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Archive for the ‘U.S. Politics’ Category

John_the_BaptistIn the book of Luke, John the Baptist is in the wilderness baptizing people and calling them to follow the path of repentance. The people were touched by his message and wanted to know what a real change in their life would look like. John responded by telling them that if they had two coats to give the other away and to do the same with their food.

John hits on a common theme that is found throughout the Gospels, the accumulation and hoarding of wealth and possessions is immoral. It is a pretty shocking thought in our western world, where the more that we are able to obtain is seen as being more blessed. However, the Gospels call us to a different road which is radically and uncomfortably different than the materialistic values we have come to accept.

Excess of goods is wrong for a number of reasons. For one, it causes us to take our eyes away from God and instead put our faith and hope in what we have obtained. We cannot have an excess of possessions without beginning to serve and even worship them. This is why studies have shown that overall the more wealth people have, the lower percentage they give away. Wealth has a way of creating a level of greed that we are unable to begin to comprehend.

Excess is also wrong because it means that one person has much more than they need, while another person does not have their basic needs met. On a personal and society level, we should be concerned that everyone has their needs of clothing, food, shelter, and health met. It is shameful for a society to have such excess of wealth and still have people who are barely struggling to get by. Such a society reflects one that has not taken the real message of repentance seriously.

 

This is a truth that we are so unwilling to accept because it goes against everything that is taught to us in our capitalistic culture. What I have earned is mine, and I deserve it. However, that is not the message that John taught, neither is it the message that Jesus taught. They taught that in order for us to really follow the message of the Kingdom of God we have to renounce excess and live a life where those without are granted true societal justice.

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0701_010501In the late 19th Century, the U.S. was going through an Era which Mark Twain famously termed the “Gilded Age”. It was an age where government and business acted as one against the rights of the workers and consumers. It was an age of overwhelming corruption where monopolies and trusts controlled the Congress and government regulation was almost non-existent.

However, there became a strong movement against this beginning with the Populist and Labor Movements and later on taking root in the Progressive Movement. People realized that the corrupt system where a few profited while the majority suffered could simply not continue. There needed to be major reforms: worker’s rights, an end to child labor, consumer protections, industrial regulations, and destruction of harmful monopolies.

Theodore Roosevelt, Howard Taft, and Woodrow Wilson are considered the three progressive presidents. However, the real source of change came from the grassroots movements which were willing to face enormous odds and stand up to a system that was so deeply corrupt that it seemed impossible to change. Because those individuals did stand up for the rights of the common people, some of the worst excesses of the Capitalist system were tamed. The fact that we have a limit on our work week, some type of government oversight of our food and medicine, and basic safety standards is due largely to the Progressive Era.

The problem is that we have forgotten about the progressive reforms which were made. We have taken them for granted. We are slowly drifting back into another Gilded Age where the rights of the workers and consumers are stripped, and a powerful oligarchy (just think of the Koch brothers) is taking control of the nation. Amazingly, there are many in the middle and working class which are indifferent and even applauding of these changes. There is no memory of what life was like before some people had the courage to taken on the corporatized system of 19th Century America. However, if we do not choose to look back we should not be surprised if we find ourselves losing all the gains that our ancestors worked so hard to claim.

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msnbc_hln_fnc_cnnThis past week, a news anchor for the Russian owned television station, RT News, heroically resigned on air after stating that she would not whitewash the stories on Ukraine to defend Putin and his actions. The video went viral, and many in the U.S., including the U.S. media, took this as a sign of the biased reporting which RT News produces.

There is no doubt that RT News tells a particularly narrative, one that is very favorable to the Russian ideas and cause. It is easy for those in the United States to identify this as propaganda. However, what is more difficult for many to see is the biased narrative that almost all major U.S. media, both on the “right” and “left”, have given to the story on Ukraine and give to all U.S. foreign policy.

What would happen if the same situation which transpired at RT News occurred on Fox News or CNN? What would happen if an anchor got on and said that the people of Crimea deserve to have a referendum and join Russia? What would happen if an anchor stated that Russia was justified in going into Crimea to restore the will of the people after an unconstitutional coup? How long would it be before the anchor was dismissed?

We have this idea in the U.S. that we have an open and free media. The reality is that most major media sources are controlled by a few powerful corporations who have special interests they want to see fulfilled. They also usually have corrupt ties with the U.S. government which causes over nationalistic narratives to always win out. Instead of the press holding the government accountable as Jefferson hoped for, the press has largely become a mouthpiece for the U.S. government, particularly on foreign policy issues.

We should cheer the anchor at RT sticking it to Putin; however, we should not be blinded to the propaganda in our own system. The reality is that on most issues with U.S. foreign policy (whether drones, Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, etc.)  RT News is probably more accurate than Fox, CNN, or MSNBC since they do not have answer to powerful American corporations. In this very complicated situation with Ukraine, let’s be aware of the propaganda that the Russians are telling their people, but let’s also be aware of the biased narrative that we are receiving at the same time.

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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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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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downloadThere has been an idea in the United States going back to at least the 19th Century that if an individual works hard, they can move themselves out of poverty and up the economic ladder. These stories were popularized by writers such as Horatio Alger and became used as a justification for the inequalities that the capitalist system produces. Anyone could become wealthy and successful if they just tried hard enough.

There is no doubt that there have been cases where this has happened. There have been people who grow up in working class or poor families who become extremely wealthy. Andrew Carnegie was the best example of this back in the mid-1800s. However, what we need to realize is that these individuals are the extremely small exception to the rule. Most people born into wealth stay wealthy, and most people born into poverty stay poor. Those who do go from rags to riches usually had a brilliant streak of being at the right place at the right time, as hard work alone cannot account for the change.

This myth that if you work hard, you can become wealthy has always been overstated in the United States. It was exaggerated in the Gilded Age, and it is exaggerated now. In fact, among major developed nations, only the United Kingdom and Italy have less economic mobility than the United States. Any economic mobility we do have is almost exclusively because of public education, government college assistance, and programs to support low and middle-income families. Of course, these are programs that those on the right want to reduce or cut out completely.

While the rags to riches stories may be motivational, they are dangerous if they distort the true social realities and the extreme difficulties of economic mobility. They also can be damaging because they distract from a focus on building a better society to an individualistic dream of excessive wealth.  We do not need to hear more rags to riches stories; we need to see a society where all people are given real tools to succeed and where a nation’s success is shared by all not just a wealthy few.

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