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Archive for February, 2014

images (2)Tensions seem to be flaring up between Russia, Europe, and the U.S. over the issue of Ukraine and their alignment with the West or Russia. It is obviously a very complicated issue where unlike some would like to believe there is not an absolute good or evil. There is a lot of grey in the situation that is being obscured by powerful propaganda on both sides of the issue.

On one hand, there is little doubt that the president of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych, was far too repressive against protesters and probably deaf to the will of a large majority of his constituents. There is also little doubt that Russia is involving itself too much in the conflict instead of allowing the country to resolve the issue on its own. However, it is also true that Yankovych was democratically elected, and his ousting from his position because of the violent protesters, which included some very extremist right wing groups, is problematic. It is also true that the U.S. media has overwhelmingly created a narrative of an oppressive pro-Russian government versus protesters who simply long for freedom. Of course, this is overwhelmingly simplistic.

Let’s all hope that there is a peaceful resolution to the situation in Ukraine; however, we need to make sure that this complicated conflict does not digress into another Cold War between the U.S. and Russia. Whether Ukraine sides with Russia or Europe is not worth increased hostilities between Russia, the U.S., and the E.U. Unfortunately, there seem to be those who are longing for a renewed conflict. Americans do not need to like Putin; however, there needs to be a realization that an imperfect peace is better than letting pride and fear lead us to a foolish confrontation where the outcomes would be disastrous.

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download (2)For some reason, once again Hillary Clinton has been “deemed” the front runner for the Democratic nomination in the next presidential election. While I think she is a wonderful individual on many levels, I think she is a very poor choice for president in 2016. What the party needs is a strong, economically progressive fighter, not a moderate who will be bought out by corporate money.

The party needs someone like Elizabeth Warren. It does not necessarily have to be her, but it should be someone like her who actually stands up for real economic reform that seeks to protect the consumer, middle class, and poor against the exploitation of the wealthy elite and Wall Street interests. We need someone who is going to stand for the students in the growing student loan crisis. We need someone is going to say enough to bank executives getting away with massive fraud and receiving a little less than a slap on the hand.

Unfortunately, Hillary Clinton represents the establishment middle that has bowed again and again to corporate interests. Clinton actually once served on the board of directors of Wal-Mart. Her husband, despite his large popularity, played a vital role in our current economic woes by championing deregulation and free trade. Hilary Clinton has already spoken at Goldman Sachs for large sums of money. Is that really someone we think is going to stand up to the banking elite in the society?

We need someone who is going to go beyond platitudes to workers, women, LGBT individuals, and minorities. We need an individual who will actually fight the real economic battles which the majority of the population is currently losing to the interest of en elite few. The Democrats don’t need a candidate who banks are already lining up to donate to. We need someone who the banks and corporate interests are scared of, someone who will actually hold them accountable. We need an Elizabeth Warren or someone like her with strong sense of economic justice.

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downloadDuring the Gilded Age, John D. Rockefeller and his Standard Oil Company essentially controlled the oil industry in the United States by either outright buying companies or entering into trusts where all competition was destroyed. This of course was great for Rockefeller, who was the richest man in the history of the United States. However, for the common person who had to pay exceedingly high costs for energy and transportation, it was devastating. Those who were barely making buy to begin with had little to no option when their costs went up even higher because a monopoly had been established in the oil industry.

As a result of actions by companies like Standard Oil, the United States government began cracking down on monopolies. Presidents like Theodore Roosevelt and William Taft went after these monopolies that shut down competition. After all the Capitalist system does not work if there is no competition. It simply turns into workers and consumers serving corporate overlords who have little to no restrictions in their actions.

This brings us to Comcast. Last week, Comcast announced that they would be purchasing Time Warner Cable. This means that in 19 out of 20 of the largest metropolitan areas, Comcast will be the only option for high capacity wired connection. This is nothing short of monopoly status.  However, our current climate is very similar to the Gilded Age of Rockefeller. The corporations control the government, and any attempt to control the power of monopolies is stopped by corporate friendly legislators. The internet is no longer just a luxury. The internet is vitally important for education, work, and communication. Families without an internet connection are put at a large disadvantage in our modern economic system. To have one company determine the price of the internet without any competitions is not healthy under any circumstances.

There was a time during the Progressive Era in our country where leaders where actually willing to stand up to corporate and monopolistic power. Unfortunately, with the corporate controlled Congress this is next to impossible in our modern age. How do we expect our congress to regulate companies like Comcast, when Comcast is directing money to their campaigns? What is needed is a movement of the people to say that monopolies will not be tolerated in the land. We want to be a free people, not a people at the mercy of a few corporate interests.

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ImageWe have all heard the slogan, “Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach him to fish and he eats for a lifetime.” While there is certainly truth in the saying, it is a pretty poor and simplistic analogy for our current economic realities. One could argue that it has always been a pretty poor analogy. Have the main issues of poverty every really been about people just not knowing how or being unwilling to work to put food on the table?

I like the way that the Christian activist and writer, Shane Claiborne put it, “We give people fish. We teach them to fish. We tear down the walls that have been built up around the fish pond. And we figure out who polluted it.” There are so many variables to consider when it comes to poverty. It is not as simple as even something as commendable as having a better education. As a teacher, I fully believe in the utmost importance of education. However, what good does an education do if the economic situation is so skewed towards wealth and capital that there are few opportunities for a common person to make a decent living?

