuba: A Recent Experience
And that brings me to the personal story I promised earlier. Just two weeks ago, it involved my daughter, Maggie, and her husband, Kerry as they led a weekend excursion to Cuba.
The junket was the payoff of a fund-raising project for our local Montessori school in Wilton, CT which our daughter’s five children have attended. At an auction held for its benefit, Maggie and Kerry had “sold” the trip to several parental teams. That was last fall.
So come early February, everyone went off to Cuba, even though Maggie was feeling poorly from the outset.
By the time the group arrived in Havana, our daughter was experiencing severe stomach pain that literally brought her to her knees. The next thing she knew, she was being whisked off in a cramped taxi to the Clinica Central Cira Garcia, Havana’s “hospital for tourists.”
There, admissions officials checked very carefully to see that Maggie and Kerry had the required health “insurance” which is included in the purchase price of airline tickets to the island. Then, following an x-ray, our daughter was informed that she was having an appendicitis attack and that an immediate operation was imperative.
The long and short of it is that the laparoscopic appendectomy took place, that hospital care was excellent, and that it cost her and her husband not a dime for the operation or for her five days in the hospital. (They were however charged $50 for each of the two nights Kerry stayed overnight there, and a few dollars for laundry.) In other words, the operation had been paid for by the airline ticket “insurance” which was really a tax on all travelers pooled to meet the cost of health emergencies like the one I just described.
The same procedure in the United States would have cost on average $33,000.
The point here is twofold. The first is that “Americans” need to exit the 20th century once and for all.
Cuba is not our enemy. In fact, it never was until U.S. policy (intolerant of people-friendly socialism) made it so. Moreover, Fidel Castro remains a hero to most Cubans and to most informed people in the Global South. His “repressive” policies were absolutely necessary to protect his country from actual U.S. invasion (e.g. the Bay of Pigs in 1961), from numerous CIA attempts to assassinate him, and from a 60-year long embargo intended to undermine Cuba’s economy, including its health and education programs.
To understand that point, think about our own country’s response to 9/11. Think about the Patriot Act, about resulting restrictions on travel, about Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, imprisonment without trial, torture of suspected terrorists, and extra-judicial drone killings even of U.S. citizens. Think about the panopticon surveillance systems uncovered by Edward Snowden. Think about encouragement to inform on neighbors and others.
Were those responses to 9/11 brutal and repressive? No doubt, they appeared that way to their victims. But undeniably it’s what governments do under threat from external enemies and their internal agents. In that regard, the U.S. is no different from Cuba. George W. Bush, Trump – or Obama for that matter – are no different from Castro, except in their wider swath of brutality.
The second point is that Cuba’s social system as experienced by our daughter is unprecedented in the impoverished world of former colonies. No other victim of colonialism has been as committed to caring for its people, its children, or its environment as Cuba. But instead of being rewarded for such achievements, it is consistently vilified by U.S. politicians and a mainstream media stuck in Cold War thinking.
Thank God that the Sanders revolution invites us to leave all of that behind. His opponents should follow suit.
Readings for Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time: Leviticus 19: 1-2, 17-18; Psalms: 103: 1-13; 1st Corinthians: 3: 16-23; 1 JN 2:5; Matthew 5: 38-48
Last week’s Democratic debate was the most interesting and revealing yet. And we have Mike Bloomberg to thank for that. His tone-deaf buffoonery was stunning and just happens to be intimately connected with this Sunday’s liturgical readings.
Taken together, the readings and Bloomberg’s performance show us that all the problems addressed in the debate have already been solved – especially that of religiously inspired terrorism despite its not being addressed in last Wednesday’s “show.”
I say all that because today’s selections contrast the foolish wisdom of the world (embodied in billionaires like Bloomberg) with the contradictory visions of Moses and Jesus the Christ who are prophets not just for Christians and Jews, but for Muslims as well. As such, their words call us to recognize our absolute unity with our neighbors, and to reject entirely the Bloombergian separative thinking of the world. What we do to others, the readings tell us, we do to ourselves.
But before we get to that, let’s recall what happened on Wednesday.
As far as I was concerned, the most instructive moment came not when Mr. Bloomberg declined to release women from their non-disclosure agreements (NDAs). It wasn’t even when he arrogantly joked about the inability of TurboTax to help determine his annual attempts at gargantuan tax evasion.
No, it came in a throw-away line in his exchange with Elizabeth Warren about her proposed “two-cent wealth tax.” Almost as an aside, he said something like, “Well, of course I don’t agree with Senator Warren’s tax proposal.” He then went on to make another of his monumentally vacuous non-points.
