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Archive for March, 2011

The joke is often made about how college students are out to change the world, until they grow up and realize how lofty and foolish their idealism was. While this attitude is often used to mock the young idealists, the real tragedy is for those who have lost all faith in the world changing for the better. Thoreau put it this way, “If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.”

One of the saddest tragedies in life is people simply giving up on any idealism and hope they once had. It is easy to do. We become cynical, angry, and lose all our faith. There are plenty of reasons to give up on our ideals, but that is exactly the reason why it is a choice. We can become jaded, or we can refuse to settle for the ground no matter how many times we get burned and knocked down.

Jesus was talking to his disciples when he told them that if they had faith the size of a mustard seed they could throw mountains into the sea. I love the way Eugene Peterson’s translation, the Message, puts it, “The simple truth is that if you had a mere kernel of faith, a poppy seed, say, you would tell this mountain, ‘Move!’ and it would move. There is nothing you wouldn’t be able to tackle.”

What are the mountains that we want to move in our lives, jobs, schools, cities, and societies? What are the dreams that we once had that have fallen away as we have become more skeptical because of unfulfilled expectations, hopes, and plans? We can actually decide whether to be cynics or dreamers. We can remain hopeful and confident no matter the situations which may come in our lives. The former slave and leader of the Underground Railroad, Harriet Tubman, put it this way,

“Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.”

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Do we have a republic form of government today? Well, technically yes. However, if we pull back the curtain a little more, we soon find that the will of the voters is not near as powerful as the leaders and CEO’s of some of the biggest companies and corporations. The republic has essentially turned into a form of Oligarchy, where the few rich and powerful really pull the strings of the society.

How did we get to this point? Well, on one hand, the rich and powerful have always had a much louder voice than anyone else in society. At the beginning of the country you had to be a landowner to even be allowed to vote. Most of the early representatives came from the very wealth ranks of society. So, the disparity in the representation between the rich and everyone else is nothing new. Perhaps, the whole reason of having a purely republic form of government was that it would allow the rich and powerful to continue to have such a strong and powerful voice in a guise of democracy.

Though this has always been a problem, recently it has simply become legalized. Now, corporations and companies can give their money directly to campaign advertising. Essentially, we have legalized corruption. We can never have a just system when politicians can be bought out by the biggest donor in whatever industry stands to gain. We can never really deal with the disparity, when the ones who are responsible for the economic disparity are running the shots.

With all the problems that a Direct Democracy would bring, it seems to me that would be superior to a form of government which is a Republic in name only, and really only a front for the rich and powerful to continue to gain whatever they would like. Would a direct democracy allow the biggest corporations to pay next to nothing in taxes? Would a direct democracy allow the rich to get huge tax cuts at the expense of education, social programs, and clean energy? The problem with our republic is not necessarily Republicans or Democrats, it is the laws that allow the Republic to run as nothing more than a corrupt buy-in, where the legislators will vote the way of the highest bidders. The problem is that to really change the society, we can’t just elect Democrats or Republicans; we need a full change in the very corrupted system.

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The idea behind a Republic is that the people who are elected are wise, balanced, informed, and capable. However, power and influence often seems to have a tendency to lead politicians in the opposite direction. Thomas Paine describes this danger in his book, Common Sense. He states,

“Men who look upon themselves born to reign, and others to obey, soon grow insolent. Selected from the rest of mankind, their minds are early poisoned by importance; and the world they act in differs so materially from the world at large, that they have but little opportunity of knowing its true interests, and when they succeed in the government are frequently the most ignorant and unfit of any throughout the dominions”

Though Pain was obviously talking about the Monarchy, what he says seems to correspond greatly to many of our politicians today. The world that the politicians live in is so different from the world of their constituents. While they are busy wining and dining with lobbyists, powerful executives, the rich, and famous, their constituents are working hard to barely keep afloat. Most politicians have grown distant from the true needs and cries of their constituents.

Politicians are also “poisoned by their own importance.” Most care more about winning the next re-election than standing up for the people they represent. They care more about their own careers and advancement than how their decisions will affect the people of their district, or at least most care little about how their decisions will affect the poor and vulnerable they are representing, since those individuals cannot give them campaign cash.

It is also true that many politicians are ignorant about the needs in society. Let’s take the idea of cutting educational funding. Most of the rich politicians proposing these kinds of ideas send their children to private schools and have no real idea how these budget cuts are going to affect the common teacher or student or simply do not care. Another example is healthcare. The government officials have the security of having health insurance in their positions. How many politicians do you think have had to actually worry about finding health insurance for their families? While I am sure there are some. The majority have absolutely no idea. Yet, they still have the audacity to reject calls for reform from the people and let the people go on suffering. It would cost them way too much campaign cash to actually stand up to big business.

Perhaps the idea at the beginning of the Republic was that the leaders of the Republic would be the most fit to lead. However, from what I see today in politics, I think there is little evidence to support this. Perhaps, a move towards a direct democracy would limit the power of the politicians, who often seem to be more self interested than interested in the common good of their society. Perhaps, direct democracy with all its flaws would lead to a more just society than a government filled with individuals “born to reign”.

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Our system of government is based largely on the ideas of Rome, which had the first true Republic in the history of the World. However, before Rome, we learn about the society of Athens which had a form of direct democracy. A Republic is essentially where we select leaders to make decisions for us, and a democracy is where the people actually vote on the issues themselves.

In some ways, we do have forms of direct democracy in some states through referendums and the like. Democracy has been seen as radical by many, as the rule of the masses, something that would lead to chaos. We could see this fear and controversy from the very start of the country. Others have basically seen a direct democracy as unmanageable in a large society.  

