Peggy and I will take off for Bustin’s Island, Maine, tomorrow morning. We’ll be gone for a week to a place reachable only by ferry. No electricity; no cars; no internet; outhouse toilet; all water must be boiled. On Tuesday, our daughter, Maggie, and her two youngest (of five) children will join us. (The other three are away at summer camp, also in Maine.) This should be fun and interesting. So, there’ll be no postings here till next week. But I’ll give a report when I get back.
Since April 28th, the people of Colombia have virtually shut down the nation with repeated general strikes. For nearly three months, thousands have been in the streets all over the country demanding that its right- wing president, Ivan Duque, step down. They also want economic reforms, including higher wages, and increased taxes on the rich. Their demands include reduction in transportation fares and better health care.
And the response of the Colombian government? Absolute repression from its police and military including sexual assault, use of live ammunition (with 42 killed so far), deployment of tear gas, bashing in the heads of peaceful protestors, and even the criminalization of those who supply medical assistance to the wounded and food to activists in the street.
And what about the response of the U.S mainstream media (MSM), the president and “our” representatives in Congress? Given their outrage over comparatively minor protests in Cuba, surely, they’d express support for Colombians battered in the streets.
But no, there hasn’t been a peep out of them – no word of solidarity with demonstrators nor criticism of the hugely unpopular Colombian administration. No calls for regime change or U.S. intervention. Not even the beginnings of public conversation led by our intrepid MSM.
And then there’s the involvement of Colombian paramilitaries in the assassination of Haiti’s president just last week. Turns out that several of the well-financed assassins were from Colombia and had actually trained in the United States with ties to the CIA, DEA and U.S. military establishment.
Just imagine if the Haitian assassination had involved Cuba and Cubans. Imagine if the paramilitaries implicated had been trained in Russia or China?
What do you suppose would have been the response of our “leaders”?
Go even further . . . Ask yourself how the United States would have responded had a Washington Post reporter been killed and dismembered in Cuba as Jamal Khashoggi was in the Saudi Arabian embassy less than three years ago.
What if such a crime had occurred in a government office in Havana with the proven direct involvement of Cuban President Miguel Diaz Canel? Would the White House and Congress have responded as they did when Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), the Saudi Crown Prince (no democrat he), was shown to be directly responsible for Khashoggi’s butchering? Would our officials with their heart-wrenching concern for democracy and human rights in Cuba have thrown up their hands in helpless impotence as they did in the case of MBS?
We need no more than considerations like those to reveal the hypocrisy of the United States government, academic establishment and “free press.” They care not a whit about human rights, basic freedoms, democracy, or government repression – unless the alleged violations can be connected to a government that refuses to fulfill its expected role as vassal of the United States in service of its country’s rich and powerful strongly allied to their counterparts in “America.”
The exact opposite happens when any government (like Vietnam’s, Cuba’s, Venezuela’s, Nicaragua’s or China’s) shows concern for ordinary people – mothers and children, the houseless, the hungry, the sick, workers, and the elderly. Ditto when governments in question assert ownership and control over their own resources.
Such “regimes” are quickly marked for change. Regardless of their accomplishments, they’re dismissed as “socialists,” or “communists,” subversives or terrorists. So, the United States routinely interferes in their elections, finances demonstrations of the well-off (which are publicized by the media those same elite control), organizes paramilitaries as “freedom fighters,” and (if push comes to shove) invades the country to finish the job.
Until “Americans” are willing to recognize that shameful pattern, till we can look in the mirror and recognize that the United States is indeed the world’s greatest force for evil and the cause behind most of its conflicts, we’ll continue to naively buy “official stories” about the designated enemies of the rich and powerful. We’ll continue in our delusions about our country’s exceptional virtue, about U.S. consistency in supporting democracy, rights and freedoms.
In other words, we’ll continue to be patriotic. But we’ll have morphed into oppressors ourselves! Maybe we’re already there. I suspect we are.
A few days ago, I received a disturbing email blast from Lyle Roelofs, the president of Berea College (where I taught for 40 years). It was about recent “Events in Cuba.” The notice was upsetting because it reflected the one-sided narrative of the U.S. government and its subservient mass media.
This is not to vilify Berea’s president who is sincere and well-intentioned. It is however to demonstrate the effectiveness of U.S. anti-Cuban propaganda that would have even academicians think that “our” government has a leg to stand on in its denunciation of anti-democratic measures anywhere, of intolerance of any dissent, or of police attacks on peaceful protestors.