I only wish one of the moderators or debaters had followed up: “What exactly is your objection to a two-cent tax? Would it somehow diminish your lifestyle or impoverish you?”
Bernie Sanders came closest to asking that question when he raised the issue of capitalism’s immorality. He observed:
“We have a grotesque and immoral distribution of wealth and income. Mike Bloomberg owns more wealth than the bottom 125 million Americans. That’s wrong. That’s immoral. That should not be the case when we got a half a million people sleeping out on the street, where we have kids who cannot afford to go to college, when we have 45 million people dealing with student debt. We have enormous problems facing this country, and we cannot continue seeing a situation where, in the last three years, billionaires in this country saw an $850 billion increase in their wealth — congratulations, Mr. Bloomberg — but the average American last year saw less than a 1 percent increase in his or her income. That’s wrong.”
There, Bernie said it: capitalism is a highly immoral system. No Jewish prophet; not Moses, not even Jesus of Nazareth could have said it better. We have the money – unlimited resources – to solve the world’s problems. However, those resources remain locked up in the vaults of the world’s 2000 billionaires. Fact is: their living standards would not be lowered by Warren’s 2% tax. Mr. Bloomberg’s lifestyle would even be unaffected if billionaires like him were outlawed altogether and if as a result, he lost 49.1 billion of his 50-billion-dollar bank account.
Yet, those resources (along with similar confiscations from other billionaires) could absolutely eliminate our material problems not merely in the United States, but throughout the entire world. Despite that undeniable fact, the billionaires and their kept allies refuse to entertain even the possibility of such taxation.
Could anything demonstrate more clearly the immorality of the reigning system?
In other words, the super-rich and corporate “persons” along with their servants in the mainstream media, and in the United States Congress prevent us from seeing that the solutions to the world’s problems are already here and staring us in the face. Yes, the world’s major problems have already been solved!
And I’m not just talking about correcting wealth inequality through confiscatory tax rates on the world’s billionaires. I’m also referring to “problems” like immigration, Medicare for all, free college tuition, forgiveness of college loans, the $15.00 an hour minimum wage, the Green New Deal, world peace, and especially (in the light of today’s readings) terrorism. To repeat: all of those problems (and more) have already been solved. It’s just that the prevailing received wisdom prevents us from recognizing it.
Consider the issues just mentioned one-by-one and how they’ve already been effectively addressed:
Immigration: The United States, Canada, and Australia prove that nations made up almost entirely of immigrants (most of them poor at the beginning) cannot only survive but thrive. There is nothing to fear from even the poorest of immigrants. Virtually all of us are descended from such outsiders. Why not make it as easy for immigrants to enter our country today as it was when our parents, grandparents or great grandparents came over? It’s already been done.
Medicare for all: Publicly funded healthcare has outperformed (and at much lower cost) the U.S. privately funded system in every industrialized country. The same has happened in the U.S. itself in the form of Medicare, Medicaid, and as plans provided by the Veterans’ Health Administration, and by those extended to U.S. legislators. Medicare for All merely expands already proven systems. There is no need to reinvent the wheel.
Free College Tuition: We already have publicly funded elementary and high schools. Why not extend that funding to public colleges and universities? Mr. Bloomberg’s billions could take care of that.
College Loan Forgiveness: Michael Hudson has shown that periodic debt forgiveness has been an engine of economic growth since ancient times. It was even enshrined and required in the Hebrew Testament (Leviticus 25: 8-13) as well as centralized in Jesus’ preaching (Luke 4: 19). Moreover, billionaires (like Messrs. Bloomberg and Trump) declare bankruptcy all the time. Why exclude students from such relief?
Minimum Wage: A $15-dollar-an-hour minimum wage is already a fact in Seattle, New York, in the Amazon workforce, and elsewhere. It provenly works to raise working class living standards.
Green New Deal: In the 1930s FDR’s New Deal fundamentally changed the economic landscape of the United States including (for the first time) a minimum wage, unemployment insurance, social security, and a government jobs program employing millions. The result was the creation of a large, previously non-existent prosperous middle class. Similar even more robust programs were enacted throughout Western Europe even though its infrastructure had been devastated by the Second Inter-Capitalist War. In other words, the Green New Deal is not unprecedented. Its suggested provisions are affordable and have highly successful and popular precedents.