Our greatest problem in the United States is not that people do not want to work or do not know how to work. It is that there has been an economic system established which benefits a very elite few. It is a system where the good of the country, the employment rate, and rights of workers are all secondary to higher stock dividends and profit. There is also the issue of globalization which has allowed companies to outsource jobs to the country that pays the lowest and has the least worker’s rights.

We need to stop having the “teach a man to fish” mindset when it comes to the final solution of our economic issues. It does little good to teach a man to fish, if the lake is completely bought out and controlled by a wealthy few. He might be able to fish, but he will have to do so as a low wage worker where no matter how hard he works, the compensation will keep diminishing. We need real reform in our economic structure.  Unfortunately, this “fish” philosophy has been used by those who often do not want real structural change but instead feel comfortable shifting the blame to the workers and poor.  

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ImageThe last few days in South Carolina have been a mess. I have been out of school for the last two days, and we will probably not go back until next week. As a teacher, I have the security of knowing that my paycheck will not be slashed because of a snow day. However, for most hourly workers there is no such guarantee and a simple snow storm can leave them in a hard financial situation.

The real issue that while the workers do not get paid for the time the company shuts down due to weather or unforeseen circumstances, all the bills they are responsible for do not get reduced. They still have to pay their rent or mortgage on time. They still have to pay the same electricity and food costs. Their medical bills certainly do not go down because of a natural disaster.

Why does the majority of the costs that a company accrues during a natural disaster fall on the workers? In a more just society, the profit would be the area that would be cut, while the wages would still be guaranteed to workers who are being docked their hourly wages through no fault of their own. This on top of the fact that the United States is one of the only developed nations that does not have mandatory vacation or sick days for all workers. So, in addition to losing pay  because the roads are too rough to get to work, you will also get your pay docked for having the gall to come down with a sickness.

We live in a world where unpredictable events occur. However, the poor and working class should be not castigated for that. This is just one small example of hundreds for why there is a growing inequality in the nation and the working class is finding it harder and harder to get by. We need some major reforms when it comes to rights for workers. In the end, it is not just an economic issue. It is ultimately a moral and spiritual issue which deals with basic fairness. 

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downloadSouth Carolina is a state with the 6th highest rate of gun related deaths in the nation. If you turn on the local news, there is story after heartbreaking story of needless gun deaths. Just this past month, there was a tragic shooting at South Carolina State University. In the midst of the violence, so many innocent children and bystanders often stand in the way of a stray bullet.

I remember talking to my wife’s uncle whose sister had once actually lived in the city I currently reside, Greenville, SC. She was sleeping in bed one night, and a stray bullet shot through her wall and killed her instantly. There are so many tragic stories that you might expect in an undeveloped third world nation, not in a developed nation that has more than enough resources to deal with these issues. However, no matter how bad the violence becomes, there are still those who will push blind ideology of the necessity of less gun restrictions over common sense which could actually save lives.

One of the most egregious examples is a new law in South Carolina which would allow people to carry guns in restaurants and even bars. Again, if even a shred of common sense was used, it would be obvious that people carrying guns in bars is not a healthy solution to the large rates of violence in the state. It is very easy for a simple fist fight to escalate into a deadly confrontation. It is a chosen ignorance that refuses to see the horrific effects that gun violence is producing throughout the state, especially in poor communities.

As inner-city leaders in the state are trying to encourage young people to put down their guns, the governor of the state has the shame of publishing pictures of herself at the shooting range and signing the law to allow guns in bars. It might win her points with some conservative members in the state, but it is a betrayal of the values she should be representing. I am one South Carolinian who is fed up with a government that puts extremist ideology ahead of the safety and the good of the people. As a state we already have enough issues without adding a chosen and deadly ignorance to the mix.

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8A recent study by British and Australians researchers showed that lottery winners were more likely to switch party affiliation to a more conservative or right wing party. In fact, 18% immediately switched from a more liberal to more conservative party. While this is not necessarily surprising, it does bring up some very interesting questions regarding wealth, ideology, and greed.

First of all, the greatest irony is that lottery winners are the people who probably “deserve” their money the least (with the possible exception or rich heirs). They did nothing to earn it, but by the luck of the draw they won. However, regardless of how they earned the money, they choose to hold onto it tight and curse the system that might take some of it for the greater social good, even if they were dependent on those social ideas and protections before.

It is a classic case of forgetting where you came from or more likely, deliberately choosing not to confront it. How does an ideology change so quickly? Well, for most there was most likely no ideological conviction to begin with. It was simply self-interest. When the individuals were poor or middle class, the ideas of the labor of leftist party were more in their self-interest. When they became wealthy, the ideology of the right wing party benefited them. Again, it is not surprising, but  it is a sad commentary on the impact of greed on our psyche.

Studies have shown that the more wealth one has the lower percentage of their income they give away. Why is this? More money by its very nature usually causes us to become more enclosed and greedy. Perhaps, that is why Jesus warns us about money and accumulating wealth. However, this issue does not just apply to Wall Street bankers. It is for all of us. Will we follow the path of Jesus with our finances or will we allow money to blind us to the radical message of the Kingdom of God? A message that calls us to self sacrifice and justice.

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