See for yourself. In his characteristic spirit of compassion, the president had written:
Many of you are aware of the ongoing unrest in Cuba as the country struggles with severe blackouts, a food shortage, high prices, lack of access to COVID-19 vaccinations as outbreaks increase, and an unstable economy. Residents of the island nation have taken to the streets to protest, filming conditions to share with the world. In response, the repressive government shut down the internet.
While we all care about the people of Cuba as our fellow human beings, a number of members of our immediate community have family ties there, as well, so our concern extends particularly to them in this worrisome time.
President Biden addressed the situation on Monday urging Cuban leaders to hear the people and address their needs rather than enriching themselves or trying to repress their human rights.
At Berea College, where one of our eight Great Commitments calls for us to create a democratic society, we align ourselves with the people of Cuba and echo the President’s sentiments. In a democratic society, organizations and the government can cooperate to address the sorts of critical problems currently being faced by Cubans, but which are found to a lesser extent elsewhere as well. For example, at Berea College our Grow Appalachia program combats food insecurity in Appalachia working to ensure community members have enough to eat and teaching them how to grow their own food.
Globally, the U.S. and Cuba are among the countries that signed the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, a list of 30 rights that every human being is entitled to. The right to free speech and health are most relevant to the current events in Cuba. It is our hope that tensions will ease soon, the leadership there will work to provide food, access to vaccines, and make improvements to stabilize the country’s economy, and that this crisis will be an opportunity for improved relations with other countries, including our own, allowing urgently needed assistance to flow to the people of Cuba.
In solidarity with Cubans and Cuban-Americans,
What follows is my response in hopes that it might help Dr. Roelofs and the rest of us to be more cautious in accepting party lines about “official enemies” such as Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua, China, Russia. . .
It was with rather eager anticipation that I opened your recently emailed note entitled “Events in Cuba.” Because of Berea’s commitment black, brown and impoverished communities, I thought your notice would express solidarity with virtually the entire world in its yearly demand that the United States lift the Cuban embargo (Cubans call it a “blockade”) especially in view of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Instead, I found your comments quite incomplete and misleading. Together they gave the erroneous impression that:
- All Cubans (“residents of the island nation”) endorse the anti-government street demonstrations
- That Cuban leadership is ignoring the COVID-19 pandemic
- That the same leadership is resisting improved relations with other countries including the United States
- That Cuba should combat the island’s food insecurity by teaching people “how to grow their own food”
- That Cuba is out-of-step with the United Nations and its “Declaration of Human Rights” by specifically depriving its people of health care
- That President Biden has satisfactorily “addressed the situation on Monday urging Cuban leaders to hear the people and address their needs rather than enriching themselves or trying to repress their human rights.”
Such commentary appears to simply repeat the U.S. official story about Cuba without even once mentioning:
- The U.S. economic embargo of more than 60 years
- The blockade’s intensification under President Trump
- That the Biden administration has kept all of the restrictions in place despite the pandemic and the president’s campaign promises
- The resulting devastating effects of those measures
- Cuba’s world-renowned health care system
- Its development (unique in the former colonies) of several WHO-approved COVID-19 vaccines
- The U.S. policy of blockading sale of syringes to Cuba thereby preventing the country from administering its own COVID-19 remedies
- Cuba’s long-standing attempts to feed its own people by extensive, government sanctioned urban gardening projects and by environmental policies that make it arguably the greenest country in the hemisphere
- The fact that similar demonstrations are happening all over the world including U.S. allies such as Brazil, South Africa, Haiti, Lebanon, Colombia, India, Ethiopia, Israel, Iraq, and Afghanistan (not to mention Black Lives Matter in the U.S. and the January 6th assault on the Capitol) — without comment on your part or emphasis in the mainstream media at large
- The allied fact that “a number of members of our immediate community have family ties” in the countries just mentioned.
I am making these observations as a longtime friend of Cuba and (of course) Berea College. I have visited the island many times, never as a tourist, but always as an educator and researcher. In fact, the last course I taught at Berea (Summer 2014) had my wife Peggy and me leading another study tour of Cuba.
I have published many articles on Cuba including here and here about the country’s vaccine research and development. My daughter was treated for appendicitis while visiting Cuba two years ago. After spending five days in the hospital there, she was released virtually free of charge.
With Jose Gomariz (a Cubanist scholar, Jose Marti specialist, and former Berea College professor of Spanish) I once taught a Berea Short Term course at Havana’s Instituto de Historia de Cuba. The course was entitled “The African Diaspora in Cuba.” When I visited Cuba with the Greater Cincinnati Council of World Affairs, I was befriended by a family outspokenly and fearlessly critical of the Castro government. And in my many stints with the Latin American Studies Program of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, we took students to Cuba each semester to meet government officials, opposition forces, and diplomats at the U.S. Interests Section in Havana. In all, I’ve been there around a dozen times.