World Peace: Think about it. Current crises with Iraq, Korea, Russia, China, Iran, Syria and elsewhere have been manufactured — absolutely pulled out of the air. None of those countries represent mortal threat to the United States. And in any case, the tools for resolving international conflicts already exist under the auspices of the United Nations. Those who routinely ignore those tools and associated laws are not our “enemies,” but ourselves and our “allies.” “We” are the agents who employ force, sanctions, droning, and bombing as a first resort rather than observe international law and UN procedures for avoiding international conflict. Our merely observing international law would represent a giant step towards world peace.
But, of course, the wisdom of the world denies all of the above. It would convince us that reform is without precedent, that those proposing it are radicals, and that their proposals are unrealistic and impossible to implement. They would even have us believe that Bloombergian and Trumpian wealth based on individualism, competition, and separateness are somehow compatible with the Judeo-Christian tradition.
Today’s readings make the opposite point and condemn as heretical such received wisdom. Instead, the readings emphasize the unity of humankind and the need to reject the world’s ideology.
And that’s where the connection with terrorism comes in. The fact is that the world’s leading terrorists are religiously motivated Jews, Christians and Muslims. Yet, all three accept the Bible as inspired. All three recognize Moses and Jesus as hallowed prophets. All three claim to endorse the basic teachings of those prophets as contained in today’s readings. Such convergence represents a basis for eliminating terrorism far more powerful than bombs, drones or boots on the ground.
To see what I mean, please consider today’s readings in my translated form. (And do check them out here to see if I have them right.) They describe the basis for replacing armed conflict with peaceful religious dialog.
Leviticus 19: 1-2, 17-18: Moses called Yahweh’s people to divine holiness outlawing all hatred, grudges and any type of revenge. All such animosity, he warned, ultimately equates with self-hatred.
Psalms: 103: 1-13 This is because God’s very essence is kindness, compassion, generosity, and unbounded forgiveness.
1st Corinthians: 3: 16-23:And that essence is ours too. Hence, destroying another person represents an attack not only on God but on our Selves. Such profound wisdom is 180 degrees opposed to the world’s foolhardy “savoir faire.” Therefore, accepting Jesus means rejecting received wisdom.
1 JN 2:5: In other words, following Jesus’ teaching (and btw the Buddha’s, Mohammed’s, Krishna’s, Lao Tzu’s, and that of history’s great humanists) is the only way of pleasing God
Matthew 5: 38-48: More specifically, the world teaches eye for eye revenge, retaliation two for one, suing at the drop of a hat, suspicion of borrowers and beggars, and hatred of enemies. However, (along with Moses) Jesus counsels exactly the opposite: gentleness, generosity, having no enemies at all, loving even those who cause us pain, recognition that all are neighbors loved equally by the One whose sun and rain benefit everyone without distinction. Yes, our neighbor (including “enemies”) is our very Self!
Can you see how the wisdom expressed in those readings provide a basis for dialog rather than for armed conflict between Jews, Christians, and Muslims? Can you see how rejecting the “wisdom of the world” reveals that the world’s most pressing problems have already been solved? None of them is new, unprecedented, or insoluble.
It’s time for Jews, Christians, and Muslims to unite in a shared project that opens everyone’s eyes to those facts. It’s time to expropriate the Bloombergs, Trumps and their corporate allies who deny solutions that are absolutely staring everyone in the face.
Peggy and I were shocked Sunday night when we received the stunning news that Fr. John Rausch, a very dear friend of ours, had died suddenly earlier in the day. John was a Glenmary priest whom we had known for years. He was 75 years old.
At one point, John lived in a log cabin below our property in Berea, Kentucky. So, we often found ourselves having supper with him there or up at our place. John was a gourmet cook. And part of having meals with him always involved watching his kitchen wizardry while imbibing Manhattans and catching up on news – personal, local, national, and international. Everything was always interspersed with jokes and laughter.
That’s the kind of man John was. He was a citizen of the world, an economist, environmentalist, prolific author, raconteur, and social justice warrior. But above all, John was a great priest and an even better human being full of joy, love, hope, fun, and optimism.
Yes, it was as a priest that John excelled. Everyone who knew him, especially in the progressive wing of the Catholic Church, would agree to that. Ordained in 1972 [just seven years after the closure Vatican II (1962-’65)] John never wavered in his embrace of the Church’s change of direction represented by the Council’s reforms.
According to the spirit of Vatican II, the Church was to open its windows to the world, to adopt a servant’s position, and to recognize Jesus’ preferential option for the poor. John loved that. He was especially fervent in endorsing Pope Francis’ extension of the option for the poor to include defense of the natural environment as explained in the pope’s eco-encyclical, Laudato Si’. (To get a sense of John’s concept of priesthood and care for the earth, watch this al-Jazeerainterview that appeared on cable TV five years ago.)
