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Archive for June, 2011

“Lord, protect our decisions, because making Decision is a way of praying. Give us the courage after our doubts, to be able to choose between one road and another. May our YES always be a YES and our NO always be a NO. Once we have chosen our road, may we never look back nor allow our soul to be eaten away by remorse.”-Paulo Coelho

There is a time to pass through a period of self doubt. There should be a time when we look back and reflect on our decisions we are making in our life. However, we should not live in that space. There comes a time where we need to make a decision and go with it, with the positives and negatives, gains and losses which are sure to come.

We live in a day of many choices. Most people in the past did not have much choice when it came to a career; you simply did what your father or your mother did. Most people did not even have much of a choice when it came to marriage. The bride or groom was usually selected for you, or at the best you chose the close family friend (or distant relative) that you had been with since the day of your birth.

Today, we have tons of choices. We go to the supermarket, and we have 100 different choices to choose from. We think that this abundance of choice makes us happy, but often leads to indecisiveness and an inability to be happy with our choices. The same is true in our careers, relationships, and big choices in life.

There is a time and place where we need to simply put the second guessing of our lives behind and simply follow the path that we have been put in to the best of our abilities. If we feel we should make a large change in our life, we should pursue it; however, we should never live our lives looking backwards with regret. So often our past successes and failures, keep us from being happy where we are at in this very moment. So much thinking of what “could have been” keeps us from experiencing joy and peace in this very moment.

Jesus told us told us that if we have faith the size of a mustard seed we could move mountains in our lives. However, the mountains will never move, greatness will never come, and our dreams will be realized if we cannot learn to move beyond regret, remorse, and second guessing and living fully and freely with the choices we have made. Let us seek the Spirit to help to make beautiful choices with our lives and the strength to not look back, but rather move forward, once those decisions have been made.

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Who do you think pays a higher percentage of their income in taxes: the millionaire Wall Street investment broker or the average school teacher? Who pays a higher rate: Billionaire Warren Buffet or his secretary? Unfortunately, in our current system the school teacher and the secretary pay a higher percentage of their salaries in taxes than either the Wall Street Broker or Warren Buffet. How is this possible? Well, the Wall Street Broker and Warren Buffet make their money through stocks and investments, so the top tax rate they will pay on this is 15%. However, the average worker will be paying at a higher rate, because they earn their money through a simple traditional job.

There are arguments that people make for having lower capital gains taxes. Among these is that people will no longer invest if they know that their capital gains will be taxed at a higher rate. I find this extremely hard to believe. I am pretty sure Wall Street will not shut down if they raise the tax rates on the gains people make at the end of the year. The bottom line is that capital gains are the least deserved income. That income is made off the backs of the workers. However, while the workers are paying higher portions of their income in taxes, the people who are often reaping outstanding benefits from their work are paying a lower percentage in taxes. Does this sound fair or just?

The famous investor Warren Buffet commented on this and explained how he feels he is highly under taxed, and that it is simply not fair or even logical. I wish more people had the mindset of Buffet, but unfortunately the amount of people on Wall Street who think this way are few and far between. Our society is heading towards huge economic problems, yet those who are making some of the highest gains in society, are giving the least back. The inequality continues to grow, and our insane tax structure continues to favor the wealthy and powerful while strangling the poor, working, and middle classes.

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In our society, we are at a time of the most inequality since the 1920’s. You would think that people would say that it is enough, at the very minimum try to keep it where it is or try to start bringing back the other direction. However, it seems that many are trying to keep on pushing it further and further. The problem is that when you try to push for more inequality in a society that is already drenched in extreme disparity you eventually throw the whole society over the cliff. Unfortunately, that seems to be what is happening now.

Some of the proposals by the latest Republican candidates seem so extreme that is almost comical. There is Bachmann’s plan to completely eliminate the capital gains tax, essentially giving many of our millionaires and billionaires tax-free status. Then there is the proposal by Pawlenty who wants to bring down the taxes on the top wage earners to under 10 percent. Obviously, neither one of these proposals could ever feasibly be passed, but the mere fact that they are being discussed is simply mind-blowing.

If we study the 1920’s and the time of extreme disparity of wealth, we realize that it soon led to the crash and depression of the whole economic system. We can only live in a 1920’s society for so long until we reach the reality of the 1930’s, we are approaching that time now.

Right now in the nation our economic policies are already to the far right, we have the lowest taxes on the wealthy and the corporations that we have had in decades, union representation is at an all time low, and we are being forced to cut more and more programs for the poor, while also cutting more government programs and jobs. So many of our jobs have been outsourced, and we are facing the prospects of extreme unemployment. If we push our nation any farther to the right we will greatly suffer. We don’t need the Tea Party, what we really need is a grassroots Progressive movement to somehow rescue us from the unequal society we have become. We already have our lesson from history; hopefully, we can wake up before we have to face the same terrible consequences again.

The link to the photo can be found at: http://www.expresso.pt

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At the Republican Presidential Debate this week, one of the issues that surfaced was the issue of Muslims in the government. Some of the candidates, such as Newt Gingrich and Herman Cain suggested that all Muslims take a “special” oath to prove their highest allegiance to the United States. Obviously, it is deeply disturbing to make any one group have special scrutiny and rules only based on their religious belief. However, the thing that perhaps bothers me more is why Christians are not even considered in having to give a “special” oath. Has our allegiance to the country become so strong that governmental officials no longer have to worry about us following the Kingdom of God over the allegiance to the United States?

