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Archive for July, 2011

Wal-Mart and other large supermarket chains have recently been taking over Costa Rica. It brings up some interesting questions. Does where we buy our groceries really matter? Is it a moral decision? Is it a real issue about justice? I believe it is.

Here in Costa Rica, multinational companies have come and taken over much of the food business. Where street markets and small shops used to once control most of the food market, there are now huge supermarkets-the majority of them controlled by foreign companies. What are the problems with this?

One of the biggest problems is the type of jobs which are created. While it was true that most small shop owners and fruit stand venders were never wealthy-many could make a fair and decent wage. This is often not the case in large corporations, where wages are always kept low, as the people who ultimately profit from the labor are not workers, but CEO’s and stockholders.

The earnings in return to not stay in the country, but rather are giving to stockholders who overwhelmingly reside in the developed world. On a national level, it does not create more wealth, but rather gives the appearance of economic development, while at the same time taking more of the wealth out of the nation.

On a practical level, it is often more difficult. It is easy to simple go to one of the large supermarkets and do all your shopping; it saves time and energy. It is more difficult having go down to the local seafood shop, then go to the local meat shop, than go buy your vegetables and fruits at another shop.

However, in the end, the extra effort we might have to do to shop more ethically has long reaching effects. As we move into a world that is becoming more and more corporatized with the wealth going to the hands of the very few, there needs to be some grassroots movement to save the small and local establishments, where people still are able to receive the fruit of their labor.

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Are we blessed so that we can simply bask in the gift, or are we blessed so that we can help others? Is our blessing meant to be a channel to extend to others rather than something we actually receive and hoard? I think these are questions that are vitally important on both a spiritual and nation-wide level.

There has been a tradition in the church called Calvinism or Reformed Theology which basically takes the position that God has selected certain people for heaven and others for destruction or hell. Though actual logical thinking about this issue makes it seem quite hard to reconcile with the love of God and the whole life and message of Jesus, it is taught nonetheless and is actually had a large resurgence in the modern day. It seems that being elect means that God has simply chosen people for love or destruction, rather than “choosing” people that can be his vessels of love to heal the world. Obviously, not all reformed people take it this way, but it is an obvious consequence that often results from this type of teaching.

There is often the same philosophy that is seen in Western society. Though many may not believe that they were “predestined” to be born in North America or Western Europe, there is often an entitlement that comes along with it. Instead of seeing the fortune of us being born in a relatively affluent society and using our gifts to help out the less fortunate among us, we often decide to wallow in our own “exceptionalism” and simply forget those who were not given the same opportunities and resources as us.  We are often very angry at those that are trying to come into our countries, as we see them as “stealing” from our blessing. Instead of our blessedness making us more giving, it often makes us colder.

I love the way that Robert Kennedy put it, “Through no virtues and accomplishments of our own, we have been fortunate enough to be born in the United States under the most comfortable conditions. We, therefore, have a responsibility to others who are less well off.”

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We often think about the Cold War in terms of the U.S. becoming more conservative and capitalistic with the threat of the Soviet Union. We think of the McCarthy trials, support for undemocratic right-wing leaders, and loyalty oaths. However, in another aspect, we actually became more progressive in the face of the Communist threat.

It was Eisenhower that blasted the discrimination in the South as he said it would be tool used by the Soviets and the Communist world to show the hypocrisy of the United States. Eisenhower was the president who sent in federal troops to Little Rock, Arkansas to enforce integration in the schools after that state’s governor was trying to defy it. It was a pretty brave move by the part of the president.

It is also important to note how great labor unions and labor rights grew from the 1930’s to 1970’s. A large percentage of the population belonged to a labor union. Labor unions and labor rights were seen as necessary to keep moderation and to keep the country from the route of Communism. The fear that there could be a Communist revolution often compelled the country to seek more rights and justice for its workers.