His progressive theology delighted John’s audiences who accepted the fact that Vatican II remains the official teaching of the Roman Catholic Church. So, as two successive reactionary popes (John Paul II and Benedict XVI) subtly attempted to reverse conciliar reforms, and as the restorationist priests and bishops they cultivated tried mightily to turn back the clock, John’s insistence on the new orthodoxy was entirely refreshing.
I remember greatly admiring the shape of John’s homilies that (in the spirit of Pope Francis’ Evangelii Gaudium) were always well-prepared and followed the same pattern:
He’d begin with two or three seemingly unrelated vignettes involving ordinary people with names and usually living in impoverished Appalachian contexts.
For the moment, he’d leave those word-pictures hanging in the air. (We were left wondering: “What does all that have to do with today’s readings?”)
Then, on their own terms, John would explain the day’s liturgical readings inevitably related to the vignettes, since Jesus always addressed his teachings to the poor like those in John’s little stories.
Finally, John would relieve his audience’s anxiety about connections by perfectly bringing the vignettes and the readings together – always ending with a pointed challenge to everyone present.
The result was invariably riveting, thought-provoking and inspiring. It was always a special day whenever Fr. John Rausch celebrated Mass in our church in Berea, Kentucky.
Nevertheless, John’s social justice orientation often did not resonate with those Catholics out-of-step with official church teaching. These often included the already mentioned restorationist priests and bishops who harkened back to the good old days before the 1960s. Restorationist parishioners sometimes reported Fr. Rausch to church authorities as “too political.”
But Fr. Rausch’s defense was impregnable. He was always able to appeal to what he called “the best-kept secret of the Catholic Church.” That was the way he described the radical social encyclicals of popes from Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum (1891) through Pius XII’s Quadragesima Anno (1931), Vatican II’s Gaudium et Spes (1965), and Pope Francis’ Laudato Si’ (2015).
John was fond of pointing out that all of those documents plus a host of others were consistently critical of capitalism. They favored the demands of working classes, including living wages, the right to form labor unions, and to go out on strike. Other documents were critical of arms races, nuclear weapons, and modern warfare in general. “You can’t get more political than that!” John would say with his broad smile.
All that perseverance on John’s part finally paid off when his local very conservative bishop was at length replaced by a Franciscan friar whom I’ve described elsewhere as “channeling Pope Francis.” I’m referring to John Stowe whose brown-robe heritage had evidently shielded him from the counter-reforms of the two reactionary popes previously mentioned.
When Bishop Stowe assumed office, he evidently recognized John as a kindred spirit. He respected his knowledge of Appalachia and his desire to connect Church social teachings with that context. So, the new bishop asked John to take him on an introductory tour of the area. John was delighted to oblige. He gave Bishop Stowe the tour John himself had annually led for years. It included coal mines, the Red River Gorge, local businesses, co-ops, social service agencies, local churches, and much more. John became Bishop Stowe’s go-to man on issues involving those represented by the experience.
But none of that – not John’s firm grounding in church social teaching, not his success as a liturgist and homilist, not his acclaimed workshops on economics and social justice, not his long list of publications, nor his advisory position with Bishop Stowe – went to John’s head.
He never took himself that seriously. He was always quick with the self-deprecating joke or story.
In fact, he loved to tell the one about his short-lived movie career. (I’m not kidding.) It included what he described as his “bedroom scene” with actress Ashley Judd. It occurred in the film, “Big Stone Gap.” I don’t remember how, but in some way, the film’s director needed a priest for a scene where Ms. Judd was so deathly ill that they needed to summon a member of the clergy. John was somehow handy. So, he fulfilled the cameo role playing himself at the bedside of Ashley Judd. (See for yourself here. You’ll find John credited as playing himself.) Right now, I find myself grinning as I recall John’s telling the tale. It always got a big laugh.
Other recollections of John Rausch include the facts that:
For a time, he directed the Catholic Committee on Appalachia.
He also worked with Appalachian Ministries Educational Resource Center (AMERC) introducing seminarians to the Appalachian context and its unique culture.
He published frequently in Catholic magazines and authored many editorials in the Lexington Herald-Leader. John’s regular syndicated columns reached more than a million people across the country.
He had a strong hand in the authorship of the Appalachian bishops’ pastoral letter “At Home in the Web of Life.”
