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Archive for July, 2010

There have been many conservative leaders and Tea Party protestors that have come out recently against a mosque being built near the Ground Zero Site. While I can understand some of the anger and resistance people may have to this idea because of the radical Islamic community which was behind the September 11th attacks, to deny the Muslim Community the right to build a mosque (or any other religion to build a place of worship) anywhere in the United States is setting a very bad precedent and is in fact going against the first amendment of the Bill of Rights- the freedom of religion and the illegality of “respecting an establishment of religion”.

One thing that people need to keep in mind is that this mosque is not being built to spite the U.S. and make light of the attacks, rather it appears to be an attempt to simply build a place of worship and show that the majority of Muslims are peaceful and non-violent. One of the arguments being made by conservative leaders, including former Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, is that countries like Saudi Arabia don’t allow churches or synagogues, so we shouldn’t allow this mosque. The one problem with this is that….we are not Saudi Arabia or Iran..We are free and open democracy. Why are we trying to follow the religious exclusion of these nations? We allow religious and political thought from all angles and points of views. We are a country that allows wackos like the Westboro Baptist Church to remain legal. Why? Because, we are a free and open democracy where freedom of religion is guaranteed. To start trying to deny this because people are offended by something is denying the very ideas of the nation. The conservative movement has been raving about the following the original constitution. Well, this is an opportunity for them to follow their own ideas.

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If you look at U.S. Political History, there is a common theme. The rich and powerful have to find a way for the poor and middle class to support their cause and economic ideas. To do this, they often use race. One example would be the way poor Southern whites supported the Confederacy during the Civil War, even though the economic system of plantations and slavery was actually limiting their own possibilities. The poor southerners would at least be more powerful and not have to worry about the African-Americans around them if the system continued the way it was. Another famous example was Nixon’s Southern Campaign, where he used the Republican’s own opposition to the Civil Rights Movement to convince white southerners to switch to the Republican Party….and it worked.

Today, this old tactic is still being played. We saw it recently with the whole debacle surrounding the “edited” video of Shirley Sherrod, where her video where she explained how she learned to overcome racial hatred after her father was murdered by a white man and the man was easily acquitted by the all white jury was twisted into proving that she was a discriminatory racist. You can see it on outlets such as FOX News as they try to spark up fear of undocumented workers, painting them as criminals, lazy, and damaging to society. Of course, this ultimately leads to negative feelings to the whole Latin American population. You can see it with the “charges” against ACORN that were made by the right. More recently, you can see it in the passage of the highly racially charged new immigration law out of Arizona. You can also see it with the attempt to link Obama with in the words of Glenn Beck to, “a hatred for white people.”

Why is this done? It is a way to keep the poor and middle class white vote fearful and angry in order to mobilize them to be used for the cause of the wealthy and powerful. It is the same tactic that has been used for the last 150 years. If race were not still an issue, groups like the Tea Party would lose a great deal of their momentum. Republican white voter turnout would be lower. Now, it needs to be made clear that not every Republican or Tea Party member is a racist, not by a large stretch. However, race is being constantly used by the right to help strengthen these movements and the white vote.

What are the outcomes of this race baiting? For one, it is going to hurt the Republicans in the long run. The population under 18 is now shown to be 47% non-white. Whether people like it or not, the racial demographics are greatly changing. There is no way that the right can continue to push this race baiting and still hope to remain relevant in the future. More importantly, this phenomenon is continuing to keep racial relations from improving, and may be in fact, setting back racial relations in the nation. After living out of the country for a few years, I am amazed when I come back and still see how racially divided the country is. All countries deal with racism; however, there is still a more distinct division in the United States that many countries have moved past. Just look at the churches in the U.S. if you want to see the racial division. I really believe the country could have moved way beyond the point of racial relations we are at now, if it was not for politicians constantly trying to exploit race for their own gain.

I do believe there is hope. I believe there is even hope for the Republican Party. However, they are going to need to do something more than pick a few handful of token minorities to represent them. They will have to really work for the interests of minority communities and stop using racial politics to appeal to their white base. With the country as a whole, there have been wonderful signs of progress and change in racial relations (certainly since the 1950’s or 60’s). However, there is still a long way to go. Let’s not the sly racial political tactics make us fearful of one another and keep us from moving forward and coming together as one people-regardless of race, culture, or ethnic heritage.