Finally, the Soviets helped the U.S. go after the issue of poverty more strongly. Johnson was famous in his campaign to end poverty. We wanted to show the Soviets that we could have a prosperous and just society while still having a free market.

Unfortunately, today it seems we do not have any enemy like the Soviets to actually strive against or to keep us in check. There is little fear of a Communism, anarchy, or revolution. With the diminished fear has come more oppression and inequality. We have felt there is nothing to fear, and the powerful have simply walked over all the rights of the working and middle classes. In the future, we might be looking back at the Cold War as a time we had much of the social progress and the present day as a time we lost our values and sense of justice in the society.

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Obama came in with the idea of being a unifier, someone who was going to bring the nation back together. He was going to reach across the aisle and work with his political opponents. He was not going to speak in absolute terms, rather he was going to deal with issues from a practical standpoint and not get bogged down in too much ideology. You could say he had a very positive, liberal outlook.

Two and a half years later, we can see how this excessive open-mindedness and need to always reach across the political aisle has cost him dearly. He has been walked all over by the Congress and the Republican Party in general. The Democrats had complete control over the Congress for his first two years, yet in reality, they achieved very little. Obama proposes progressive ideals, but he doesn’t seem to have the strong character or will to fight hard for them. He is too willing to compromise and concede his position.

What we need is a strong progressive fighter, not merely a liberal idealist. We need a FDR, Williams Jennings Bryant, Upton Sinclair, or Martin Luther King. We need someone who does not merely believe in progressive ideals, but it is also willing to fight for them even though will anger many people in the process.

I hope Obama can wake up to the reality that his current way of doing politics is not getting him  anywhere. The Republicans do not respect him; they know they can get him to cave into their extreme demands. Many Democrats do not respect him anymore either, as they see that does not have backbone to make the hard and strong decisions. If Obama could start being a progressive fighter, the nation would follow him in droves. He could be the next FDR; the next election would not even be an issue. However, if he continues on his current path, he will not only sacrifice his progressive goals, he will also see that his political career will soon come to an end.

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1. We have been part of the problem of much of the poverty in Latin America. Our constant support for right-wing governments and “free trade” agreements have made it very hard for much of the population-who in turn try to come to the United States for opportunity.

2. The overwhelming majority of the land that we currently have is only ours because we have stolen it from others, often the people we stole it from are some of the same people we are now trying to keep out.

3. In the United States, most of us are descendants of immigrants (all the non-Native American population). Perhaps, those who are clamoring against immigrant rights should realize that they would not be here if it wasn’t for the immigration of their ancestors-who were probably  also hated when they came.

4. We are not special because of where we are born. We are not given a birthright to be wealthy, prosperous, and comfortable because we were born in the United States. We have been blessed, so we can bless others.

5. To simply make a whole class of people permanently undocumented and illegal, without any chance of citizenship defies human dignity, human rights, and what the country was founded on.

6. Our nation needs immigrants. Without new ideas and ways of seeing the world our country is headed towards failure. What we have created now is simply unsustainable, and far from beautiful- we need immigrants to come offer us a new perspective and new vision of the United States.

7.  In our process of catching undocumented workers we have blatantly defied the whole idea of freedom and liberty and instead made some type of police states- stopping people who look Latino, punishing owners who rent out to undocumented workers, making it “illegal” to transport undocumented workers-in the process of keeping out “immigrants” we have allowed ourselves to slip into a police state.

8. We have simply let hate be passed off as immigration or “border-control” rhetoric. This needs to end. Hatred against Hispanics and Latinos is just as wrong as hatred and bigotry against Jews, African-Americans, Caucasians, Asians, or any other group.

9. Our current failed immigration system is allowed to stay the way it is because of greed. Large companies want to keep their workers undocumented, so they can keep wages low both for the immigrant population and keep out any labor rights movements by the overall population.