He led annual pilgrimages to what he called “the holy land” of Appalachia as well as similar experiences exploring the culture and history of the Cherokee Nation.
He was working on his autobiography when he died. (I was so looking forward to reading it!)
He graciously read, advised, and encouraged me on my own book about Pope Francis’ Laudato Si’.
I have fond memories of one Sunday afternoon when he invited me to a meeting in his living room with other local writers. We were to read a favorite selection from something each of us was working on.
John often came to my social justice related classes at Berea College to speak to students about Appalachia its problems, heroines and heroes. (Of course, to my mind, John ranked prominently among them.)
He gave a memorable presentation along those lines in the last class I taught in 2014. John was a splendid engaging teacher.
Peggy and I are still reeling from the unexpected news of this wonderful human being’s death. For the last day we’ve been sharing memories of John that are full of admiration, reverence, sadness – and smiles. It’s all a reminder of our own mortality and of the blessing of a quick, even sudden demise.
Along those lines, one strange thought that, for some reason, keeps recurring to me is that John’s passing (along with that of another dear friend last month) somehow gives me (and John’s other friends) permission to die.
I don’t know what to make of that. It might simply be that the two men in question (like Jesus himself) have gone before us and shown the way leading to a new fuller form of life. Somehow, that very fact makes the prospect of leaving easier. Don’t ask me to explain why or how.
Recently, I spent two weeks in Tijuana working with Al Otro Lado (AOL). I’ve written about that experience here, here, and here.
AOL is a legal defense service for refugees seeking asylum mostly from gang-rule in Mexico and Central America. The emigrants want escape from countries whose police forces and allied power holders are controlled by ruthless drug rings whose only goal is accumulation of money and social dominance.
As I did my work helping clients fill out endless forms concocted by those who would illegally exclude them, everything seemed so hopeless. I wondered how those gangs achieved such power? Isn’t it a shame, I thought, that entire countries are now controlled by criminal mobs with names like “MS 13,” “Nueva Generacion,” and “18?” How sad for these people!
Then, during my flight home to Connecticut, I happened to watch the documentary “Where’s My Roy Cohn?” (WMRC). It introduced viewers to the dark and criminal mentor of Donald Trump.
On its face, the film illustrated the absolute corruption of the U.S. government as the unwavering servant of the elite as the only people who count. But in the light of my experience in Tijuana, it made me realize that our country too is literally controlled by shadowy gangs to an extent even worse than what’s happening south of our border. I mean, the United States of America now has the most prominent protege of Roy Cohn, an unabashed mafioso, actually sitting in the Oval Office! Both Cohn and, of course, his disciple turn out to be absolute nihilists without principle or any regard for truth.
The film made clear how both men tapped into a similar nihilist strain within huge numbers of Americans who identify with the Republican Party and ironically with the Catholic faith and Christian fundamentalism. Nonetheless, WMRC wasn’t explicit enough in probing either Cohn’s corruption, that of Donald Trump or of our reigning system’s complex of government, education, church and mainstream media.
It failed to show how the phenomena of Roy Cohn and Donald Trump represent mere surface indications of a profoundly anti-democratic coup d’état that has gradually unfolded in our country over the last 40 years. The actuality of this takeover was revealed most clearly in the recent impeachment proceedings. They provided a kind of last straw undeniably exhibiting how nihilist “Christians” have seized power in perhaps irreversible ways.
To see what I mean, begin by watching “Where’s my Roy Cohn?” for yourself. It not only details Cohn’s life as an infamous New York mafia consigliere. It also shows how he started his career in crime as the 23-year-old advisor of the equally villainous Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin. (McCarthy, of course was the force behind the nation-wide communist scare of the early 1950s.)
However, most importantly WMRC describes the film’s subject as the mentor of Donald Trump. By both their admissions, each recognized in the other a kindred spirit. Each used mafia and friends in high places (from Ronald Reagan to New York’s Cardinal Spellman) to enrich himself in terms of power and money. In the end, the alliance brought Trump to “the highest office in the land.”
To that point, here’s the way the film’s (highly accurate) preview-teaser reads: “Roy Cohn, a ruthless and unscrupulous lawyer and political power broker, found his 28-year career ranged from acting as chief counsel to Senator Joseph McCarthy’s Communist-hunting subcommittee to molding the career of a young Queens real estate developer named Donald Trump.”
In the course of the film, witnesses testify that Cohn taught Trump his basic approach to life. To wit: here are Cohn’s (and by extension, Donald Trump’s) implicit Ten Commandments. They also summarize the guiding principles of perhaps the majority of the most prominent politicians in the U.S. and across the world:
Value money as the highest good.