During the Fidel Castro years, I vividly recall a U.S. Interests Section spokeswoman revealingly lamenting the fact that Cuba (as she put it) did not hold presidential elections (thereby demonstrating her misunderstanding of Cuba’s electoral system). “As everybody knows,” she admitted, “he’d win hands down.”
What I’m suggesting is that there is much more to the Cuban story than we’re led to believe by United States propaganda against that beleaguered country.
By simply rehearsing the U.S. official story, Lyle, I suggest that (uncharacteristically) you are not helping the Berea community understand Cuba, its history, and the role of the U.S. in creating misery there, or what our government could do this very day to relieve it – namely lift the embargo and allow the import of syringes into the country.
Respectfully, Mike Rivage-Seul
Readings for 15th Sunday in ordinary time: Am. 7:12-15; Ps. 85:9-10, 11-2, 13-14; Eph. 1:3-14; Mk. 6:7-13
Do any of you remember the HBO series “Newsroom?” It lasted only a couple of seasons. However, I found it interesting and watched it faithfully.
As far as I’m concerned, the series’ highlight came when lead actor, Jeff Daniels, delivered a speech about then-current dismal state of our country. I’m sure many of you have seen it. It seems more relevant today than it did in 2012.
As a news anchorman of the stature and credibility of Walter Cronkite, Daniels’ character is badgered into answering the question “Can you say why America is the greatest country in the world?” Here’s how he answered:
Whew! That’s hard for most of us to hear, isn’t it? It’s almost as if the speaker were viewing the United States the way foreigners often do – or at least as someone highly sympathetic to the uneducated, infants, the poor, sick, imprisoned, and the victims of imperialistic wars. He seems to be saying that the experience of such people represents the measure of greatness.
I raise the “Newsroom” speech today because of today’s first reading from the Book of Amos. He was a prophet whose most famous speech was very like the one we just saw.
I mean his words were similar in that they were offensive to patriotic ears and centralized the experience of the poor. And they were delivered by an outsider. As we saw in today’s first reading, Amos’ words also evoked such negative response that they led the chief priest of Israel to lobby for the deportation of the prophet.
And what did Amos say?
Well, he was a very clever speaker. He did his prophetic work towards the end of the 8th century B.C.E. That was after the death of Solomon, when the Hebrew people had split into two kingdoms. The northern one was “Israel;” the southern one was “Judah.” Often the two were at war with one another. Yes, the “People of God” were that deeply divided even then.
Amos came from Judah, the southern kingdom. He went up north, to Israel, and confronted the people there. And he tricked his audience into agreeing with him that all their official enemies were really bad – the Aramites, Philistines, Moabites, and especially Judah, that kingdom to the south. God is extremely angry with these people, Amos promised. They would all be soundly thrashed.
“And they all deserve it!” his audience would have agreed.
And then the prophet turned the tables on his listeners. “But you know the nation that will be punished more harshly than all of them put together, don’t you? You know who the worst of all is, I’m sure.” (By now he now had his audience in the palm of his hand.)
“Who?” they asked eagerly.
“YOU!” the prophet shouted. “The nation of Israel has been the worst of all because of your treatment of the poor. You have shorted them on their wages. You have sold them into slavery. Your rich have feasted and lived in luxury, while those closest to God’s heart, the poor, have languished in hunger and poverty. In punishment, the Assyrians will invade your country and reduce all of you to the level of the lowest among you.
Of course, the prophet lost his audience at that point. They didn’t want to hear it.
It was almost as if the Daniels character in “Newsroom” had responded like this to the question “Can you say why America is the greatest country?” No, I take that back. It’s almost as if some foreigner – one of our designated enemies, say from Iraq or Afghanistan, answered the question by saying:
“Well, America surely isn’t Nazi Germany, and it’s not the Soviet Union. Those places were hell on earth, weren’t they? They caused havoc in the world; I’m sure we’d all agree. Those countries were truly the enemies of humankind. Neither is America Saddam’s Iraq, or Kaddafi’s Libya. It’s none of those. But you know what? AMERICA IS A LOT WORSE! And that’s because of the way it treats not only its own poor, but the way it savages the poor of other countries. Treatment of the poor is God’s criterion for greatness. And America falls flat before it!”
My point is that it sometimes takes someone who doesn’t share our cultural values and especially our class loyalties to help us see ourselves in something like the way God sees us. Those outside our culture often perceive us more clearly than we see ourselves.