10. Anti-Immigrant rhetoric by law makers is done greatly to distract the blame from the real culprits of our economic decline. Instead of going after the few wealthy who are making billions at the expense of the population, the politicians are bought out by corporate interests, and the companies who do whatever they can to suppress workers’ right-they scapegoat immigrants. If they can keep people’s anger towards undocumented workers-than they continue their oppressive actions.

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The power of the state, far from being a security against the attacks of our neighbors, exposes us, on the contrary to much greater danger of suck attacks. –Leo Tolstoy

There is the conventional wisdom that if you have a large military, your nation will be safe from attack. While there are obviously some examples of this being the case, especially in traditional warfare between nations, there are also many examples when having such a large army actually exposes to much more risk and danger. There have always been examples of this, but it is especially true in the modern day with the issue of terrorism.

For example: Why did the terrorists attack the United States rather than Sweden, Denmark, or Italy? All these other nations are certainly not Muslim nations, and they are opposed to many of the policies of many Middle Eastern nations. The quick and easy answer is because there military never got involved in the Middle East to the extent that the United States did. They were not in the Middle East supporting Iraq, then going against Iraq, sending military equipment to Israel, and then setting up bases in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. What we think of as “making us safe” actually led us to be put in a more vulnerable position.

I think you can say the same thing regarding our latest attempted wars in Iraq and Afghanistan-have they really made us safer or have they just opened the gates for more hatred and anger, which will results in more danger in the future?

It seems that throughout our history we have gone back and forth on this issue. At the beginning of the country, many of the founders wanted a very small military and opposed strong military action as this would actually be fatal to the Republic. Throughout history, we have moved away from that position with many times of Imperialistic expansionism (Mexican-American War, Spanish-American War, Cold War Era policies). However, there have also been times when we have decided to draw down our forces and military realizing the danger that having a large military can bring.

It simply amazes me that in the current budget talks, most Republicans and Democrats are barely touching the issue of cutting military spending. They are talking about cutting healthcare for the elderly, educational funding for the poor, and overseas aid for the starving-but just bring up cutting one cent for the military budget-and all hell is raised.

How did we get to this point? Well, after World War II and the Cold War that followed, the United States created the most powerful and expansive military in the world. However, we have never drawn that military back down to a reasonable level. We could cut our military spending in half and still easily spend more on our military than any other nation. Not only is this military spending robbing us financially and socially, perhaps we should wonder if it is really keeping us safe. Perhaps, it is actually doing the opposite.

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Today in my English class, I was talking with one of my students, who is a lawyer here in Costa Rica in his early fifties. He was explaining how so much of the younger generation has lost all visions of political and social action. When he was younger, in the seventies, there was much more of an awareness among the youth about how government and politics affected their lives, and in return they were much more active in social change.

In the United States, this fact is especially frustrating, as so many young people do not even go out and vote. There are many who love to complain, or just talk about how the whole system is messed up, but it seems that fewer and fewer are actually going to take the time and effort to actually to go out and fight for change. We have been walked all over in the last couple of decades by a small group of the rich and powerful, and for the most part we have just taken it.

However, perhaps change is on the horizon. This past week, as Greece and Great Britain look to take care of their financial problems by cutting the pensions and benefits of their public employees, many people are fighting back. There is a realization that the working and middle class have been completely trampled on for the interests and the wealth of a few. There is a realization that unless a strong cry of resistance is actually made, the rich and powerful will not stop until they have won over all the goods in the society.

Perhaps, what is happening in Greece and England can spread across the Atlantic. I know this coming July 4th, there is going to be a large rally at the Washington Monument to protest the corporate corruption that is destroying our system of democracy. If the masses actually rose up and refused to let the few continue to fight for their interest at the expense of the entire nation, there would be massive change. If the people actually would actually go out and take a stand against cutting health care and education to keep tax breaks for a huge wealthy, those in power would be defenseless to stop it. Their plans and ideas would be exposed for the foolishness, selfishness, and greed which they are. We need a little more anger, a little more action, a little more passion. Not until, we actually start paying attention and demanding a just system will the situations that are facing us change.

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