Manipulate the law to enhance personal wealth and privilege
Put your own interests above everyone else’s
Bully opponents mercilessly
Wrap yourself in the flag while you do so
Never admit wrong-doing or failure
When accused change the subject and make vigorous counteraccusation
Lie unceasingly with great confidence and bluster
Declare even the worst defeat a victory
Win at all costs
All of that was actually Cohn’s personal ethos. It worked for him throughout his life. It is reaping at least short-term benefits for Donald Trump as well. In fact, with Cohn as his mentor and as the man’s protege, Donald Trump would seem to merit all the adjectives on the film’s cover envelope: ruthless, unscrupulous, powerful, flamboyant, notorious, despicable . . .
Unmentioned however in the film is Cohn’s connection with the very way our country (and the world) is run. It’s largely a blackmail game connected not merely with money and power, but with sex, pedophilia, blackmail and complete disregard for truth or moral principle. In fact, Whitney Webb’s four-part study of pedophile-racketeer, Jeffrey Epstein is called just that: “Government by Blackmail.”
And right at its heart, we find Trump mentor, Roy Cohn, listed prominently among figures like the Mafia kingpin Myer Lansky, and Lew Rosenstiel (of Schenley distilleries). For decades following World War II, they were real powers behind mayors, governors, congressmen, senators, presidents, and (yes) behind the world’s remaining kings and potentates, along with assorted church officials.
In fact, according to Webb, all during the ’70s and ’80s, Rosenstiel, Lansky’s close friend, regularly threw what his fourth wife (of five) called “blackmail parties.” The photos and recordings gathered there long kept Lansky out of trouble from the federal government. They also delivered entire cities to Mafia control in the post WWII era. In the end, Lansky blackmailed numerous top politicians, army officers, diplomats and police officials. He had photos of FBI director, J. Edgar Hoover in drag and performing homosexual acts.
Again, according to Webb’s research, Rosenstiel’s protegee and successor as blackmailer-in-chief was Roy Cohn himself who was closely associated with the Mafia bosses referenced prominently in “Where’s My Roy Cohn,” as well as with J. Edgar Hoover and the Reagan White House. (Nancy Reagan even phoned Cohn to thank him for enabling the election of her husband.)
Simultaneously, Cohn took on the central role in the blackmail pedophile hustle Lansky and Rosenstiel had started. As usual, its main targets were politicians often interacting with child “prostitutes.”
That was the real source of Cohn’s power. So were his dear friends in high places including (besides Clinton, the Reagans and Trump) Barbara Walters, Rupert Murdoch, Alan Dershowitz, Andy Warhol, Calvin Klein, Chuck Schumer, William Safire, William Buckley, William Casey, and top figures in the Catholic Church.
It’s those latter figures that connect Cohn’s pedophile ring as inherited by Jeffery Epstein even with the Church’s child abuse scandal. It directly involved the aforementioned “American pope,” Francis Cardinal “Mary” Spellman of New York, and Cardinal Theodore “Uncle Teddy” McCarrick of Washington D.C. Father Bruce Ritter’s Covenant House (a multi-million-dollar charity for homeless and run-away boys and girls) was also deeply implicated. In fact, when Ritter’s involvement in sex acts with his underage wards came to light, it was secular powers more than ecclesiastical forces that rallied to his defense.
Right-Wing Coup and Presidential Impeachment
All of that leads me back to where I started – to the right-wing coup d’état whose final straw debunked any pretense of democracy that may have been persuasive to some before impeachment proceedings put them completely to rest. “Where’s My Roy Cohn” showed the profound extent of the take-over in question – never far distanced from predominantly male sexual perversion.
Yes, we all know about such depravity within the Catholic Church – all the way up the chain of command. But the Cohn film along with the ancillary Epstein revelations it ignores reveal the centrality of that debauchery to standard operating procedure among government officials in the United States and across the world. It’s evidently what they do.
Am I exaggerating? Go back to the above list of Cohn’s and Epstein’s “friends.” See for yourself: they include presidents, princes, prelates, professors, pundits, pushers, and publishers. All of them have always had a lot to fear from the tapes and videos made by Cohn. But the same holds true for the ones confiscated from Epstein’s special safe, and from the still unpublished manifestoes of passengers on Epstein’s “Lolita Express” to the man’s “Orgy Island.” Additionally, there’s remains a lot to learn from the testimony of Epstein’s procurer, Ghislaine Maxwell. Inexplicably the latter remains at large and allegedly unlocatable by international agencies possessing the world’s most sophisticated technology.