Do you think Amos’ concern for the poor (the Bible’s real People of God) might be also centralized in today’s Gospel? I think it is. Mark seems to be reminding his audience (40 years after Jesus’ death) that the poor represent the touchstone for Christian authenticity.
In the Gospel reading, Jesus sends off his 12 apostles two by two as his emissaries. They are to drive out unclean spirits and demons and to cure the sick. Can you even imagine them doing that? They were just fishermen, maybe a traveling merchant or two, a former tax collector – all of them likely illiterate – not public speakers at all. Who would ever listen to such people?
And yet Mark pictures Jesus sending them off in pairs to preach his message: “Repent; the Kingdom of God is at hand.” These are the same disciples who Mark tells us later never really grasped what Jesus was all about. And yet here they are preaching, curing the sick and driving out demons.
Such considerations lead scripture scholars to conclude that these words were probably never spoken by the historical Jesus. Instead they were added later by a more developed church. (Early Christians evidently believed so strongly in Jesus’ post-resurrection presence that they thought the risen Christ continued addressing their problems even though those difficulties were unknown to him and his immediate followers while he walked the earth. So they made up stories like this one.)
And what was the message to those later followers? It seems to have been this: “Remember where we came from. We’re followers of that poor man from Nazareth. So, stay close to the poor as Jesus did: walk; don’t ride. Steer clear of money. Don’t even worry about food. The clothes on your back are enough for anyone. Others will give you shelter for the night.” (This passage from Mark almost pictures Jesus’ followers like Buddhist monks with their saffron robes and begging bowls.)
Mark’s message to his community 40 years after Jesus — and to us today — seems to be: “Only by staying close to the poor can you even recognize the world’s unclean spirits. So concealed and disguised are they by material concerns and by things like patriotism and religious loyalties. Therefore, don’t be seduced by identification with the rich, your own culture, and what they value — sleek transportation, money, luxurious food, clothes and homes.”
Surrendering to such seductions, Mark seems to be saying, is to depart from the instructions of Jesus. We’d say it is a recipe for loss of soul on both the individual and national levels as described by Amos and “Newsroom’s” Jeff Daniels.
But identification with the poor is hard, isn’t it? It’s hard to be the voice of the voiceless as both Amos and Jesus were. It’s difficult to walk instead of ride, to have less money, to share food and housing with others. It’s hard to make political and economic choices on the basis of policy’s impact on the poor rather than the rich.
For that reason, Jesus sends his apostles off not as individuals, but in pairs. The message here is that we need one another for support. This is also true because adopting counter-cultural viewpoints like those of Amos, Jesus, and the “Newsroom” anchorman evoke such negative response.
What do you think? Are we Christians really called to centralize concern for the poor, to simplify our lifestyles, and run the risk of being judged enemies of the state as Amos, Jesus and early Christians were?
If so, how can we support one another in doing that? (Discussion follows.)
Readings for the 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Ezekiel 2: 2-5; Psalm 123: 1-4; 2nd Corinthians 12: 7-10; Luke 4: 18; Mark 6: 1-6
I can’t believe that we’re still expected to believe that the United States and Great Britain are concerned about human rights or press freedom or that either has any leg to stand on in such posturing.
I mean, how can any of us still believe after the lies about Iraq, Abu Ghraib, the refusal to punish Saudi Arabia for the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the imprisonment of Julian Assange, the demonization of Wikileaks, and the cooperation of the mainstream media (MSM) with all of it.
You’re telling me that either London or Washington has the right to pronounce on press freedom? On human rights? Please!
Demonization of China
Nonetheless, they’re at it again in relation to China and the desperate campaign of both Great Britain and America to demonize Beijing and its implied invocation of an Asian version of The Monroe Doctrine in relation to Hong Kong [which, by the way, (unlike the U.S. relationship to Nicaragua, Honduras, Cuba, or Venezuela) is actually part of China.]
More specifically, we’re supposed to join the MSM and “our” government as well as England’s in worrying about the recent shutdown of the Apple Daily newspaper in Hong Kong – a publication that sounds a lot like The National Inquirer.
Judge for yourself. A recent cover story in The Guardian describes the paper as a tabloid-style publication that has “a chequered history including cheque-book journalism, muckraking and sometimes unethical reporting alongside fearless investigation into government corruption and police brutality.”
What? Chequered history? Paying sources for information (probably with money from the CIA or the National Endowment for Democracy) and unethical reporting?
Oh, and the paper is owned by billionaire Jimmy Lai who has been imprisoned (according to The Guardian) “on protest-related convictions and national security charges.”
So, now it’s “Hands across the Planet” for poor Jimmy and his yellow journalism.
