The Most Revealing Take-Away from the Nevada Debate: Our Problems Have Been Solved

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.  

(Sunday Homily) Jesus’ Surprising Position on Minimum Wage: $58.00 an Hour!

Minimum Wage

Readings for 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time: IS 55: 6-9; PS 145: 2-3, 8-9; 17-18; PHIL 1: 20c-24, 27A; MT 20: 1-16A.

What will the Kingdom of Heaven be like for minimum wage workers? Ask the poor people Jesus speaks to in today’s gospel. There the Great Teacher tells them a story about a character every employee – all of us, I’m sure – encounters at some point in her or his life. He’s the skinflint boss who imagines himself a great humanitarian, despises his workers as lazy, and treats them with complete arbitrariness. He takes great delight in disappointing them – simply because he can.

The familiarity of this comic book character must have set Jesus’ audience laughing. And it probably started a long animated conversation about bosses, wages and employment.

Anyway, the story goes like this . . . It’s late in the harvest season and this big fat landowner goes to the town square to hire fruit pickers who are shaping up there. (You can imagine him coming by in his pick-up truck, smoking his cigar, pointing at the strongest workers, and shouting, “Hey, you guys, get off your lazy duffs and jump in the back. I haven’t got all day. There’s work to be done!”)

In the story, you can tell the owner’s a cheapskate because he’s careful to hire just the minimum number of workers he thinks can get the job done – if he pushes them really hard.

But he miscalculates. So he has to return at noon for more pickers. But instead of blaming his own stupidity, he blames the workers. He calls them “lazy” for “standing around idle.” He shouts at them, “Get in the truck, you lazy no-goods! You should be working!” (What does he expect? They’re waiting for someone to hire them, for God’s sake! But then coupon-clippers, like the boss in the story, always despise calloused hands.)

Now it’s almost quitting time. With only an hour’s daylight left, and with his fruit ready to rot in the fields, the skinflint owner finds himself back in the square hiring more workers. Again, he blames them for being lazy. But off they go to finish the day’s work.

Then the punch line comes. The completely capricious landowner suddenly decides to play the generous humanitarian. So with great flair he gives a full day’s wage to those last hired – my guess is: just a few workers.

Naturally, the other pickers rub their hands together, drooling with expectation that they’ll be paid more generously too. But of course old Scrooge disappoints them. (These kinds of bosses always do! They love it.) He decides instead to turn legalistic and teach these lazy good-for-nothings a lesson – about power.

“What do you mean: ‘MORE?’” he shouts like the beadle in Oliver Twist. “Have you forgotten our contract? And besides, I’m the boss. I can do what I want, and you can’t do a thing about it!”

By this time, Jesus’ audience surely had stopped laughing. They were probably grumbling and rehearsing their own similar experiences with cheap legalistic bosses who love to play the generous philanthropist.

But then Jesus gets everyone smiling again by adding with a wink: “And so it will be when the revolution comes (or as he put it – “in the Kingdom of God”) where “the first will be last and the last will be first – you know what I mean?” He winks again.

It takes a while for the message to sink in. Not everyone “gets it.” The audience scratches its collective head. Finally the penny drops.

“Oh, I see what you’re saying, Jesus,” someone says. She looks around at the others. “Don’t you get it?” she asks. “All of the workers in the story are ‘the last;’ it’s the boss who’s ‘first’.” In the final judgment, Uncle Scrooge will be last and all of us will be first!”

The audience starts to cop on.

“Yeah,” someone else says doing a quick calculation. “And do you know what that means for us, doncha?”

“What?”

“It means we’ll all be on Easy Street; that’s what it means. Think about it; in the Kingdom, workers will be paid as much for working one hour as we now do working all day. We’ll all be making a hundred grand a year!”

Everyone laughs.

“No, I mean it. Do the math: minimum wage is (equivalent to) $7.25 an hour, right? That means that those guys who worked only one hour earned $58. That’s $464 dollars a day, if they had worked all day – or $2320 per week, or $9280 per month, or $111,360 per year! Now that’s a just wage for bustin’ our butts. Whaddaya think? Talk about a workers’ paradise!”

By this time, everyone’s laughing so hard, they’re in tears.

Hmm . . . Kingdom economics. Kingdom pay for minimum wage workers: $58.00 an hour. . . . First/last; last/first . . . .

“Devout Catholic,” Paul Ryan, along with other “Christian” skinflints in Congress should take note this Sunday!