In other words, what we know about connections between Cohn, Epstein, the Mafia, CIA, DOJ, White House, and church officials represent the mere tip of an iceberg whose continued submersion seems assiduously assured by the agencies involved, by Britain’s royals, and other powerful entities — all aided and abetted by an entirely cooperative MSM.
[And no: it’s not baseless “conspiracy reasoning” to implicate the deep state officials just mentioned – not in the face of Jeffrey Epstein’s mysterious “suicide” whose suspicious circumstances (within a specifically federal prison) include transgression of standard protocols for prisoners on suicide watch, missing surveillance tapes, sleeping guards, unexplained screams reported by fellow inmates as coming from Epstein’s cell, and lack of follow-up by the MSM.]
In other words, it’s not just that our country has been taken over by right-wing mobsters. No, it’s much more than that: our very world is run by gangsters, pedophiles, blackmailers, and their enablers – with Donald Trump its most recent and blatant evidentiary manifestation of anti-democratic policies.
Ignoring the rest of the world for a moment, consider what we’ve learned from the impeachment process about the extent of America’s de facto coup under Donald Trump whose criminal actions have gutted the Constitution of the United States at its core. Thus:
There no longer remains a separation of powers.
An indicted executive can control his own trial.
Subpoenas mean nothing to the reigning executive. By his decree alone, he can override summonses, forbidding those receiving them from appearing in court.
Impeachment “jurors” can embrace unmitigated bias with impunity announcing their judgment well before the trial’s commencement.
The presiding judge – even as he acknowledges the appearance of his court’s politicization – can with straight face permit a “trial” without evidence or witnesses.
Thus, prosecutors (i.e. the very House of Representatives) are left entirely impotent.
The hell of it is that these are all merely the latest developments in a criminal, unconstitutional, and anti-democratic process that has been in motion for nearly half a century. It has attacked the very pillars of democracy including the Supreme Court, Public Education, the mainstream media (MSM), and the Catholic Church – not to mention the Christian fundamentalists who constitute the heart of the Republican Party. It’s no wonder that Noam Chomsky has identified the latter as the most dangerous organization in the history of the world.
To be more specific, its “Christian” base hold firmly to tenets like the following that can only be described as “Cohnistic,” Trumpian, nihilistic, or (in religious terms) heretical:
There are no basic ethical principles (except that abortion is immoral).
Human life has no value except in its fetal stages.
The concept of truth is completely meaningless. This is because the public’s attention span and memory are so limited that repeated deceits make no lasting impression and will soon be forgotten.
The U.S. Constitution (except for the Second Amendment) is entirely insignificant.
There are two sets of laws, one for the elite and another for the rest of us.
As legal persons, corporations have more rights than living human beings.
International law applies only to U.S. enemies, never to the United States or its allies.
While the United States has the right to assassinate, bomb, drone, invade and occupy wherever it wishes, defense or retaliation against such aggression is criminal and liable to maximum punishment.
Do you see what I mean in describing our situation here in “America” as worse than our neighbors to the south?
It’s a truism to observe that whatever imperial governments – from Rome to Great Britain to our own – do abroad eventually returns to haunt them at home. My experience in Tijuana coupled with watching “Where’s My Roy Cohn” underlined the veracity of that terrible axiom. It all made me realize that our government has been taken over by cynical nihilists – and more than that by mobsters, pedophiles, blackmailers and heretical religious fanatics.
So, my take-away from border work in Tijuana is not only dismay, sadness, and despair for refugees at or border. It’s the same sentiments for ourselves.
With elections on the horizon, it’s also the question, what are we going to do about it? We have to determine which available candidate is freest from the sick contagion I’ve just described.
Readings for the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord: MALACHI 3: 1-4; PSALM 24: 7-10; HEBREWS 2: 14-18; LUKE 2: 22-48.
Today is the feast of the Presentation of the Lord. It recalls the day when the infant Jesus entered Jerusalem’s temple for the first time. Jesus’ presentation began a relationship with the temple and its priesthood that was difficult at best.
This first entrance however was dominated by the simple faith of his impoverished parents. They came offering the sacrifice of the poor — two pigeons or turtle doves.
However all was not smooth even that day. In effect, two elderly fortune tellers, Simeon and Anna, confront Jesus’ parents and predict that trouble lay ahead for Jesus and them.