I know some Christian groups (Mennonites, Anabaptists) refuse to pledge their allegiance to the United States. They see this as a huge conflict with their allegiance to the Kingdom of God, especially because the two so often contradict one another. However, Christians overall in the United States have had no problem pledging their allegiance to the United States. It is as if that is where our ultimate allegiance lies, and the Kingdom of God will just have to fit into the mold that the U.S. society has placed for it.

It was not always this way. In the Roman Empire, Christians were often seen as subversive for their unwillingness to be involved in the empire building of the Romans. In fact, the spread of Christianity in many ways helped bring down the Roman Empire, because the Christians loyalty was no longer to a state but to the Kingdom. They refused to fight in Rome’s pointless and futile wars, and they essentially weakened the empire. Many of the early Christians were not persecuted as much for their “religious” beliefs as they were for their political and social actions, which threatened the Empire. Have we moved so far away from that today that the government just takes Christians ultimate loyalty for granted?

Obviously, Christians should live in peace and submit to the governmental officials. However, that does not mean that they simply give ultimate allegiance to that system. There are times when the laws of men conflict with the higher law of God and justice, and civil disobedience is called for. I would love in the future political debates that the presidential candidates would ask for “special loyalty” oaths from Christians because their love for justice and the Kingdom of God was so great that they were seen as subversive to the empire.

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Alabama has never been known as a bastion of tolerance. There was of course their infamous governor turned presidential candidate, George Wallace, who wanted to keep segregation alive and well in the South. There were their famous resistance to the Civil Right’s Movement and Martin Luther King. While there is obviously still structural racism against African-Americans in Alabama, it seems to be lately surpassed by a racism and intolerance towards immigrants. This past month, Alabama signed into law new anti-immigration legislation which is more extreme than the infamous law signed by Arizona last year.

The new law would have many of the same provisions as the Arizona law, but it would also punish any tenant who rented out property to an undocumented worker, it would also require schools to check the immigration status of parents before the kids were enrolled. This of course will just keep many children from even going to school since their parents may be fearful of deportation.

What makes me most saddened and disgusted is that the new governor who signed the bill into law was the strong “Christian” candidate for governor. It almost seems that anyone who is going to run as a “Christian” candidate makes decisions that are the most un-Christian when in office. It is a sad and bitterly ironic reality.

Lynrd Skynrd wrote the famous song “Sweet Home Alabama” to defend Alabama and their racist governor against the comments that had been made against them, particularly by famous song writer Neil Young. The song states that in “Alabama They Love the Governor,” even when that state’s governor and politicians promote blatantly racist and discriminatory policies. In some ways, Alabama has made great advances since those days of the 1960’s and 70’s, and I know there are progressive voices there trying to fight for change; however, in other ways it feels like we are back in the days of Wallace again. And be sure that Alabama is not a sweet home for the many immigrants who trying to merely make ends meet and our having to face extreme xenophobia.

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We have been told that if we can just educate our nation’s children more, poverty will greatly decrease. On one hand, there is some truth in this. Obviously, because of our advancements in society, we have dealt with many of the issues of poverty, hunger, and disease that were major concerns only 100 years ago, but today are essentially non-issues. Advancements in technology have allowed us to overcome many of the hurdles to having a more prosperous society.

However, there is also a danger in this philosophy. We cannot simply support “the importance of education”, but never deal with other issues such as labor rights, a strong social safety net, and government regulations to help lessen some of the dramatic effects of inequality. We can have the best education system in the world, with perfect teachers, outstanding scores, and high quality technology, but still have poverty if the extremely wealthy are essentially given free range over the economy.

I think we can see this happening now. Students are getting into large debt to fund their college and university educations, only to find out that their earning power is pretty low in the new economic market. Also, due to many of the free trade agreements and the tendency of companies to take all their jobs overseas, they are finding that a large number of people are competing for fewer and fewer positions.

The lie that was told us during this age of globalization, international free markets and trade, and unbridled Capitalism, was that if we just focused on education our problems would be solved. We are just now waking up to the reality that we have been tricked. Of course it is vital to have a good education system, but if we don’t have a just economic system to support it, than it will do little good in actually stopping poverty.

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While the news and public are obsessing on another sexual exploit of a politician, real issues are just overlooked. Those in power and the media love to distract us with insignificant stories, so they can continue support the status quo.

Was what Anthony Weiner did pathetic? Yes. Should we be making this a large news story? No. Should he step down? Not unless every other corrupt politician resigns. In the end, Weiner, with his immature sexual exploits, is still much more of a force for good in the congress than the overwhelming majority who solely stand up for corporate interest.

It is funny that his actions cause so much more outrage than our congressional system which has essentially become a scheme for corporations and the wealthy to make out big.  When a Congressman sends some sexual photo himself, we are outraged; however, when they sell out our future, education system, and health for corporate profits, we just excuse it as business as usual in Washington.

It was an unfortunate situation, and it will certainly damage or even ruin Rep. Weiner’s reputation and mission. However, in the end, our political system has much more to worry about than a representative sending a sexual photo over Twitter. Our political system is essentially becoming an Oligarchy, our economy is becoming ruled by the very few rich, and we worried about stories that should really be reserved for the tabloids.

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