However, what would have been practically impossible 30 or 40 years ago has been made possible with the internet. What would happen if our country moved closer towards a direct democracy and further away from a Republic that has been distorted by corruption, greedy and prideful men, and a trend towards Oligarchy? What would happen if we actually started putting decisions into the hands of the people?

I realize that direct democracy has a lot of down sides; however, I am starting to wonder if those negatives would be less detrimental than the corrupt and completely money driven republic we have today. Are the men and women in power any wiser in making the decisions for the country than the actual people would be?

With the invention of the new technology, Direct Democracy is actually a real option. Obviously, most of those in power, on all shades of the political spectrum, will try to stop any movement towards a more “democratic” system, because it would mean a loss of their own power and importance. However, can you imagine some of the possibilities? A public health option could not simply be thrown out because of lobbying by healthcare companies. A prolonged war would not just be allowed to continue with only 30% approval. This week will look at some more reasons why moving towards a more democratic form of government could actually help save the nation.

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When Marx and Engels penned the Communist Manifesto, I doubt they imagined that it would be one of the most influential books in the world- a source of revolution to some and fear to others. There are parts of the Manifesto which led to totalitarianism, most notably the call to a basic elimination of religion and what we think of us as the family. However, there are many economic truths which Marx and Engels described that we would be foolish to merely dismiss. One of these truths is how the ruling class or the Bourgeoisie essentially wants to squeeze out the middle class and ensure the majority of society is poor, desperate, and dependant on them. 

As the stated, “The lower strata of the middle class- the small trades people, shopkeepers, retired tradesman generally, the handicraftsmen and the peasants..all these sink gradually into the proletariat…The lower middle..fight against the bourgeoisies, to save from extinction as fractions of the middle class.”

Marx was dead on. With the powerful and wealthy in complete control, the middle class is slowly being extinguished. The middle class represents a threat to power, monopoly, and gain. Having a middle class, naturally ensures that there is a more equitable society, not just the haves and have nots. What happens when you don’t have a middle class can be seen in the history of Latin America, where for such a long time there was a struggle between extreme left wing governments and extreme right wing governments. Stability cannot occur.

The reality is that organizations such as labor unions actually help prevent extremism, because it helps give voice and power to the middle and working classes. Having a robust middle class helps moderate the politics of the nation, and without it, Marx’s prediction of a Communist Revolution is much more probable. From the 30’s to the 70’s the U.S. understood this and tried to support and build up the middle class and restrict the power of the super wealthy. However, since the 80’s with the Reagan Revolution, the nation has been slowly slipping into a society with extreme inequalities of wealth.

Right now, the middle class is being hurt greatly by conservative politicians who are seeking to help the already wealthy gain more wealth and in the process really hurting the middle class through cuts in education, tax hikes, higher medical costs, less labor rights, etc. It is shameful, and simply confirms what Marx and Engels were saying. However, as with everything, there is a breaking point. The politicians and corporations can only screw over the middle and working class for so long until there is great unrest. Let’s hope that they receive message before it reaches that point. If not, we may be entering the true class struggle that Marx described.

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For this time of Lent, many people decide to give up something, whether it is coffee, alcohol, sugar, meat, or Facebook. Others decide to start a new spiritual practice whether it is meditation, fasting, service, etc. Others decide to give up certain vices or sins in their lives.

This morning while I was getting ready for work, I was listening to a message from one of my favorite pastors- Hal Shrader from Trinity Mennonite Church in Phoenix, Arizona. He suggested that for Lent we become Atheist. Essentially, that we give up the images and pictures of God that are holding us back from really experiencing the love and grace of Jesus, to give up the pictures and stereotypes of God that keep us from truly embracing his Kingdom in the World.

He put it this way, “Is the God of the Empire, the bloody warlike God? If that is what is God is like than I am an Atheist, because I don’t believe in that God.

“What about the Calvinist God? The God that does not celebrate freedom but predestines everything and is happy to send everyone to heaven and hell and for no other reason for his good pleasure…well, I am an Atheist, because I don’t believe in that God.

What we believe God is essential; in fact, I would say it is our most important belief. What are the beliefs about God that your past and culture have planted in your mind? What beliefs about God are keeping you from truly joining into the abundant life that Jesus wants to give you? What beliefs about God are keeping you from really engaging in his Kingdom? Perhaps, this Lent the best thing you can do is to become an Atheist, and in the process be resurrected unto new life.

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Yesterday, I was talking to a man in my church here in Costa Rica who works with disaster prevention with World Vision. He was explaining that one of their most important issues is dealing with conservation/climate change, because these issues are of the utmost importance when it comes to dealing with disasters and problems in third world nations. He made an interesting comment that the poorest and most vulnerable are the ones that really have to bear the effects of global climate change.

The desertification and most direct effects of the global temperature rise can be seen in countries such as Zambia where the land has become more and more impossible to cultivate, obviously leaving to more poverty and hunger. While many of us in the Western World feel content to take the “risk” of denying global change and keep up our insane energy consumption, the poor and vulnerable of the world are paying the price.

It is the most insane of injustices, our huge energy consumption is leading to the poverty and hunger of people in the third world. They don’t have the convenience to deny climate change, because they are experiencing it with their own eyes. In the U.S., there are many special interests who are threatened by talk of climate change, so they make sure the congressman they buy out and the news networks they support push out global warming skepticism. However, we should know that while we deliberately deny the reality of how we are contributing to climate change, the poor and vulnerable in the world are paying the price, sometimes with their lives.

I think we in the Western World will be judged for the way we deal with this issue. It is an extreme important issue of morality, ethics, and justice. We can carry on about gay marriage, prayer in school, and all other “importantly moral issues”, but if we don’t deal with climate change, we will be not only be refusing to help out the most vulnerable, we will be committing a savage and horrendous act of injustice. All of our other “moral” issues will pale in comparison.

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