But that would be long in the future — after (as today’s gospel selection concludes) Jesus matured and grew up. Some even say he traveled to India, absorbed the sub-continent’s ancient wisdom, and came back Enlightened.
In any case, by the time of Jesus’ final visit to the temple, he was fully at odds with its priesthood and talked openly about the temple’s destruction — almost as if he relished the thought.
All of this might be reminiscent of our own relationships with the church. Many of us were baptized as infants — introduced to the faith by simple parents.
But then we too advanced in age and wisdom — even to the point where today we might find ourselves at odds with the church and its priests.
Could it be that this is the human vocation — to be loyal church members until (like Jesus) we realize our religion’s hypocrisy, its cooperation with oppression and its need of reform? Where does it leave us vis-a-vis the church? Are we called to step outside its boundaries and embrace mystical enlightenment? Or is our vocation to remain within as outspoken critics? Can the two options be combined?
I try to capture those thoughts and questions in the following attempt at poetic reflection of today’s readings from Malachi, I Corinthians, and Luke’s Gospel.
The prophet Malachi said this day would come!
The Lord would send his messenger to scorch the Temple and its worthless priests.
It would hurt, Malachi warned.
In the presence of God's anointed,
Those faithless "holy men" would feel their world was melting --
As if they were melting like gold or silver in a refiner's cauldron,
As if caustic lye were thrown in their hypocritical faces.
Then those unworthy priests
Would finally be forced to do
Something pleasing to God.
Let them all go to hell!
The prophet Malachi said this day would come!
And here it is at last.
Or so it seems.
But what's this?
The promised messenger is a poor child
Wrapped in a blanket patched and smelling of baby urine.
His parents with simple uncomprehending faith
Offer the bored priest
Two pigeons or a pair of doves
(I forget which).
The priest hardly notices either.
But he performs his magic rite
And rattles by rote the hackneyed phrases.
He would find the notion laughable that he or his temple
Might have anything to fear from . . .
"What's this child's name?" he asks.
"Yeshua ben Joseph," his father stutters
In tones of humble deference.
That's the trouble with priests.
Their fulsome selves cannot see
What's before their eyes,
And clear to everyone else:
Their days are numbered.
And so are the Temple's -- and mosques' and churches'.
Malachi predicted it.
Yeshua would see to it.
Nonetheless, the Elders, Simeon and Anna see.
They are Seers.
Gaunt and bony from years of prayer and long fasts
These elders, recognize in Yeshua
The one Malachi had foretold.
"Now is not the time," the hoary Simeon intones.
"But the day will surely arrive
When this child will polarize everyone in Israel
Including these wicked priests."
The prophet's words startle the rough peasant woman from Nazareth.
"He'll be a matricide," the fortune teller warns her.
"He'll cut you to the quick."
Anna the widowed prophetess
Echoes Simeon's threatening words.
Yeshua's parents tremble with fear.
What kind of child have you sired?
Miryam later asks her husband
On the highway home from Jerusalem.
He simply shrugs
And shakes his shaggy peasant's head.
They walk on in silence.
But Yeshua bides his time
Learning justice from his father
And patience from Miryam.
Some say he journeyed to Egypt
To study Wakefulness
"You have a nice boy,"
The village matrons say to Miryam,
While she ponders Simeon's words
And waits for the other shoe to drop.
And drop it does -- more than a quarter century later!
Jesus returns to the Temple
This time with whip in calloused hand.
He realizes (as the psalmist says today)
That even Herod's Magnificent Shrine
Is too small for God -- or for him.
"All churches are robbers' dens!"
So the workman lashes out left and right
At those who exploit
Simple peasants like the pair who raised him.
Yeshua despises the priests.
"This Temple," he says, "will be reduced to rubble.
And good riddance!
These charlatans traffic in your fear of death?
Free yourselves from their superstition
Dare to live
With your own thoughts!"
Miryam's spirit sinks as she hears such words.
Simeon's sword has begun to cleave her mother's heart.
"My son has lost his faith,"
The priests know Yeshua has lost their faith
And corrupts the crowds
Who hang on his every word.
They conspire to destroy him
As an atheist and blasphemer.
Perhaps that's our vocation too,
Don't you see?
As followers of Jesus
To come to the temple
(Or not !)
To present ourselves there
As fullers and refiners
As atheists, blasphemers
In the eyes of a too credulous world
Scared out of its wits
By pretentious ignorant priests and televangelists
Who (as the author of "Hebrews" says)
Traffic in our fear of death.
Believe the psalmist's words:
God's bigger than that
And so is Jesus.
So must we be!