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Why is the abortion rate in South America double that of the U.S. and over triple the rate in Western Europe, when it is illegal in most countries? Why is the abortion rate among adolescents in the Netherlands 15% of that in the United States when their laws are similar? Perhaps, the whole pro-life and pro-choice is focused on an issue that is becoming increasingly irrelevant in the modern world-the legality of abortion. Perhaps, the energy from this debate should be shifted to something that will be more productive-reducing the amount of unwanted pregnancies and thus greatly reducing the abortion rate.

With our modern technological advances, where pregnancy can be detected at increasingly earlier stages and a simple pill can induce an abortion, do we really think making the practice is illegal is going to change the abortion rate much if at all? If we have learned anything from the prohibition on drugs (or alcohol in the 1920’s), it is that when you make something illegal it doesn’t stop it just goes underground. For example, ironically, in a country like the Netherlands where marijuana is legal the rate of consumption is less than its European counterparts such as France or Spain (which is a whole other topic). Having talked to people in Costa Rica about the ways abortion is often carried out in this country where it is illegal, usually a strong “medicine” is used that will end the pregnancy. Another option is that people simply purchase the abortion pill on the black market.

So what is the right move forward with the changing dynamics due to advanced technology? I think both sides should come together and try to work for a couple of things. First of all, there should be more of a focus on reproductive education in schools. There is no excuse in 2010, for there to only be abstinence only programs in the schools. Teaching abstinence to students is great, but it needs to be taught alongside instruction on birth control. We cannot be naive enough to think in 2010 with the current culture, that all teenagers will simply avoid sexual activity because we chose to give them limited information. They have all the sexual information they need from their friends and the media, however; they are probably not given as much wisdom on contraceptive use.

Second of all, both sides need to focus on improving economic conditions and health care availability. In the end, the economic and health care conditions are going to help the abortion rate go down faster than the legality issue. When so many pro-life people continue to support politicians that are trying to cut social services, deny expansion of health coverage, and make more difficult on the poorest among us-they are all but guaranteeing that the abortion rate will not drop as quickly. Like it not, it seems as if the “socialized” Western Europe system has caused there to be a lot lower abortion rate than the more free market based system in the U.S.

Finally, both sides need to focus on the culture of abortion. This may be where I part ways with many on the left, I think we need to make it clear that abortion is never the best option. With so many people wanting to adopt, there are solutions and beautiful gifts that can come out of unwanted pregnancies.  Girls, especially young teenagers, should be aware of the pain and guilt that often follows abortion. If we learned to make abortion less culturally acceptable, it would make more far reaching changes than if we make legal changes.

In the end, I think both sides want the unwanted pregnancy rate and thus the abortion rate to decrease. If we spent half the energy we do on the pro-life/pro-choice debate on finding common solutions, abortion would become extremely rare. Perhaps, in the midst of arguing ideology, we are missing out on the true issues and the true goals that both sides are trying to fight for. In the end, legality is only an increasingly smaller factor in the whole goal in the reduction of the abortion rate.

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This past week, I was able to participate in an activity that is at first somewhat uncomfortable and certainly way outside of the social norms of modern society. We dressed up in red smocks in the middle of New York City and asked people if we could pray with them. Surprisingly, many people stopped even though they had no idea who we were. In fact, there were times where a line was created because there were too many people wanting prayer. Something was really impressed in my mind, people are hurting all around us and many just want someone to notice and take the time to talk, pray, or simply “be” alongside them.

Despite all the walls and defenses we create for ourselves, we all want help from others. No matter how independent we are, we still crave that personal connection and love. Our society teaches us to avoid that type of vulnerability; however, it is vulnerability that is often our salvation. It is also often hard for us to look past our own problems and concerns and to really look at the needs, hurts, and lives of others who are all around us. However, if we can learn to do this, we will not only help another individual, we will start to see transformation in our own lives. I encourage you to try and practice this way of living this week. Realize that what separates us as human beings is actually quite small. No matter what our background, political views, religious beliefs, or cultural differences, we all share common dreams, hurt, fears, and need. When we share our needs, joys, and pain with others, we are able to connect in a way that really helps understand the beauty of being human. In a small way, it also helps us make the world a more peaceful and wonderful place to live.