Meanwhile Julian Assange wastes away precisely in a British prison for publishing government secrets exactly about U.S. war crimes in Wikileaks – a source that publishes the Washington’s own unquestionably true confessions of the criminal acts it desperately wants kept secret from the rest of us.
So let me get this straight: Jimmy Lai’s a hero. And we’re all supposed to get misty-eyed about the Hong Inquirer’s brave reporters. But Julian Assange is a criminal. And Wikileaks doesn’t even qualify as journalism.
And, by the way, we’re supposed to forget that there was absolutely no press freedom all those years the Brits controlled Hong Kong.
Does anyone else sense the irony?
Such considerations are especially relevant this July 4th as we celebrate our supposed “freedoms” and the tarnished ideals of the United States. Significantly, this month marks as well the 100th anniversary of the founding of China’s Communist Party (CCP) whose good example (in drastically reducing world poverty and extending foreign aid) our country so fears.
Besides being July 4th, today also happens to be Sunday, time for a weekly “Homily for Progressives” where the theme of the day is prophecy in the sense of social criticism in the name of all that’s holy.
The first reading from the prophet Ezekiel implicitly reminds us that there were two kinds of prophets among the ancient Hebrews. Both are still with us today.
One type was a “court prophet” telling the king and power structure what they wanted to hear – justifying their oppression of the poor. (On this Independence Day you’ll hear a lot of their drivel as they praise “America” as though it were not – as Martin King put it – “the world’s greatest purveyor of violence.”) Think about The Apple Daily, Jimmy Lai and our MSM as court prophets.
The other type of prophet spoke for the Truth that was commonly referred to as “God.” The words of such men and women were routinely dismissed by the powers that happened to be. Some prophets (as is the case with Jesus in today’s final reading) were even rejected by the very oppressed people they were trying to champion. Their words were thought too dangerous and, in some cases, too good to be true. Think about Julian Assange as a prophet in the mold of Ezekiel or the Nazareth construction worker many of us claim to follow.
In any case, here are my “translations” of today’s selections. You should really check them out here to see if I got them right. As you read, think of Julian Assange.
Ezekiel 2: 2-5 I was startled When God’s Spirit Demanded that I criticize my own people As ungodly and stubborn Telling me To make them uncomfortably Aware That a fearless prophet Was at work Among them. Psalm 123: 1-4 Great and holy Parent We invoke your compassion On your prophetic Servants and handmaids So eager to serve you Despite contemptuous mistreatment At the hands Of our so-called “leaders” With their pride and arrogance Directed Against your beloved poor. 2 Corinthians 12: 7-10 Neither do prophets Have to be perfect. Even Paul of Tarsus Despite his many gifts Suffered under “An angel of Satan” And “a thorn in the flesh" To keep him humble Lest he take credit For the work Of the Holy Spirit Within him. Mark 6: 1-6 But like Ezekiel Jesus was rejected By his own townsfolk Who complained that He had gotten “above his raisin’s” They didn’t even Call him by His father’s name (Implying he was a bastard) While dismissing His brothers and sisters As quite unremarkable. There’d be No mighty deeds For such whiners. Only cures for A few ailing beggars.
In a recent New York Times editorial, another court prophet, Yi-Zheng Lian, the former chief editor of The Hong Kong Economic Journal, joined the chorus of warnings about China’s grave threat to the West.
To an audience acquainted with the revelations of Edward Snowden Lian decried China’s surveillance system. To those whose country has bombed and killed Muslims by the scores and thousands every day over the last 20 years, he complained about treatment of Uyghurs in Xinjiang. To Americans who have lived through a Trump presidency, he criticized Chinese governance by lies. (His example? President Xi Jinping actually claimed that China seeks an international image that is “trustworthy,” “respectable” and “lovable.”) The horror of it all!
Nonetheless, Lian also pointed out the fact that the Chinese Communist Party retains high popularity among a vast majority of its people. In fact, the party has grown by 20% annually since its foundation 100 years ago. There are no refugees from China. Travelers and students come and go at will and usually return home.
For Lian, the bottom line is that China is showing no evident signs of decline. This means that it will remain a formidable force continuing to threaten the United States and Western allies for years to come. This will be true, he said, not just militarily and ideologically, but also technologically and economically.
So, the West, Lian concludes, had better get used to the CCP’s threatening presence “at its front door.”
Of course, all this talk of threat and menace from a country that (unlike the United States and Great Britain) has bombed no one in the last 40 years – all this imperial identification of a country more than 7000 miles away as at “our front door” is nonsense.
So is any continued posturing about “our” championing of human rights and press freedom. July 4th in the context of faith reflection is a good time for reminders of such home truths.