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This past week, I was working in Spanish Harlem in New York City. We were running a Christian soccer camp where we were working with students and young children, the overwhelming majority immigrants or children of immigrants (both legal and illegal). I was able to talk to many of the mothers of the children and hear their stories. They talked about the hate that still abounds towards new immigrants, and the way they are just trying to make life better for their children.

As I was talking to them, I started wondering what inspires all the hate towards the immigrant population and the highly discriminatory laws such as the latest immigration moves in Arizona. If anything, it seems as if the new group of immigrants is helping renew the U.S. society, and it certainly is helping to revive passion and life into the U.S. church.  In many ways the U.S. church and the overall society has grown stale, spoiled, and very egocentric. It is important that new perspectives, experiences, and ways of viewing the world are constantly added to the society. This has been true since the founding of the nations, whether the new group of people was the Irish, Germans, Chinese, or Italians.  In fact, this is what the United States is all about. After all, we are a nation of immigrants.

After spending much time away from the United States and only seeing news online about immigration issues, it was very good to really see and share life with the immigrant community and see the issues that still plague the country. In the end, the nation is much better off filled with hard working and optimistic immigrants, than those filled with anger and fear as we see starting to abound in much of the white conservative movement recently. After all, being welcoming to the immigrant population is less about “saving” them then about saving our own society and national ideas. After all the fear, anger, and hatred towards the new generation of immigrants, we will realize they are what help keep the U.S. alive, and they are what is helping to revive and strengthen the U.S. church.

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When you think of individuals in history who would have supported an estate tax on the very wealthy- perhaps you would think of reformers like Martin Luther King, Cesar Chavez, or Dorothy Day. You probably wouldn’t think of one of the Captains of Industry (or “robber barons”), Andrew Carnegie.

While much of the treatment of Carnegie’s workers was deplorable, there is no doubt that Carnegie had a different view towards wealth and possessions than many of his wealthy contemporaries. He officially published the “Gospel of Wealth” where he laid out the ideals of giving, philanthropy, and renunciation of greed. He ended up giving away 90% of his fortune, and thought it was not only unwise, but potentially damaging to give his children a large inheritance.

He supported the estate tax, not so the government could receive more money, but so that the rich would be more prone to give away their money to charitable organizations rather than simply pass on the large sums to their children and grand-children. He had a very similar philosophy to modern day billionaire, Warren Buffett, who refuses to give his children any type of inheritance-except a trust fund they have been given to do charitable work with. I was actually listening to an interview with his son recently on NPR, and he was describing how he had to refinance on his average house, because he received no money from his father. However, he was so grateful to his father for not lavishing him with wealth. Buffett has also stated the importance of a Capital Gains tax, because as he sees it now, the tax system is unfairly punishing the middle class rather than making sure the wealthy pay their fair share. Buffett is very interesting; he sent his children to public school, drives an old station wagon, and owns a modest house. He refused to allow his huge earnings to change him from living a simple and normal life.

I wish our politicians would listen to voices like Carnegie and Buffett more instead of the voices or rich greed and privilege. The wealthy gained their money through the system, and they should be paying back a large percentage to that system. If serious changes are not made, the country is going to continue with an upper class that seems to continually gain more, a lower class that is suffering more, and a middle class that is slowly dwindling.

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As early as next week, President Obama will sign Financial Regulation Reform into law. A lot of progressives have been upset by the bill, because they see it as very weak and not creating enough consumer protections. I too wish the bill was much stronger; however, we must not forget that changes often happen in small steps.

There are some obvious problems with the final version of the bill-much of it due to the pandering to moderates and conservatives to get the 60 votes to avoid the filibuster (which is a procedure that has been highly abused). Nevertheless, it does put some good restrictions on banks and Wall Street practices and provides for more customer protection from corporate greed and recklessness.

Every final bill or resolution is usually weakened and watered down and made much more moderate. Every president who fought for progressive social reform whether it was FDR, Truman, or Johnson only did a portion of what they really hoped for. The same is true of the Obama Administration. I know fellow progressives may be feeling upset about his seeming grand compromises. However, the reality is that this is the way politics work-idealists help spread passion and concepts; however, lawmakers have to learn the often difficult and painful art of compromise.

I suppose in our own journeys the same rings true. We want big changes and immediate results. However, most of the time, we change as individuals slowly one small step at a time. There is no instant where all are problems are solved. However, when we look back, we see how far we have come. For the nation and for our own lives, let’s strive for something big and great, but when changes come in small increments let’s not forget to be grateful.

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